The Clemson Tigers (9-1) are on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff. Unlike many of head coach Dabo Swinney's previous teams, the Tigers found themselves beaten significantly in their only loss of the season when they fell to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
So, instead of a place in the Top 4 of the CFP rankings, the Tigers sit in the No. 9 spot — well out of consideration. According to most experts, Clemson has very little chance of altering its path and gaining a spot in the playoff despite the presence of stalwart defensive end Myles Murray (6.5 sacks).
But that's not necessarily the case and there's an argument that would help Clemson to have a fighting chance when it comes to earning a spot among the sport's elite teams.
Clemson Tigers path to the playoffs
Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU are in the top 4 spots and all are undefeated. There's nothing wrong with those rankings, and Georgia looks like a powerful team and has answered all the questions at this point.
Let's look at the two Big Ten representatives. Both have reeled off 10 straight wins to this point in the season, but neither team is flawless. Ohio State was pushed to the limit earlier this month by lowly Northwestern. The Buckeyes didn't score until late in the second quarter, and while the game was played as the winds howled off Lake Michigan, head coach Ryan Day's team did not look like a world beater.
Michigan has not had any close calls, and their undefeated status will likely come down to its annual meeting with the Buckeyes. The Wolverines ended their long losing streak against Ohio State last year at Ann Arbor, but can Michigan win in Columbus? If the answer is no, Michigan should not go to the playoff.
The same holds for Ohio State, and that would be even more damaging since the loss would come on its home field.
TCU pulled off a notable win at Texas last week, but the Horned Frogs could be vulnerable Saturday on the road against Baylor. When top teams win an emotional rivalry game against a strong opponent one week, it is often hard to match that a week later. Additionally, the Horned Frogs close the regular season against Iowa State, and also must play in the Big 12 title game. If TCU loses any one of these games, they no longer deserve a spot in the playoff.
No. 6 LSU and No. 8 Alabama both have 2 losses. There's no way either of these teams deserve to go to the playoff ahead of the Tigers as a result. Both teams are excellent, but the idea that teams with two losses deserve a spot ahead of 1-loss Clemson is ridiculous. Alabama supporters will certainly complain about that, but they would most likely argue that the Crimson Tide is the best team in the nation even if they had 3 or 4 losses.
No. 5 Tennessee also has 1 loss, and the Volunteers have proven to be dynamic and explosive with an eye-catching average of 47.4 points per game. Quarterback Hendon Hooker has a 24-2 TD-interception ratio and he has an excellent chance of winning the Heisman Trophy. The Vols deserve a spot in the playoff if they don't lose either of their last 2 regular-season games or in the SEC Championship game.
No. 7 USC also has 1 loss this season, but the Trojans have two major challenges remaining on the schedule against crosstown rival UCLA and traditional rival Notre Dame. USC can make a very strong argument to get into the playoff with wins in both games, but that is a lot to ask. The Trojans struggled earlier in the year against Stanford and Oregon State, and their defense has allowed 30 points or more in three of their last four games. USC will lose one of those games, most likely to surging Notre Dame
Tigers best shot
It would be best for the Clemson Tigers if Michigan beats Ohio State in that classic matchup. The Tigers also need TCU to fall in one of its remaining games. USC needs to lose to UCLA or Notre Dame.
If that happens, the four playoff teams will be Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee and Clemson. If those results happen, they deserve a spot among college football's 4 elite teams.