When the Week 10 AP Poll drops on Sunday, Clemson will no longer see a No. 1 next to its name. The Tigers lost an overtime heartbreaker to No. 4 Notre Dame on Saturday night, and it might knock them out of the top four.
The season isn’t completely lost for Dabo Swinney and company, though. We’ve seen this before from Clemson — lose a regular-season game in the middle of the season, dominate the rest of the schedule, win the ACC title game to reach the College Football Playoff. The Tigers can follow the same model this season, but they can’t afford another mistake the rest of the way.
Clemson dropped a thriller to Notre Dame
Clemson was barely challenged through the first two months of the college football season. That changed in a big way on Saturday night when the Tigers traveled to South Bend to take on No. 4 Notre Dame.
In what is the most unique college football season in recent memory, the matchup was actually an in-conference game. Notre Dame joined the ACC for the 2020 season, and they’re able to compete in the conference title game this year.
How were the Fighting Irish repaid for finally joining a conference? With a date with the mighty Clemson Tigers in Week 9. But Brian Kelly’s crew didn’t back down from the kings of the Atlantic coast. Notre Dame scored late in the game to force overtime, and they stopped Clemson’s offense on a long fourth down in 2OT to seal the upset victory.
It was the first loss of the season for the No. 1 team in the country. Come Sunday afternoon, though, that number will be long gone.
Can Clemson still make the College Football Playoff?
Clemson fans might be feeling demoralized this morning about a possible lost season, but don’t give up hope just yet. The Tigers still have a path to the College Football Playoff, and it all hinges on a Dec. 5 rematch against those pesky Fighting Irish.
If Clemson wins its last three games, they will punch their ticket to the ACC Championship game. They will most likely meet Notre Dame in Charlotte, N.C. for the conference title. That game could very well be a win-and-in contest.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney knows this, and he’ll have the team focused on that game for the rest of the season.
“Again, everybody is sad and we are all hurting, but what I saw tonight is special,” Swinney said after the loss to Notre Dame. “We have all kinds of things we have to do better, but what I saw tonight is really special. We are not an easy out. Notre Dame, man, you just tip your hat. They dadgum earned it. We handle our business and maybe we get a chance to play them again. If we handle our business, maybe we’ll get a chance to play them again. I love my guys and am so appreciative of their effort and fight. Wish I could have helped them a little more tonight, but couldn’t get it done.”
If they handle their business the rest of the year, the Tigers will still have one of the best resumes in the country going into the CFP decision.
Clemson has done this before
Clemson made the College Football Playoff in 2017, as it’s done in each of the past five seasons. But fans might forget what happened earlier that year en route to the CFP.
In Week 7, Clemson lost to unranked Syracuse on the road to fall back to No. 7 in the country. Six weeks later, the Tigers throttled Miami in the ACC Championship, 38-3, to regain their No. 1 ranking and punch their ticket to the playoff.
If Clemson can survive a loss to an unranked opponent and still make the CFP in 2017, they can overcome an overtime loss to No. 4 Notre Dame without their starting quarterback and multiple defensive starters in 2020.
Win the rematch on Dec. 5, and Clemson will still find its way into the playoff.