Everyone doesn’t deserve a trophy.
College football isn’t little league baseball and not everyone should be invited to the College Football Playoff party. The Big 12 found out the hard way last year what that feels like and has been crowing about it and attempting to fix it all offseason.
With all due respect to former colleague Mike Leach, exclusivity is a good thing. It makes for a far more entertaining regular season when it’s incredibly difficult to make it into the Playoff.
The ACC looks like the league with the toughest path to the postseason tournament in 2015.
Florida State and Clemson are the class of this conference (again). Georgia Tech, Louisville and Virginia Tech make up the next tier, however, none of those three appear suited for a national championship run. Sure, they could win the ACC title but the national title?
No, if the ACC is going to make a run at the Playoff it will come from Tallahassee or Death Valley.
The media spoke very clearly in Pinehurst, N.C., at ACC Media Days: Clemson is the team to beat in the ACC. The contingent here at Athlon Sports disagrees, picking Florida State in our preseason magazine and recent official ACC Podcast.
Either way, those are the two best picks in the ACC. But to win a national title, a team has to be perfect (or near-perfect) and the difference between being ranked in the top four and getting left out may be half-a-dozen plays.
Clemson is a really good team. They are extremely talented, have the best player in the conference in quarterback Deshaun Watson and get a lot of big games at home.
Podcast: Complete 2015 ACC Preview and Predictions
But for Dabo Swinney’s team to be playing in the College Football Playoff, four huge questions marks have to all be answered for Clemson.
First, Watson must stay healthy. He’s an incredible athlete and may be a Heisman Trophy winner before his time in college is finished. But he’s also been hurt before, during and after his first season at Clemson. It’s certainly possibly he remains healthy, but there’s a good chance he will miss a game or two — which could end any hope of a national title.
Second, Swinney must fill the Shaq-sized shoes of one of the top offensive minds in college football. Chad Morris left campus for SMU and Swinney promoted Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott. The system is in place and should be productive, but the odds of those two being capable of the same things as Morris is downright impossible.
Third, Clemson must prove it can reload rapidly because the Tigers return fewer starters (5) than any other Power 5 team in the nation. There are massive holes to be filled, and, while there is loads of talent, the odds of Clemson boasting the No. 1 defense in the nation a second year in a row also is extremely doubtful.
Lastly, the Tigers have to win nearly every game against a schedule that is one of the ACC’s toughest in recent memory. Notre Dame, Florida State and Georgia Tech all come to Death Valley and trips to Louisville, Miami, NC State and South Carolina will be very tricky. When’s the last time Clemson rolled through a slate like that without a slip-up?
It’s called “Clemson-ing” for a reason.
Could all of these things fall the Tigers’ way? Maybe. Would you bet on all of those things taking place? Not a chance.
So what about a Florida State team that has proven it’s the best program in the ACC and capable of winning virtually every game it plays?
This team has arguably the second-most talented roster in the nation behind only Alabama, so the players are there. But gone is Jameis Winston, all five offensive linemen, the most productive wide receiver in school history, possibly Dalvin Cook and the Mackey Award winner in Nick O’Leary.
The defense does return seven starters and the schedule is easier than what Clemson will face. However, critical games against Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida and Boston College come on the road. There are other interesting tests with Louisville, NC State and Miami at home.
But does this roster have the experienced pieces in the right places to win every game? The Noles needed the No. 1 overall pick and 10 other NFL Draft picks to barely get that job done last year and still got smoked in the Rose Bowl.
Clemson and Florida State are the class of the ACC and picking either to win the league title is a sound decision.
But it doesn’t look like this league has a team capable of going unbeaten — or finishing with one loss — and that is what it takes to reach the College Football Playoff.
Then it will be commissioner John Swofford’s turn to complain all offseason.