Late Hits: Clemson keeps the ACC’s playoff hopes alive

That sudden gust of wind 18 minutes before midnight on Sunday wasn’t Hurricane Joaquin, it was a collective exhale from the ACC.

With Clemson’s stop of Notre Dame’s 2-point try, and subsequent 24-22 win over the Fighting Irish at 11:42 p.m. on Saturday, the ACC remained alive in the College Football Playoff race.

The Tigers (4-0) didn’t earn one of the four spots in the CFP, far from it, but they avoided being eliminated, and with them, the ACC’s best shot at a seat at the postseason table.

If Clemson had lost to Notre Dame, there would have been no logical argument for their inclusion, even as ACC champions, over Notre Dame.

There are only four seats at the playoff table for five major conferences. Notre Dame, which plays six ACC games this season, would have taken the ACC’s seat, not one of the other conferences.

Three one-loss teams made the playoff last year, so the Irish are not eliminated but there isn’t that much meat left on the bone of their schedule.

Florida State – (sobering thought alert!) the only other unbeaten ACC team on Oct. 4 – needed a Notre Dame loss, too.

An unbeaten Notre Dame, with a win over Clemson, would have been in front of FSU in the playoff pecking order. Forget for a minute that FSU doesn’t look like a playoff contender, a 24-16 win at Wake Forest is proof enough of that, but have you seen FSU’s schedule?

The selection committee docked an unbeaten FSU last year for every possible reason, real and imagined, and that was with wins over Notre Dame and Oklahoma State outside the league. This year, FSU traded the Irish and Big XII’s Cowboys for South Florida and Texas State.

Florida’s win over Ole Miss on Saturday night certainly helped Florida State’s potential playoff cause, but there’s much work to be done by FSU for that to be a factor come Selection Sunday.

If both Clemson and FSU can get to their matchup on Nov. 7 at Clemson without a loss, these potential problems can now be saved for another day and maybe another year. Clemson took care of business, barely, after jumping out to a 21-3 lead, and the ACC still has a leg, however wobbly, to stand on in the CFP conversation.

No one was as pleased with Clemson’s win as coach Dabo Swinney was. Swinney added another chapter to his entertaining, on-field post-game interview library. Soaked from the rain and surrounded by delirious Clemson fans, a jubilant Swinney took the opportunity to share his pregame motivational speech with ABC’s Heather Cox:

“What I told them tonight was listen: We give you scholarships, we give you, uh, you know, stipends and meals and a place to live. We give you nice uniforms! I can’t give you guts and I can’t give you heart. Tonight, hey, it was ‘BYOG’ – bring your own guts! And they brought some guts and some heart and they never quit until the last play!”

Entertaining sidewinding tangents aside, Swinney was right, Clemson had just enough guts to save the day for the ACC.

Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio


Who’s trending this week in college football:

UNC (UP): The Tar Heels hadn’t won at Georgia Tech since 1997 and only three times since 1985 but broke that trend with Saturday’s 38-31 comeback win in Atlanta. Senior quarterback Marquise Williams led the Heels in passing (134 yards), rushing (148 yards) and receiving (37 yards).

East Carolina (UP): Just when it looked like ECU was on its way to another emotional letdown, down 23-7 in the second quarter at SMU, James Summers saved the day. The junior quarterback threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in a 49-23 road win. ECU would have lost that type of game last year. The Pirates have a keeper in Summers.

N.C. State (DOWN): First, Anton Gill and the basketball loss in the Sweet 16 and, now, Lamar Jackson and a football lesson in reality. Louisville has quickly become N.C. State’s “new Maryland.” Apparently, the cosmos has predetermined that the other red-and-white ACC team must vex the Wolfpack.

Texas (DOWN): It’s one thing to be down 37-0 at halftime to Texas Christian (and lose 50-7), it’s another for one of the players (freshman cornerback Kris Boyd) on the team – and playing in the game! – to be on Twitter at halftime and making a reference to transferring.

Second-year coach Charlie Strong has more than first-world problems with this Texas group. And with a new athletic director coming into place, Strong – who was popular among his players as an assistant at Florida and head coach at Louisville – might not be long for this high-profile gig.


Ranking the ACC

1. Clemson (4-0): “We give you nice uniforms!”

2. Florida State (4-0): All that 5-star talent and the success of the team rests entirely on the health of Dalvin Cook.

3. Louisville (2-3): Freshman QB Lamar Jackson is only going to get better.

4. UNC (4-1): Should be 6-1 for a Thursday night trip to Pitt on Oct. 29.

5. Duke (4-1): David Cutcliffe, defensive genius.

6. Pittsburgh (3-1): Winning ugly beats losing pretty every time.

7. Miami (3-1): Looked like Oregon, played like Virginia in Thursday’s loss at Cincinnati.

8. N.C. State (4-1): Unbeaten in the Sun Belt, winless in the ACC.

9. Georgia Tech (2-3): Jackets are in “basketball” mode, can’t beat Duke or Carolina.

10. Boston College (3-2): All defense, no offense.

11. Virginia Tech (2-3): No defense, no offense.

12. Syracuse (3-1): Trip to South Florida is the biggest game of Scott Shafer’s career.

13. Wake Forest (2-3): A “good” loss to FSU, if there is such a thing.

14. Virginia (1-3): At least Alabama turned Greyson Lambert back into a pumpkin.