The Monday After: The college football world seems to have forgotten Clemson exists this season

Do you know the final score of Clemson's game on Saturday night? Do you even know who Clemson beat in that game, or that Clemson played at all? It struck me on Saturday night when I tuned into Clemson's 55-10 win over NC State that doing so wasn't something I've done a whole lot of this year. While I have watched plenty of Clemson football this season, nearly all of it has been on the DVR and most of those viewings involved quite a bit of fast forwarding.

It's amazing that in the world that is college football in 2019, one that is entirely too fascinated and focused on the College Football Playoff, the reigning national champions can fly so far below the radar. The last Clemson game I watched the majority of live was its 24-10 win over Texas A&M back on Sept. 7. Oh, sure, I tuned in the following week for the Syracuse game, but that was over in a flash. I then watched a lot of the second half of the close call against North Carolina a couple weeks later, but that's it.

Since then, nearly every minute of Clemson football I've seen has been with a remote in my hand and a picture moving in double speed. None of which is Clemson's fault, mind you. That close call against North Carolina was the last time (as well as the only time) anybody has challenged the Tigers this season. Clemson's five wins have come by an average of 41.6 points per game since then.

I have plenty of reason to believe this isn't a phenomenon that I'm imagining, either. When I do radio hits in markets all across the country, I'm asked almost exclusively about the College Football Playoff. Even in those interviews the only things I'm asked about when it comes to Clemson are "what's wrong with Trevor Lawrence," and "can Clemson afford a loss?" That's it, and both are a direct reflection of how little attention most people outside the state of South Carolina are paying to this team.

The reason people aren't sure if Clemson can afford a loss is because nobody in the ACC presents much of a challenge, and a loss to any of them would severely hurt Clemson's playoff resume. The fact that Clemson hasn't had any big games is the reason nobody is paying much attention to it. The question about Lawrence only confirms it.

When I was being asked about Lawrence earlier in the year, there was merit to the question. After throwing only four interceptions last season, Lawrence had thrown eight in Clemson's first seven games, and five in the first three. However, Lawrence has thrown for nine touchdowns with no interceptions in the last three weeks, all while completing 77.4 percent of his passes and averaging 12.4 yards per attempt. In fact, Lawrence has averaged 9.5 yards per attempt while completing 71 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions over his last seven games, so, yes, he's fine. Please stop asking.

Clemson is fine, too, and I'm sure it's fine being mostly anonymous as well. After all, coaches love to tell their team that nobody believes in them, and Dabo Swinney has received plenty of ammunition for that card in 2019. The difference is, when he tells his team nobody believes in it, he could use the context that nobody knows it even exists. It does, and it could easily win its third national title in four years.

At least then I won't be watching it on the DVR.

Worrisome Trend of the Week

Dave Aranda might have done Alabama a tremendous favor on Saturday. LSU's defensive coordinator had his corners playing tight against Alabama's receivers with 1:31 left in the game, and up 46-34. Instead of just dropping back and forcing Alabama to dink and dunk, he stayed aggressive and challenged it instead. It was a decision I respect, but it was also a decision that resulted in an 85-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith after Smith beat Derek Stingley off the line. It didn't cost LSU the game, but it certainly kept Alabama's playoff hopes alive.

Instead of a possible 12-point loss to LSU at home, Alabama lost by five to the No. 1 team in the country even though its quarterback was less than 100 percent. If you don't think you'll hear that argument a thousand times over the coming weeks if Alabama wins out, you're deluding yourself. But I don't want to talk about Alabama's playoff resume.

I want to talk about a worrisome trend that will hurt Alabama's chances of making the playoff, as well as winning the national title if it gets there. Here's a chart of how Alabama's defense has performed in SEC play during the College Football Playoff Era.

Season

Points Allowed Per Game

Yards Allowed Per Play

2014

18.6

4.54

2015

17.1

4.61

2016

14.9

4.13

2017

13.4

4.10

2018

15.7

4.50

2019

24.7

5.29

For context, the Oklahoma defense is allowing 27.7 points per game and 5.28 yards per play in Big 12 play.

The fact Alabama's defense has dropped off this season isn't a recent development. It was a concern before the LSU game, but the LSU game was the first chance to see the concern manifest itself. It's a talented unit, but unlike previous iterations, it's young and inexperienced as well. The good news for Alabama is that I don't think there's a major matchup concern for them defensively on the remainder of the schedule. Auburn doesn't strike me as the kind of offense that can take advantage of it, nor would Georgia if Alabama somehow found its way to Atlanta. But the offenses it would face in the College Football Playoff should it get there? The ones that belong to teams like Clemson, Ohio State, possibly Oklahoma, and the LSU team it just faced? Yeah, those offenses can.

Also, if you're interested in stats that don't mean anything, but could be a bad omen: Alabama has allowed 40 points to an opponent 10 times under Nick Saban (nine before Saturday). The only time it happened in a season in which Alabama went on to win a national title was in 2015 when Ole Miss beat Alabama 43-37. 

Crowd-Surfer of the Week

It was a great weekend to be a Gopher. Minnesota's 31-26 win over Penn State was its first chance to show the world its perfect record wasn't strictly the result of circumstance. This is a good team with an explosive offense and a sturdy defense. While there are still tricky games remaining against both Iowa and Wisconsin, Minnesota not reaching the Big Ten Championship Game would be a bigger upset than the one it just pulled off against the Nittany Lions.

Onside Kick of the Week

If you watched Ohio State's win over Maryland on Saturday, you got the distinct sense that the Buckeyes were playing under the impression that Maryland was the NCAA.

Stat of the Week I

This one comes to us via Matt Brown's always interesting look at his AP ballot and the AP Top 25 poll's history at The Athletic. Penn State lost to a ranked Minnesota team on Saturday. This week, the Nittany Lions will play an Indiana team ranked in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since 1994 (which ends the longest drought among Power Five schools).

According to Brown, this means Penn State will be the first team since Iowa in 1937 to play a ranked Minnesota and a ranked Indiana not only in consecutive weeks, but in the same season.

Revenge Fantasy of the Week

Last season, Ty Storey started nine games at quarterback for Arkansas. The Razorbacks went 0-9 in his starts. Storey finished the season completing 57.2 percent of his passes for 1,584 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Arkansas would finish the season 2-10 and 0-8 in the SEC. So it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise when Chad Morris decided to bring in two transfer QBs over the offseason in Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel.

Storey -- able to read the writing on the wall -- transferred from Arkansas to Western Kentucky. He was the starting QB for Western Kentucky on Saturday when it came to Fayetteville and beat Arkansas 45-19. Morris was fired on Sunday after the loss.

Now, I very much doubt Storey is taking any pleasure in Morris' dismissal, but you know coming back to your old school and beating the coach who felt the need to replace you must have been a fantastic feeling. 

Tom Fornelli Team of the Year Dropouts of the Week

Beginning in 2019, The Tom Fornelli Team of the Year Award, presented by The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism, is to be given out to one incredible football team that best displays the values of The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism. Every week, teams will be eliminated from the running for reasons. Those reasons are at the sole discretion of Tom Fornelli and The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism, which is comprised of Tom Fornelli and nobody else. Here are the teams eliminated from consideration in Week 11.

School

Reason For Elimination

Coastal Carolina

You didn't get shutout, but you might as well have.

Georgia Southern

You can't beat Appalachian State one week and turn around and lose by 21 the next.

Iowa

You're just not Iowa enough for me this year. Be more Iowa.

Louisville

I'm sorry, Louisville, but this just isn't working for me right now.

Penn State

This is for calling a corner fade to a 5-foot-9 receiver.

Wake Forest

You ruined Clemson's best chance at another win over a ranked opponent.

Teams remaining: 23 / 130
Teams eliminated last week: Appalachian State, Kansas, Middle Tennessee, SMU, Troy, UAB, USC, UTSA

For a full list of eliminated teams and the respective reasons, click here.

Stat of the Week II

If you're like me, you stayed up into the early hours of Sunday morning to watch Hawaii's 42-40 win over San Jose State. It was an entertaining game, and one that did not feature a single punt.

There were 17 possessions in the game. Two of them were ended by the halves, one ended in a fumble, and the other 14 ended in points. It was not a defensive struggle.

Beard of the Week

loviebeard.jpg
Illinois Football

That would be the beard belonging to Illinois coach Lovie Smith. The Illini came back from a 28-3 deficit against Michigan State in the first half to beat the Spartans 37-34. It was the largest comeback in program history, and it's a comeback that gave Illinois its sixth win of the season, which will send it to its first bowl game since 2014. Illinois has come a long way in the last month.

AP Voter of the Week

This week's AP Voter of the Week is Jon Wilner of The San Jose Mercury News. It seems Jon is still a bit skeptical about Minnesota, even after its win over Penn State. I know this because Mr. Wilner has Minnesota at No. 15 on his ballot this week, which is five spots lower than any other voter in the AP Poll has it.

It's also five spots lower than where Mr. Wilner places the Penn State team Minnesota just beat. Now, I'm sure Mr. Wilner has an explanation for it, and I'd love to hear about how the 9-0 team deserves to be five spots lower than the 8-1 team it just beat. Thankfully, Mr. Wilner writes a column each week explaining his ballot! This week he writes:

This deep in the season, a single result — even ahead-to-head outcome, only counts so much if all other factors are not equal.

And in the case of Penn State and Minnesota, the other factors are not equal.

The Gophers played a soft schedule (South Dakota State, Georgia Southern and Fresno State) and have just one quality win (Penn State).

While I understand that Penn State has a better resume, to me, that should be more of a factor when the teams have the same record, or do not play. In this case, Minnesota has a better record, and beat Penn State. If all that we're going to judge Penn State and Minnesota on is who Penn State beat earlier this year and who Minnesota beat, then what was the point of them even playing the game in the first place? You can't argue that a team hasn't beaten anybody, and then say "well it didn't beat anybody before" when it beats somebody. It's dishonest.

Also, a quick shout out to The Boston Globe's Michael Vega for putting Illinois at No. 25 on his ballot this week. I just mentioned Illinois' comeback against Michigan State, and they do have a win over Wisconsin, but that doesn't change the fact Illinois also has four losses. Two of which came at home to a 4-5 Eastern Michigan and a 4-5 Nebraska.

College Football Playoff Projection of the Week

  1. LSU
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Alabama

Until the next Monday After!

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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