Clemson’s got a chance to usurp Alabama as the best team of college football’s brief playoff era.
The No. 1 Tigers are headed to a third-straight playoff after slamming No. 7 Miami 38-3 Saturday night in Charlotte in the ACC Championship Game. Assuming No. 5 Alabama doesn’t make the playoff Sunday afternoon, the Tigers will join the Tide as the only schools with three playoff appearances in four seasons of the championship format.
Alabama has a championship, a final appearance and a semifinal loss in its three appearances. If Clemson wins its semifinal matchup, the Tigers will have made the final in each of the last three years. Who’d have thought Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would have a realistic chance to one-up Alabama’s Nick Saban in four playoffs?
Barring a logic fail of astronomical proportions, Clemson will be the playoff’s No. 1 seed on Sunday and head to the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
The Tigers wasted no time jumping ahead of Miami on Saturday, scoring a touchdown on their first drive. The game was tied for a grand total of 4 minutes and 24 seconds until freshman running back Travis Etienne scored a four-yard touchdown.
The rout was on soon after that.
Miami’s depleted offense was no match for Clemson’s defensive front. The Hurricanes entered the game without starting running back Mark Walton, who has been out for much of the season because of an ankle injury. And this week in practice, the Hurricanes lost tight end Christopher Herndon and wide receiver Ahmmon Richards to knee injuries.
After Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled a punt in Tiger territory in the first quarter, Miami had a chance to counter-punch Clemson. The punch wasn’t even attempted. The Hurricanes couldn’t move the ball towards the end zone and settled for a 46-yard field goal try. It sailed wide left.
It got worse from there. Miami had just 10 first downs and struggled mightily on third down (3-16) while the Tigers were far more efficient (9-18). The turnovers didn’t even go Miami’s way either. The fumbled punt was the only time the turnover chain appeared on the Miami sideline.
The defending national champions are also heading back to the playoff with a new quarterback. Redshirt freshman Kelly Bryant was spectacular on Saturday, starting the game 14-14 passing. Overall, Bryant completed 23 of 29 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown and also rushing for a score. The game was such a rout in the second half that Swinney had the chance to play backup quarterbacks Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson.
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