The simple mantra for the Clemson Tigers is win and the rest will take care of itself. With five weeks remaining, there will be shuffling and re-shuffling, but as long as Clemson holds serve, Dabo Swinney's team should be in good shape.
However, with about a dozen teams still in the mix for a College Football Playoff spot and the first rankings yet to be released, no one is quite sure yet how things stand. Here are some things that Clemson fans should pay attention to — beyond where the Tigers land — when the committee releases their first rankings tonight.
1. Notre Dame
At this point, unless Washington wins out and other teams fall, it seems as though the Pac-12 is on the outside looking in with regards to a playoff spot. That eliminates one of the five major conference champions from the four-team tournament. However, the Irish are in contention, keeping the waters muddied. Notre Dame has some very impressive wins and its one-point loss toGeorgia did little to hurt the Irish's chances. But without a conference championship, Notre Dame has to be clearly better than a league winner. Since no conference champions have been crowned yet, Notre Dame needs to start out above as many contenders as possible. If Clemson is behind the Irish on Tuesday night, it’s not necessarily a problem. If the Tigers are above ND or even a spot below, that would be a weclome sight for Clemson fans.
2. Who is No. 1?
The consensus is that Alabama is the best team in America. But if you look strictly at the resume, Georgia has been as dominant as the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs' win at Notre Dame is far better than anything Bama can claim. It is true that if both teams win out, they will meet in the SEC Championship Game with the winner grabbing a spot in the final four (and potentially the top seed). But what about the loser? I think Clemson would benefit a bit if Alabama is No. 1 and stays that way going into the first Saturday in December. Regardless, of the SEC title game outcome, the national perspective is that Alabama is the preeminent team and they will get treated as such. Therefore, it would be easier for Clemson to finish ahead of the SEC runner-up if that team is No. 2 Georgia.
For several reasons — some performance, some perception, some political — the Big Ten will have a representative in the playoff. And the team that most feel is the conference’s best team, Ohio State, lost by two scores at home to the Sooners. But Oklahoma has not played as well lately, especially on defense, and many believe that despite that decisive week two victory in Columbus, Ohio State will be ranked higher. Where Oklahoma is situated is of great importance to Clemson. If the Sooners are rewarded for their victory over the Buckeyes and are placed above Clemson, life gets a little tougher for the Tigers. OU still has games against Oklahoma State, TCU, and, if the Sooners keep winning, a game against another Top 25 team in the Big 12 Championship Game, giving them more quality win opportunities than Clemson going down the stretch.
4. The other ACC teams, Auburn and South Carolina
With so many teams fighting for the four playoff places, everyone wants their schedule to look as strong as possible. Hurting Clemson in a big way is the 2017 demise of Florida State. As a result, the Tigers need other teams to show up in the rankings. NC State is interesting because while the Tigers would like the Wolfpack to be ranked high enough to remain in the poll should Clemson win in Raleigh next week, a solid rating for NC State also helps one of Clemson’s chief rivals at this point in Notre Dame. Miami will most likely be in the top 10 despite the Hurricanes' recent uninspired play, but Virginia Tech’s slotting is something else to watch. The Hokies and the Canes meet this Saturday in a game that will probably determine the ACC Coastal champion and the Tigers want the winner of that game to be as highly ranked as possible. Plus, with a win in Blacksburg already in their pocket, the Tigers have become big Hokie fans. Auburn and South Carolina, two SEC teams on Clemson's schedule could also find themselves in the top 25, which would strengthen Clemson's case even more.
In the grand scheme of things, if Clemson takes care of business the rest of the way the Tigers should be okay. While they may not get the same special treatment as Alabama, being a defending champion can’t hurt, regardless of how impartial the committee says they are.
But there is a reason at this time each year the rankings are released on a weekly basis: because all of the college football world is interested and it gets everyone talking. And these are four things Clemson fans will be talking about after the 7 p.m. ET release.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.