After a down 2014 season, ACC football picked itself up in 2015 and appears to be on the rise once again.
Besides the SEC (Auburn and Alabama), the ACC (Florida State and Clemson) is the only other conference that has placed two different schools in the national championship game within the last three years.
This season, the ACC has a chance to do something no other conference has done in the young history of the College Football Playoff: Put two teams in the final four.
With five power conferences, Notre Dame, and several other outstanding teams from the AAC, it will always be tough to justify the inclusion of two teams from the same conference … but not impossible. However, if any conference deserved two teams, most believe it would be the SEC and not the ACC.
Yet, as fans have learned over the years, these college football rankings aren’t always about finding the best team via the “eye test.” Record, strength of schedule, and quality wins by opponents all play big roles in deciding the final four teams at the end of the season.
If all the dominoes fall in the correct spots, both Clemson and Florida State could reach the CFP at the end of the season.
To open the campaign, the Tigers and Seminoles are already ranked in the top four, indicating all they have to do to make the playoff is win all of their games. Of course, that’s impossible due to the fact they play each other on Oct. 29. The victor will likely win the ACC, and the loser will be eliminated from playoff contention.
The fact they can’t play each other in the ACC Championship Game could help them, similar to the way it helped Alabama in 2011. That year, LSU beat Alabama in the regular season, won the SEC West and the SEC Championship Game. At the end of the year, Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the nation and faced LSU again in the national championship game, and the Crimson Tide won.
Let’s assume Clemson wins the regular season matchup against Florida State. If the Seminoles roll through the rest of their schedule and finish 11-1, and Clemson wins the ACC with a perfect 13-0 record, both teams should be among the top four teams in the country.
Some will definitely question whether two ACC teams would really deserve half the playoff spots. The ACC might not even be the second-best conference behind the SEC with the recent rise of Big Ten football.
However, consider Florida State’s and Clemson’s schedules. Both schools face two SEC teams this year. The Seminoles’ two SEC games are particularly difficult, against preseason No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 25 Florida. Clemson is on the road versus Auburn and at home against South Carolina.
In the event that Clemson goes undefeated and Florida State only loses to the Tigers, both teams would not only show that they dominated their conference, but each would have also defeated a pair of SEC teams.
The “two-ACC playoff plan” will receive a major boost if Ole Miss and Florida both have stellar seasons themselves. Ole Miss has knocked off Alabama two years in a row and hosts the Crimson Tide this year. Should the Rebels make it three consecutive victories over Alabama, and Florida State beats Ole Miss, it would only add to the argument that the ACC should have two playoff teams (assuming Alabama is in the final four).
Florida could also potentially be the SEC East champion. In that scenario, the Gators would likely be the underdogs against the SEC West representative in the conference championship game, but should Florida win the SEC title, Florida State would have an excellent case to be in the playoff despite not winning its conference.
Yet, even if that doesn’t happen and Alabama runs the table in the SEC, Clemson and Florida State could both earn playoff spots should they combine to win 24 games and only lose once.
Any additional losses, even to a tough team like Louisville, North Carolina or any of the SEC teams, puts this scenario off the table. It’s also less likely if Clemson loses to Florida State, goes 11-1 and the Seminoles go 13-0. The Tigers don’t have as tough of a non-conference schedule, so it will be more difficult to argue for their inclusion into the playoffs if they don’t win the ACC.
This scenario also requires Ohio State or Oklahoma losing at least once, possibly twice. Houston and Notre Dame would need to lose at least once in order to carve out a path for the “two-bid ACC.”
The odds are stacked against two teams from the same conference advancing to the College Football Playoff, but should all the pieces fall perfectly into place, the ACC has a great chance of making history this year.