As we sit here just days away from the release of the first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings, it has been interesting to look at the case for several different teams for the No. 1 spot. LSU, TCU, Baylor and Ohio State all have their own arguments for the top spot, but I believe Clemson, given the Tigers win at NC State on Saturday, should lead the first set of rankings from the committee.
Moving away from the BCS computers and to a selection committee model has certainly reinforced the strength of the argument in college football; and as we know, college football is and will always be driven by differing opinions. I've sat on conference calls with selection committee members and CFP executive director Bill Hancock to try and gain an inside understanding of what makes a team "the best" in the eyes of the committee. My conclusion? Until we get a few more years of this playoff thing behind us, everyone is just trying their best to sort out whatever madness the college football gods have created in that particular week or season.
A resume unlike any other. For starters, Clemson should be in the mix for one of the top four spots as the only undefeated team with a win against a consensus Top-10 team in the polls (Notre Dame). The Tigers slate started slow, with Wofford, Appalachian State and a narrow 20-17 win on the road against a reeling Louisville team. In the pouring rain in Death Valley, with Dabo Swinney telling his players to "B.Y.O.G.: bring your own guts," the season evolved into something that could be really special.
It was a giant stage, but the conditions were not suitable for ACC Preseason Player of the Year Deshaun Watson to take control of the game himself. That's when the defense stepped up, with Mackensie Alexander shutting down Irish wide receiver Will Fuller and the Tigers holding off a relentless charge from Notre Dame right down to a goal-line stand on the game-tying two-point try.
One of the best defenses in the country. The key to this Clemson team's success, and potential to be a national title contender, was a perceived weakness in the preseason.
Clemson's defense was expected to take a step back after losing nearly the entire starting defensive line (including the NFL-bound Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett) along with multiple-year starters and contributors at linebacker and in the secondary.
But defensive coordinator Brent Venables and his staff, with the leadership of some key veterans -- junior linebacker Ben Boulware, defensive end Shaq Lawson and breakout star junior safety T.J. Green all come to mind -- this unit is still one of the best in the nation. Clemson, Iowa and Temple are all undefeated and all ranked in the top 15 nationally in yards allowed, the Tigers, however, have accomplished that feat against a schedule that, so far, has included four Top-50 offenses (Notre Dame and Appalachian State rank in the top 10 in yards per play).
Why No. 1? Because the numbers say so. If you are a believe in advanced statistics, Clemson should be one of your picks for the top of the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings as well. According to S&P+, a metric devised by Football Outsiders' Bill Connelly to measure efficiency, explosiveness, field position and finishing drives, Clemson has the No. 1 team, No. 11 offense and No. 4 defense in the country.
|Football Outsider's S&P+ Rankings|
|Team||S&P+ Overall||S&P+ Offense||S&P+ Defense|
|*Rankings via Football Outsiders as of Week 8's games.|
Parting thought. As Clemson was blitzing through South Beach last weekend, something that stood out to me more than Miami's collapse was how fast and strong this young Tigers team looked in comparison to the Hurricanes. Offensive lineman were blowing Miami off the ball, the Tigers' back seven was flying across the field and laying punishing hits on wide receivers and running back Wayne Gallman (another sneaky-great part of Clemson's success) was bowling over defenders at 5.36 yards per carry.
It's wild to think how much more success this team could have in the future considering it starts nine freshman or sophomores and has played the third-most true/redshirt freshman in the nation (28) so far this season. That youth makes Clemson's success infectious, but it will also be something to watch as the pressure mounts after the release of this first set of rankings.