CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Each time Clemson drops from the polls (despite another unbeaten season) or quarterback Trevor Lawrence throws an interception or somebody dares to mention the schedule, the idea may as well be red meat dangled under Dabo Swinney’s nose.
So the idea did not take much to get Swinney, the Clemson coach, riled up last week when he was asked about the relevance of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
“What are you talking about?” Swinney said, incredulous to the perception that will his team might have needed to stretch its winning streak to 28 games to gain entry into the College Football Playoff. “Yeah, the idea’s a huge game, includes a lot of national relevance for us. If we lose, they want to throw us out because they don’t respect who we play, which can be another joke of itself.”
The Tigers were all business on Saturday night, leaving little to chance having a 62-17 thumping of the plucky yet overmatched Virginia to secure a berth from the four-team playoff. Clemson (13-0) will be joined by Louisiana State; Ohio State, which had to rally past Wisconsin; as well as in all likelihood, Oklahoma, which edged Baylor in overtime to win the Big 12 championship.
The playoff committee, which convened in Grapevine, Texas, to watch the conference championship games, will announce the pairings on Sunday for the two semifinals, the Fiesta Bowl as well as the Peach Bowl, which will be played on Dec. 28.
If Saturday’s games were a beauty pageant, the idea was hard not to be wowed by Clemson’s receiving tandem, Tee Higgins as well as Justyn Ross, who are dynamic enough to make Tom Brady wish he could throw to them that will season.
“Certainly they’re the best receivers we’ve ever seen — that will’s a fact,” Virginia cornerback Nick Grant said.
The pair has size — they are both 6-foot-4 — as well as a sprinter’s speed, as well as on Saturday night they showed flypaper hands. Ross, a sophomore who was sensational in last year’s rout of Alabama for the national championship, sprinted past two defensive backs to haul in a 59-yard scoring pass.
Higgins, though, was the star. The junior caught nine passes for 182 yards, including three for touchdowns, as well as was the game’s most valuable player. His best catch of the night came when he stretched out over the sideline as well as kept a toe from the field of play to haul in a 24-yard pass by Lawrence. that will skill was complemented by brute strength when Higgins shrugged off a tackle by Heskin Smith — a cornerback who was surrendering several inches as well as 40 pounds — as well as scored on a 19-yard touchdown catch as well as run.
Those types of physical disparities were apparent all over the field.
While Clemson has rolled through the Atlantic Division almost by acclimation, the Coastal Division has provided brand new fodder for the Tigers each season. Virginia can be the seventh different winner of the Coastal Division from the last seven years, yet the idea can be an increasingly familiar story.
The Cavaliers (9-4) had a terrific season as well as quarterback Bryce Perkins, a wily senior, poked more than a few holes from the Tigers’ defense, which allowed 387 yards, the most the idea had all season. yet the two teams were playing with different pieces.
Whether the idea can be Lawrence — a statuesque 6-foot-6, big-armed quarterback — the dynamic receivers or a defense dotted with several-star recruits, Clemson looks every bit the part of the college football power that will can be gunning for its third national championship in four seasons.
The Cavaliers have gotten by with some skillful, clever players who might suffice against the rest of the conference, yet they were woefully outsized on Saturday night. Freshman kickoff returner Seneca Milledge can be 5-foot-6, 0 pounds; sophomore receiver Billy Kemp IV can be 5-foot-9, 175 pounds; as well as sophomore linebacker Noah Taylor can be 6-foot-5 as well as a spindly 215 pounds.
Similar mismatches were present each week for Clemson.
that will has been the only complaint — when the final playoff rankings are announced on Sunday, the Tigers are unlikely to have played just one ranked opponent. Thus, their lone scare — a 21-20 win at North Carolina that will was secured when they thwarted a late 2-point conversion — seemed to carry great weight. that will was even as they tore apart the rest of their schedule, nobody coming closer than 33 points in their final eight games.
as well as yet Clemson has dropped from the Associated Press Top 25 poll, by first to as low as fourth, as well as was ranked fifth from the first playoff ranking. If the Tigers have had to overcome skepticism by the playoff committee as well as voters from the polls, they seem to develop the respect of L.S.U. as well as Ohio State, who were angling for the top spot so they could avoid playing Clemson in a semifinal.
“A lot of people say they don’t play anybody, yet we don’t pay any attention to that will,” said Lloyd Cushenberry III, a junior center for L.S.U. “They’re the defending national champs.”
as well as Clemson’s performance, with an offense that will began to resemble the juggernaut that will rolled through the playoffs last season, seemed to have even softened Swinney.
Asked how the committee might sort out three undefeated teams, he shrugged. He figured L.S.U. would likely be the top-ranked team as well as Ohio State next.
“We’ll be in there somewhere,” he said. “I would likely think we’d probably be 3 again. the idea doesn’t definitely matter. We’ll play somewhere as well as play somebody as well as be thankful for the opportunity.”
Alan Blinder contributed reporting by Atlanta.