With Clemson No. 1, Miami No. 7, ACC in line to return to CFP

The ACC no longer boasts two teams in the College Football Playoff rankings’ top four, but the conference still enters Championship Weekend looking like its in perfect position to punch a playoff ticket when Clemson meets Miami.

The defending national champion Tigers moved into the No. 1 spot on the heels of Alabama’s loss, and the Hurricanes — second a week ago — slid down to seventh with Tuesday’s release of the penultimate Top 25.

“The committee continues to be impressed with how balanced the Tigers are on both sides of the ball and how that has translated into an impressive season-long body of work,” said selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt.

The Tigers and Hurricanes will meet Saturday in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.

Auburn jumped to No. 2, with Oklahoma at No. 3, Wisconsin fourth. Alabama fell to fifth with Georgia sixth, Ohio State eighth, Penn State ninth and USC rounded out the Top 10.

Virginia Tech and NC State are the only other ACC teams in the rankings, coming in at 22nd and 24th, respectively.

Should chalk hold in the ACC, Clemson is a lock to return to the field of four for the third consecutive season. In the playoff era, that’s a distinction that only Alabama — which the Tigers beat in last year’s title game — can match.

But if the Hurricanes, who enter as 9 1/2-point underdogs, pull off the upset, there’s still a very strong chance that they make the cut.

The guaranteed spot is the SEC’s with the winner of Auburn and Georgia getting a bid. Wisconsin, if it reaches 13-0 with a win over Ohio State in the Big Ten title game is a lock, though the Buckeyes may be a stretch if they get the win considering they have two losses, including a bad one at the hands of Iowa.

The Big 12 is seemingly in a similar position, with Oklahoma a sure thing if it wins, but things get dicey if No. 11 TCU pulls off the upset. The jump may be too high for the Horned Frogs to reach the playoff.

It’s hard to see Miami facing an uphill battle if it can beat Clemson, with attrition ahead of them in the SEC guaranteed and possibly getting the boost of beating the selection committee’s No. 1 team to get that 13th data point (a conference title).

That should be the trump card that pushes the Hurricanes in, especially if it comes down to them and one-loss Alabama, which didn’t even win its own division.

“When we’re comparing like teams, that conference championship designation is very important,” Hocutt said. “To what degree, how that will be weighted is subjective with each individual in that selection committee room. So when comparing comparable teams, like teams, that conference championship designation is important.”

Regardless of whether it’s Clemson or Miami, the ACC is on track to get a team into the playoff for the fourth straight year.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.

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