Clemson’s home loss to Pitt on Saturday may not put its ACC title hopes in jeopary, but the Tigers are now in dangerous terrain when it comes to the College Football Playoff.
Just when it looked as if chaos was not going to reign in the College Football Playoff picture this season, Pitt had other plans in mind.
Clemson (9-1, 6-1 ACC) fell victim to the Panthers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, falling 43-42 on a last-minute field goal, and had its 21-game home win streak (the longest-active streak in the FBS) snapped.
Slotted at No. 2 this week in the College Football Playoff rankings, Dabo Swinney’s squad found itself in a dogfight with Pat Narduzzi’s team all day long, and it finally ended when Chris Blewitt drilled a 48-yard field goal with six seconds left in what may be the season’s biggest upset.
Pitt running back James Conner ran for 132 yards, and the Tigers’ talented defense struggled all day trying to stop a Panthers offense coordinated by veteran Matt Canada, who orchestrated some of the most productive offenses in NC State history.
The Tigers received a huge day from Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw for 580 yards and three touchdowns on 52-of-70 passing. But he also threw three interceptions, and his third pick allowed Pitt the opportunity to come back from a 42-34 deficit.
Finally, the Tigers’ sloppy play caught up with them after dodging several bullets throughout the season.
Last month, NC State missed a 33-yard field goal as time expired that would have knocked off the Tigers, who ultimately won in overtime. This time, Clemson could not muster any field-goal defense magic against Pitt, which was an underdog by at least 20 points for the first time since 2007, when the Panthers upset No. 2 West Virginia as 28.5-point underdogs.
Clemson was in the driver’s seat for a spot in the CFP for a second consecutive season. Now, the Tigers’ future is a bit murky.
If Dabo Swinney’s squad beats Wake Forest and South Carolina before winning an ACC championship game, a 12-1 Tigers outfit still has a very good chance of being a Top 4 team in the final rankings.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed, especially when stacking the Tigers up against other one-loss teams. What if Michigan has a very close loss to Ohio State, ends up missing the Big Ten title game and is 11-1. Would the Wolverines get in over a conference champ? Keep in mind that the selection committee puts a lot of stock in conference champions. Also, remember that Clemson has a head-to-head win over one-loss Louisville.
Heading into the weekend, Clemson didn’t have anything to worry about in regards to the CFP because it was undefeated. Continue to win, and the Tigers were in. Now, they no longer control their own destiny.
Swinney’s squad played with fire too much this season, and they were finally burned on Saturday.