If there was one overwhelming constant in the college football playoff era, it was Clemson and Dabo Swinney.
Well, not this year.
Clemson fell, again, Saturday in a 27-21 overtime double loss at NC State, a second loss that in all likelihood sends the Tigers into the most unlikely category before October rolls around: out of the playoff race. .
Even more surprising is how it got here. The Tigers (2-2) are mysteriously struggling on offense. And we mean fighting. They have played three games against the FBS competition. In those 12 quarters, they scored four touchdowns and a total of 31 points, averaging just 216 yards per game.
The post-Trevor Lawrence era got off to a rocky start: a Georgia hoax, a slow start against a bad Georgia Tech team, and then what happened Saturday in a game that shouldn’t even have gone into overtime. A Wolfpack team that lost at Mississippi State controlled Swinney’s Tigers.
NC State outscored them at 386-214, tripled them on first downs (31-10) and dominated time of possession in a shocking way (42 minutes to 18). Something we don’t write about often: a Clemson quarterback was completely ineffective.
DJ Uiagalelei, the apparent five-star heir to this soccer kingdom and the star of Dr Pepper’s new ‘Fansville’ commercials, completed 12 of 26 passes for 111 yards on Saturday. In three FBS games, he has thrown for a total of 415 yards, which most of Clemson’s quarterbacks seem to do in a single game. He has two touchdowns and two interceptions. And it has failed in 45% of its attempts.
NC State celebrated like you might think a team that hadn’t beaten a top 10 team in nearly a decade would – their fans stormed the field. It was Clemson’s first loss to an unrated team since 2017. And for the first time since 2014, Swinney & Co. face two losses before their fifth game arrives. In fact, in four of the past six years, Clemson hasn’t even lost a second game. The other two years he lost his second game in the CFP semifinals.
It’s a remarkable race that we all knew had to come to an end at some point. Few would have chosen this like that time. But the loss is the latest evidence that, get this, we could have parity going back to college football this year.
In the second week of the season, Ohio State lost at home for the first time since 2017, and Oklahoma looked shaky, with near losses to Tulane and Nebraska. Notre Dame also seems far from invincible, with close calls to Toledo and Florida State, and Alabama’s defense was pretty weak in Florida.
It is something that we have missed a lot in the game.
For the past two decades, a small group of teams has dominated the sport, and in the playoff era, an even smaller group strangles college football. Parity, never too pronounced in the annals of college football anyway, has felt like it’s gone down the triple-option road.
During the first seven years of the playoff era, four teams have accounted for 20 of the 28 playoff spots (71%): Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma and, of course, Clemson.
The Tigers have put the ACC in a pretty tough spot. For years now, the gap between Clemson and the next best team in the league was surprisingly wide. Real, really wide. Why do you think the conference would crawl through broken glass to have Notre Dame as a permanent member? Or why do you think he went after Texas during the restructuring this summer?
Because, right now, the only undefeated teams in the conference are… Wake Forest and Boston College (who would say?).
Playoff contender North Carolina began the season by laying an egg against Virginia Tech. And what did Tech do? He lost to West Virginia last week. Louisville was whipped by Ole Miss. NC State, as mentioned above, lost to Mississippi State. Pitt lost to Western Michigan, and Miami, another preseason program in the top 25 to start the year, has already lost twice.
And here we are, on September 25, with the ACC’s most feared program and the CFP’s most constant presence off the scene.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.