There should be no drama in Clemson, S.C., on Sunday when the final College Football Playoff rankings are announced. No. 3 Clemson knocked off No. 23 Virginia Tech 42–35 in the ACC title game Saturday, which should secure the Tigers' spot in the national semifinals.
Here are three thoughts on Clemson's victory in Orlando:
1. Virginia Tech had opportunities to pull off the upset
Despite a slow start, the Hokies battled back to keep the game interesting. After trailing by seven at halftime, Virginia Tech was unable to score on its opening drive to start the third quarter. On Clemson's next possession, linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka grabbed an interception in Clemson territory, but Virginia Tech was forced to punt. Following those two missed chances, Clemson marched down the field and scored and then added another touchdown to take a 35–14 lead.
But Virginia Tech wouldn't go away. Running back Travon McMillan ran for a 27-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive, and after a three-and-out by the Tigers, the Hokies fought back within a score with a touchdown run by quarterback Jerod Evans.
However, with Clemson backed up at its own 16 yard line facing a second-and-19, DeShaun Watson promptly completed a 31-yard pass to a diving Hunter Renfrow for a first down. A few plays later, Clemson faced a third-and-14 from the Hokies' 45-yard line. Watson again beat a secondary that struggled all game long for a 30-yard completion to Deon Cain before scoring on the next play. Still Virginia Tech refused to go quietly, needing just six plays to cut the margin to 42–35 with 5:43 remaining. That was as close as the Hokies would get, though, as Cordrea Tankersley intercepted Evans at the Clemson 14 to seal the Tigers' win.
Overall, Virginia Tech simply wasn't as talented as Clemson and needed to play essentially a perfect game to win. A basketball-style fake punt that set up the Hokies' first touchdown in the first half was exciting, and you have to admire Evans' toughness, but the Virginia Tech defense just wasn't up to the task. It's hard to win allowing 8.5 yards per passing attempt.
2. Defense was optional for both teams
It wasn't a particularly great game from either team on the defensive side of the ball. Virginia Tech frequently got flagged for pass interference in the first half—the Hokies gave up 89 yards total on penalties—and then started giving up big passes in the second. Clemson decided it was a smart idea to drop all 11 guys on a crucial third down, allowing Evans to hit tight end Bucky Hodges for a 42-yard gain. Evans finished with 264 yards on 7.5 yards per attempt and led the Hokies to touchdowns on three of their final four drives.
Outside of a handful of drives to open the third quarter, Clemson was unable to make a big stop until the final drive, allowing Virginia Tech to stay in the game. That's a recipe for an upset against a lesser opponent (which almost happened) or a big deficit against a quality foe (which will come next).
3. Clemson's win means Big Ten will likely only get one team in the playoff
With Clemson and Washington winning this weekend, the Big Ten will most likely miss out on sending a second team to the playoff. Michigan and Penn State (after beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game) are the two teams that have a case after No. 2 Ohio State, but it's doubtful the committee would leave Clemson or Washington out after both won their conferences this weekend.There was plenty of discussion about which team would be the ultimate benefactor of a loss by the Tigers or Huskies, but that will all go for naught. Expect Clemson to be the No. 3 seed when the playoff field is announced, which would send the Tigers to the Fiesta Bowl.