Going into Saturday's ACC Championship Game with Notre Dame, Clemson faced the very real possibility of missing the College Football Playoff. A second loss to the Irish would most likely have kept the Tigers out of the final four for the first time since 2014.
But in their typical, emphatic way, Clemson announced that they're back. Not only are they back in the final four, but they also showed that they are still – along with Alabama once again – one of the primary contenders to be the last team celebrating at the end of what has been a crazy 2020 season.
Here are five reasons why that will be the case and Clemson win its fourth national title.
5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the College Football Playoff
1. Coaching staff
In some years Clemson has been undefeated entering the College Football Playoff. In others, like this one, the Tigers have been tripped up along the way. It doesn't matter. At this time of year, the boys in orange are always playing their best football and that is a credit to head coach Dabo Swinney and his amazing staff. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables may be the best in the country at his craft, but offensive play-caller Tony Elliott is among the nation's elite as well. There are rumors that Auburn may want to talk to Elliott about their head coaching position. But if you think that that will be a distraction, the speculation has been out there for a few days now and it certainly didn't affect the team's performance on Saturday. And with Swinney running the show, it won't be an issue going forward.
2. The best quarterback in America is...
Trevor Lawrence. Alabama's Mac Jones had a phenomenal season and may very well win the Heisman Trophy. But the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft will be Lawrence. His physical tools – both his passing and his running – were on full display during the ACC Championship Game blowout of Notre Dame. Plus, when it comes to winning big games, no collegiate team has the experience that Clemson possesses at the sport's most important position.
3. Electric skill position talent
Welcome back Travis Etienne the ball carrier. The senior running back had not had a 100-yard rushing game since he went for 149 yards against Miami on Oct. 10. On the season, No. 9 had only topped the century mark twice. Etienne had been a weapon in the passing game, but his 124 yards on just 10 carries against Notre Dame was a welcome sight because Clemson certainly has other receiving options and was looking for more offensive balance. Amari Rodgers is winding up his stellar career with another big season and fellow senior Cornell Powell has developed into a dangerous downfield threat. Plus, freshman E.J. Williams showed off his skills on Saturday and Clemson always seems to get a play or two from tight ends Davis Allen and Braden Galloway. With Etienne now back in high gear, this will be a difficult offense to stop.
4. Of the four remaining teams, Clemson has the best defense
From a statistical standpoint, it's clear. Clemson ranks sixth in total defense while Notre Dame is 21st, Alabama 33rd, and Ohio State 34th. In scoring defense, the Tigers are 11th, Notre Dame 14th, Alabama 20th, and Ohio State 24th. But it's more than just the numbers. The Tigers gave up 28 points to Boston College and then 47 in two overtimes to Notre Dame in the middle of the season when a good chunk of their defense was injured. In the other nine games, Clemson allowed just 13 points a game, which would have been good for second in the nation, just a half of a point behind Marshall. With James Skalski, Tyler Davis, and the rest now healthy, Clemson is ready to prove that defense still does win championships.
5. Interior defensive pressure
While Davis is a stalwart in the middle of the defensive line, he is just one piece. Freshman Bryan Bresee is a force to be reckoned with and Jordan Williams and Nyles Pinckney are veterans that create a deep rotation inside. A big reason for the defensive dominance that Clemson exerted on Notre Dame was due to the inside pressure that was put on Ian Book and their ability to control a potent Irish ground game. With Notre Dame playing their third center because of injuries, Clemson took advantage of this spot in particular. Ohio State has a strong offensive line, but Northwestern did harass Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields early on in the Big Ten Championship Game. Plus, Alabama is always looming and in the SEC title game, the Crimson Tide lost starting center Landon Dickerson to a knee injury. Davis and company will be a major factor in Clemson's championship drive.
Podcast: CFB Playoff: Did the Committee Get it Right? And Early Playoff Breakdown and Picks
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.