Over the next few weeks, you're going to hear talking heads debate which college football team deserves to earn the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff. After seeing its 36-game regular-season winning streak end at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend on Saturday, Clemson is now part of that conversation. But no matter what anyone says on TV, the Tigers still have a clear path to the College Football Playoff and it includes a shot at redemption.
After a bye week coming up, Clemson faces Florida State, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech to finish off the regular season. It will be double-digit favorites in each game. If it wins all three, it will play in the ACC Championship against, you guessed it, Notre Dame (assuming Notre Dame wins its remaining four games against Boston College, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Wake Forest). On a neutral field with Trevor Lawrence back under center after missing yesterday's game following a positive COVID test, Clemson would likely be favored to beat the Fighting Irish, win the ACC Championship, and all but assure its spot in the CFP semifinals.
Remember, the CFP selection committee takes into account who you lost to and under what circumstances. Losing on the road in double overtime without your starting quarterback to the No. 4 team in the country certainly merits consideration. If the Tigers were able to flip that result on a neutral field with their starting quarterback against a team that will likely be ranked No. 2 in the nation at that time, they would distinguish themselves from the one-loss competition.
Outside of the Tigers, the other top one-loss teams in the hunt for a spot in the CFP are Texas A&M and Florida. Texas A&M already lost to Alabama this year and Florida lost to Texas A&M. The Gators could still get into the CFP if they advance to and beat Alabama in the SEC Championship, but the Aggies can't get into the SEC Championship unless Alabama loses twice. I don't see that happening.
Assuming Alabama and Ohio State win out, or just assuming the winner of the SEC and Big Ten Championships are already locks to make the College Football Playoffs, which they are, that would leave the winner of the ACC Championship also a lock to make it. That opens the door for Clemson, which, despite seeing its long regular-season win streak end, is still very much in control of its destiny moving forward.
So while you listen to the traditional debates about who should be in and who should be out of the CFP conversation, remember that's just fodder for what happens on the field. There, Clemson's path to the tournament is as clear as it was before it lost to Notre Dame.