Clemson’s loss to NC State boosts college football parity
If there was one overwhelming constant in college football playoff days, it was Clemson and Dabo Swinney.
Well, not this year.
Clemson fell again on Saturday in a 27-21 double-overtime loss to NC State, a second loss that in all likelihood sends the Tigers into the most unlikely category even before October arrives: out of the playoff race.
What’s even more amazing is how he got here. The Tigers (2–2) fight mysteriously offensively. And we mean struggle. They played three games against the FBS competition. Over those 12 quarters, they’ve scored four touchdowns and a total of 31 points, averaging just 216 yards per game.
The post-Trevor Lawrence era started off tough: a winding Georgia, a slow exit against a bad Georgia Tech team, then what happened on Saturday in a game that should never even have gone into overtime. A Wolfpack team that lost to Mississippi State controlled the Swinney Tigers.
NC State topped them 386-214, tripled them in the opening downs (31-10) and shockingly dominated possession time (42 minutes to 18). Something we don’t hit often: a Clemson quarterback was completely ineffective.
DJ Uiagalelei, the five-star heir to this footballing kingdom and star of Dr Pepper’s new “Fansville” commercials, completed 12 of 26 passes for 111 yards on Saturday. In three FBS games, he threw for a total of 415 yards, which most of Clemson’s quarterbacks seem to do in one game. He has two touchdowns and two interceptions. And he failed 45% of his attempts.
NC State celebrated as one might think a team that hadn’t beaten a Top 10 team in nearly a decade: their fans took the pitch by storm. It was Clemson’s first loss to an unranked team since 2017. And for the first time since 2014, Swinney & Co. are grappling with two losses before the arrival of their fifth game. In fact, in four of the past six years, Clemson has never even lost a second game. The other two years he lost his second match in the CFP semi-finals.
It’s a remarkable race that we all knew had to end at some point. Few people would have chosen this era. But the defeat is the latest proof that, take it, we could regain parity in college football this year.
In week two of the season, Ohio State lost at home for the first time since 2017, and Oklahoma looked fragile, with near losses to Tulane and Nebraska. Notre Dame also appears far from invincible, with close appeals in Toledo and the state of Florida, and Alabama’s defense was fairly elusive in Florida.
This is something that we missed a lot in the game.
Over the past two decades, a small group of teams have dominated the sport, and in the age of the playoffs, an even smaller group is strangling college football. The parity, never too pronounced in the annals of college football anyway, made it feel like it was the triple option path.
In the first seven years of the playoff era, four teams represented 20 of 28 playoff spots (71%): Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma and, of course, Clemson.
The Tigers put the ACC in a pretty difficult position. For years now, the gap between Clemson and the league’s second-best team had been incredibly wide. True, really wide. Why do you think the conference would crawl over broken glass to have Notre Dame as a permanent member? Or why do you think he sued Texas in the realignment reshuffle this summer?
Because, at present, the only undefeated teams of the conference are… Wake Forest and Boston College (who would have guessed?).
Playoff prospect North Carolina started the season laying a egg against Virginia Tech. And what did Tech do? Losing to West Virginia last week. Louisville was spanked by Ole Miss. NC State, as mentioned above, lost to Mississippi State. Pitt lost to Western Michigan, and Miami, another top-25 preseason program of the year, has lost twice already.
So here we are, on September 25, with the most dreaded ACC program and the CFP’s most constant presence out of sight.
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