RALEIGH - Clemson won the only bowl game that makes any sense right now, slamming N.C. State 55-10 in the Textile Bowl as the rest of the ACC bowl structure slid into chaos Saturday night.
In the meantime, a wild Saturday in college football rendered the first week of the playoff standings moot.
Clemson sent a clear message on the day Minnesota beat paper-ranked Penn State, exposing the original CFP rankings to be seriously flawed. Virginia Tech and Miami then exposed the Orange Bowl’s front-runners and set up a sprint to south Florida by a slew of schools thought to be out of the running.
That would not include N.C. State. But it presumably could mean Wake Forest, Louisville, Virginia or even Pitt.
Clemson’s win over State pushed the Tigers a week closer to a berth in the playoffs while the committee takes another shot at figuring out the top four schools in the country.
Wake’s stunning loss to Virginia Tech took the air out of next week’s game in Death Valley and left the entire conference gasping for oxygen in a league of equals. With only three weeks left in the regular season, we still don’t know who is the second best team in the league.
We’re beginning to get a clearer picture of which team is the best in the country though.
The Textile Bowl wasn’t even fair. After the committee had put out its first rankings this week, somehow deducing that Clemson was the fifth-best team in the nation, you had the impression that State was going to be sacrificed.
Swinney took a back-hand swipe at State earlier in the week when someone asked about the annual match-up with the Pack.
“It’s the Textile Bowl,” he said. “It goes way back. There’s a trophy getting handed out after the game. I guess we’ll load it up and take it up there.”
He suggested the equipment manager knew where it was.
“Someone will get it and take it up there with us,” he promised.
If there was a trophy on the sideline, no one saw it. There were no laptops on the sideline either.
Clemson is on a roll, and right now no one can stop the Tigers. Since the one-point win at Carolina, which is a lame excuse for not ranking Clemson as one of the top four teams in the country, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 263-62.
And that’s with Swinney playing everyone on campus and inviting every 5-star high school player in the country to come watch.
This has nothing to do with the rest of the ACC. Put the Tigers in the SEC and they’re leading the East. Put them in the Big 10, and they would’ve exposed Penn State a month before Minnesota did it. Put them in the Big 12, and, no that would just be cruel and unusual.
The Tigers clinched the Atlantic Division in a total smackdown of Dave Doeren and N.C. State. Swinney had an offensive lineman score a touchdown. With a minute left in the first half, he went for it on 4th and 5 from the 50. Then he had quarterback Trevor Lawrence throw a bomb for a touchdown. He went for it on fourth quarter every chance he got, including with 11 seconds to play.
Then he had a linebacker attempt the extra point.
Swinney took every opportunity to embarrass Doeren and send a message to the committee.
Clemson piled up 403 yards by halftime, sending almost the entire State fan base home before the third quarter. Even the fans who always bring the “Myrtle Beach Backs the Pack,” sign left at halftime. And they took their sign.
Before Saturday, a lot of Wake Forest fans saw next week as an opportunity to go down to Clemson and shock the Tigers on the way to the Orange Bowl. In a matter of hours, everything changed. Wake lost on the road in Blacksburg, a long, long way from Death Valley and light years from South Beach.
This was one of those days in college football when everything changed in an afternoon. Alabama went down. Penn State went down. Appalachian State beat South Carolina, effectively ending the argument that the SEC is any different from any other league.
It’s just like the ACC. Good at the top, fat in the middle and tired of football.
Can we not just go straight to the title game? Dabo Swinney will bring the trophy.
If he can find it.