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ACC Playoff Hopes Lie With Clemson

By Dave Holcomb
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The ACC’s playoff hopes will live or die with Clemson.

As hard as it is to resist, it’s a little early to be discussing playoff scenarios.

It’s only the middle of October. The first College Football playoff rankings won’t come out for another three weeks, and as most fans know, so much can change before then.

But as college football turns the page to the second half of the season this weekend, one thing seems to be clear. The ACC’s playoff hopes will live or die with Clemson.

Most would agree, if there was a playoff ranking released this week, the Top 4 would include the Clemson Tigers. They have made the College Football Playoff three years in a row and sit at 6-0 heading into this Saturday.

Outside of them, though, the usual suspects in the ACC -- Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech -- have all lost. In the case of the Seminoles and Hokies, they have each suffered defeats at least twice.

Florida State has lost three times, so a better question for the Seminoles is whether they will continue their bowl streak. Virginia Tech has dropped two of the last three, including a game against Old Dominion, which almost single-handedly eliminates the Hokies from playoff contention.

That’s quite different than where these teams were a year ago. Heading into Week 7 in 2017, Clemson and Miami were both undefeated while Virginia Tech had just one loss to the Tigers. All three were still alive in the playoff race, and there was even a brief discussion that the ACC could earn two of the top four spots.

This fall, the ACC won’t have any if Clemson doesn’t win the conference. Usually how it works, should the Tigers lose, the team that beats them will probably be in the playoff conversation.

That likely won’t be the case this season because the conference’s reputation has taken a major hit with the number of non-conference losses this year.

Against Power 5 teams outside the conference, the ACC has gone an ugly 3-8. Other than Clemson, who, by the way, only beat unranked Texas A&M by two, Duke is the only ACC team with a victory against a Power 5 club in a different conference.

And that 3-8 mark doesn’t even include Virginia Tech’s embarrassment against Old Dominion or Pitt’s blowout loss to UCF.

That doesn’t bode well for the conference should Clemson lose. Outside of the Tigers, the only ACC teams still with a realistic shot at the playoff are Miami and N.C. State.

But in the case of the Hurricanes, Miami’s playoff hopes are likely tied to LSU, who Miami lost to in Week 1. LSU is better than most expected, but the Tigers suffered their first loss against Florida on Saturday and still have to face Georgia, Alabama and Auburn.

Not only does Miami have to run the table and win the ACC to make the playoff, the Hurricanes also have to hope the bottom doesn’t fall out for LSU.

N.C. State’s path is a little clearer, but it includes beating Clemson on Oct. 20. If the Wolfpack manage to accomplish that, they would have a one-game lead on the Tigers and own the tiebreaker in the ACC Atlantic Division race.

However, if Clemson wins as most expect, then N.C. State is a long shot to win the division because the Tigers would possess the one-game lead and tiebreaker. While Ohio State and Alabama made the playoff without winning their conferences in years past, N.C. State doesn’t have the pedigree to accomplish that feat.

They might not even have a good enough reputation to suffer one loss and still make the playoff. That means not only is beating Clemson essential, but so is not tripping up at Syracuse the following week or falling to Florida State, Wake Forest, Louisville or North Carolina down the stretch.

As mentioned earlier, it’s honestly too early to be discussing playoff scenarios. Things fans and the media worry about in the middle of October tend to work themselves out.

But when it comes to the ACC playoff chances, it’s hard not to already rule out the fact it’s Clemson or bust.