Notre Dame's 47-40 win against Clemson sends the Fighting Irish rising in the projected College Football Playoff rankings and creates a plausible scenario where two teams from the ACC end up in the national semifinals.
Let's begin with Notre Dame. Beating the Tigers puts the Irish at the front of the line in the ACC and creates enough wiggle room to lose once and still get into the playoff — especially if that loss comes to Clemson.
There will very likely be a rematch between the two teams in the ACC championship game. By winning the second matchup, Clemson would enter the postseason as a one-loss Power Five champion with enough of a recent track record to sail into the semifinals.
Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah celebrates after a touchdown in the second quarter against Clemson. (Photo: Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports)
But the Irish would also be in possession of a strong case for the top four under this condition: Notre Dame wins out the rest of the way and loses only to the Tigers.
Another pathway to the playoff with one loss — let's say it comes at North Carolina on Nov. 27 — would require beating Clemson twice in one season. If obviously possible, the rematch would see the Tigers closer to full strength, with Trevor Lawrence back at quarterback and James Skalski and Tyler Davis back on defense.
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For the first time in the history of the postseason format, the ACC may occupy the spotlight in determining the makeup of the playoff.
Here’s how the top four would look today, followed by the four teams just on the outside:
1. Alabama: No longer the winner-take-all matchup some might've expected in the preseason, Alabama's game against LSU is instead a pairing of the nation's No. 2 offense against the nation's No. 116 defense.
2. Notre Dame: Prior to Saturday night, Notre Dame's last win against a No. 1 opponent came against Florida State in 1993. The Irish followed that with a shocking 41-39 loss to Boston College. Up next for the Irish: Boston College.
3. Ohio State: In 20 games with Ryan Day as the permanent head coach, the Buckeyes have scored 72 touchdowns on 93 trips to the red zone, a 77.4% touchdown rate.
4. Clemson: When was the last time Clemson allowed 500 yards of offense to an ACC opponent? Louisville in 2016. The last time Clemson allowed at least 200 yards rushing and 300 yards passing? Against Georgia to open the 2013 season.
5. Texas A&M: The Aggies' 7.36 yards per play in Saturday's 48-3 win against South Carolina was the program's highest per-play average against an SEC opponent under Jimbo Fisher.
6. Florida: Kyle Trask played his way into Heisman Trophy contention after throwing four touchdowns in the big win against Georgia, making him the first quarterback in SEC history to toss at least four scores in five consecutive games.
7. Cincinnati: The Bearcats limited Houston to 282 yards of offense and 3.3 yards per carry in the latest dominant performance from one of the nation's best defenses.
8. Indiana: A combined 2-61 since 1968 against Penn State and Michigan, the Hoosiers are 2-0 against those two bluebloods in 2020 and on the verge of the program's most successful finish since 1967.
At this point, there's no team worthy of moving ahead of Clemson and into the top four. Along with the fact that it took two overtimes, a factor to consider when weighing how the Tigers will be viewed for the playoff is how the selection committee will weigh the missing pieces during Saturday's loss.
Will the committee give Clemson credit for nearly winning without Lawrence under center? Maybe, though the fact that D.J. Uiagalelei set a single-game record for most passing yards against Notre Dame does damage to that case.
The losses on defense were far more important. Down pieces up front, multiple linebackers and hurting for proven depth, Clemson's typically outstanding unit was eventually worn down by Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense.
Brigham Young will also test the committee. Beating Boise State handily helps the Cougars' case, but the committee won't be too impressed by the team's overall strength of schedule. In the end, however, BYU's high quality of play could be too much to ignore.
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