Hypothetically, it is still possible for Clemson to end the 2015 football season as an undefeated ACC Champion. They certainly have the schedule to make it happen. But even if Clemson does win out, they still do not have a slam-dunk, automatic invitation into the college football playoffs.
Clemson’s chances depend much upon how the cookie crumbles elsewhere. There are five Power 5 Conferences and only four slots in the playoff. In the end, Clemson must prove themselves better than the worst champion from one of the other Power5 conferences. It remains an open question whether an undefeated Clemson could unseat a one-loss champion from any other Power5 Conference.
Because one team is undefeated does not a guarantee make. A team’s won loss record is only one factor. There are others.
Among the many factors the committee members consider are win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents and conference championships won
Clemson’s affiliation with the ACC is a heavy anchor that may drag the Tigers down. The ACC’s 2015 out of conference performance (31-13) is dismal. Against FBS teams their record is just 16-13. Most of the ACC victories are against Sun Belt or MAC teams. They are just a 3-8 against other Power 5 teams. Indeed, two of the ACC’s best teams (UNC and Louisville) lost to two of the SEC’s worst (South Carolina and Auburn). The ACC’s overall non-conference record is by far the worst of any Power 5 Conference.
LINK That conference affiliation is a definite factor the Committee must consider.
The ACC can still right the ship at the end of the season when non-conference play resumes. Georgia Tech, Florida State, Louisville, and Clemson all play SEC teams at the end of the season. If the ACC can repeat the 2014 season, then Clemson’s chances to make the playoffs will increase substantially. But if they perform as they do most years, then Clemson’s chances will sink even further.
The ACC’s poor out of conference record argues strongly against admitting an ACC Champion over one of the other four conference champions. An ACC team’s undefeated record is bolstered hugely by playing weak ACC conference games. Going undefeated against ACC competition is not even in the same ball park as making it through an SEC schedule with only one loss. The strength of schedule argument means that an undefeated ACC team should not be picked over a one-loss SEC champion. The other conferences, except maybe the Big 10, which is just 4-3 against ACC teams, can make similar cases.
Of course, Clemson has no shot at the playoffs if they lose to a disappointing South Carolina team on the road in Columbia. Beating the Gamecocks in Columbia is something no Clemson team has done since 2007 when Clemson eked out a narrow 23-21 win.