Miami, Clemson set for battle in ACC Championship with College Football Playoff implications
Just one week ago, the Miami Hurricanes were on top of the world — well, at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, almost on top.
But the Hurricanes fell with a resounding thud Tuesday when the CFP selection committee dropped them to No. 7 after they lost 24-14 at Pittsburgh on Saturday in the final regular-season game.
As good fortune would have it, the Clemson Tigers (11-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who had dropped below the Hurricanes (10-1, 7-1) last week to No. 3 in the CFP, did what the Hurricanes couldn’t do: dominated their opponent, South Carolina, on the road.
So, on Tuesday, the selection committee rewarded Clemson handsomely as the new No. 1, setting up the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game on Saturday night between Clemson and Miami as a possible play-in to the four-team College Football Playoff.
Note the word “possible.’’
The top four teams in Tuesday’s next-to-last rankings: No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Auburn (10-2), No. 3 Oklahoma (11-1) and No. 4 Wisconsin (12-0).
The other programs now hoping, praying, lobbying and some of them playing this weekend for a chance to crack the top four and compete for a national title: No. 5 Alabama (11-1), No. 6 Georgia (11-1), No. 7 Miami and No. 8 Ohio State (10-2).
The final CFP rankings will be revealed on ESPN at noon Sunday, and as much as many people — especially the ones from South Florida —insist that the winner of the ACC title game will get into the playoff by virtue of being the conference champion, it is not a given if it is Miami. Yes, conference championships are said to be taken heavily into account by the selection committee, but they do not automatically qualify a team for the playoffs.
Nonetheless, the analysts on the ESPN broadcast Tuesday said if UM wins Saturday they believe it will make the playoffs.
“I think the Hurricanes are fine if they can beat Clemson, which is a tall order,’’ Rece Davis said, with fellow ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who will be on the broadcast that day, agreeing.
This weekend, besides Miami facing Clemson at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, the other crucial matchups will be Wisconsin vs. Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship; Georgia vs. Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Championship; and Oklahoma vs. TCU in the Big 12 Championship.
Each of those results will affect the rankings.
This is the fourth year of the College Football Playoff system, and in the previous three years, the most a team has jumped from the next-to-last rankings to the top four of the final rankings was two spots, Michigan State from No. 5 to No. 3 in 2015, when Alabama beat Clemson for the national title.
Last season, the same four teams remained from the next-to-last rankings to the final rankings, although in different order. Alabama and Clemson played a rematch for the title, and this time Clemson won.
Alabama, which lost its final regular-season game 26-14 Saturday to Auburn, will not play this weekend and can only sit and wait until Sunday.
“I think this team deserves the opportunity to get in the playoff by what they’ve been able to accomplish and what they’ve been able to do,’’ ‘Bama coach Nick Saban said after the loss. “Certainly not maybe in this game but I think the team we played is a very good football team and probably one of the best teams in the country.’’
Should the winner of this year’s ACC Championship Game go to the playoff?
“Oh, I think so,’’ Miami coach Mark Richt said this week. “I think whichever team wins the ACC, considering the body of work of both teams, should be a shoo-in to get in.’’
And this, from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose ACC Atlantic Division Tigers beat the Coastal’s North Carolina in 2015, and Virginia Tech in 2016, for consecutive conference crowns: “If we were both 8-4, then I wouldn’t necessarily think that it’s an automatic play-in. But I think where we are right now, the season we’ve had, the season Miami has had, I don’t think there’s any question that the winner of this league— this is a very difficult league, a very difficult league — [deserves to be in the playoff].
If UM should lose to Clemson, it will almost definitely play in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
The CFP semifinals are at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, at 5 p.m. Jan. 1; and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans at 8:45 p.m. Jan. 1.
The College Football Playoff National Championship is at 8 p.m. Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
▪ In other news Tuesday, Richt was named ACC Coach of the Year.
The panel of voters included 45 media members and the 14 coaches, with Richt getting 41 of those 59 votes.
Richt, 57, is the first Hurricanes coach to receive such an honor in the same season that he has led Miami to its first ACC Championship Game.
Swinney was runner-up to Richt, with 10 votes. Boston College’s Steve Addazio got five votes, Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall got two and Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson got one.