The first edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings were released Tuesday night, and the defending national champions are on the outside looking in. Clemson checked in at the No. 5 spot, one slot behind No. 4 Penn State. Now Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has his motivational fuel due to what he most certainly will feel is unwarranted disrespect to "little ol' Clemson."
CFP Selection Committee chairperson Rob Mullens addressed the discussion between the two programs during Tuesday's teleconference on the heels of the initial rankings release.
"We had a lengthy discussion about Penn State and Clemson," Mullens said. "They're both really, really good teams and both strong defensively. In the end, what it came down to -- again, much debate -- Penn State has the marquee win over 14th-ranked Michigan and a road win at 18th-ranked Iowa. And they have a nonconference win over Pitt, which is a pretty good win at this point."
The committee is told not to incentivize margin of victory when debating teams, but it's clear that, at least in this debate, style points matter.
"The close win over North Carolina is a factor because we're looking at the entire resume," he said.
The committee clearly views Clemson as a team that, while impressive, still has some work to do. Penn State's placement above the Tigers is more a compliment to what the Nittany Lions have accomplished so far as opposed to a criticism of Swinney's crew.
"What we see with Clemson is an impressive team, an offense that's improved over the last few weeks, an outstanding quarterback, an outstanding running back," Mullens said.
That quarterback, sophomore Trevor Lawrence, plays a big role in this debate. The one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner has thrown eight interceptions this season, which is double his entire season total from his phenomenal freshman season a year ago. But he hasn't thrown any over the last two weeks -- 59-point performances against Boston College and Wofford, respectively. The fact that the Tigers have had to improve over the course of the season is a big deal inside the walls of that committee room, especially when it relates to a Penn State team that came out of the gates on fire despite an unproven quarterback in Sean Clifford and a running game that was a total mystery.
How much will it matter? In the end, probably not much. If Clemson wins out, its strength of schedule won't get a huge bump due to games against NC State, No. 19 Wake Forest, South Carolina and an ACC Coastal champion that is unlikely to be ranked highly. But Penn State will take on No. 1 Ohio State later this month and No. 2 LSU and No. 3 meet this weekend in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week in Tuscaloosa.
"Little ol' Clemson" doesn't need help to get in. But if it needed motivation for the stretch run, that arrived on Tuesday night when the team saw its logo on the outside looking in of the College Football Playoff.