No. 3 Clemson‘s name was revealed ahead of undefeated No. 4 Ohio State and just behind No. 2 Notre Dame on Tuesday when the first College Football Playoff Rankings of the 2020 season were announced. The Tigers’ ranking acknowledges both a respect for Clemson’s strengths as a team and its win against No. 10 Miami, as well as the committee’s acknowledgement of the players who were absent (most notably quarterback Trevor Lawrence) for the 47-40 double-overtime loss to Notre Dame in South Bend. All of it was good news for the Tigers, but this high ranking ignores how tenuous their spot is in the ACC championship and College Football Playoff race.
A second conference loss could potentially bounce Clemson from the ACC Championship Game as it would set the Tigers behind Miami for the second spot in Charlotte. The two teams are tied with one conference loss apiece for the moment with Clemson holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. So as long as the Tigers win out, there will likely be a rematch of that Nov. 7 classic in South Bend. But winning out is easier said than done, as Clemson’s close calls both this year (against Boston College) and in previous years (at North Carolina in 2019, against Syracuse in 2018) have shown.
Which brings us to Pittsburgh, the last ACC team to win in Death Valley and the only team to beat Clemson at home since the Tigers started their run of College Football Playoff appearances in 2015. The Panthers knocked off Deshaun Watson and the 2016 Tigers that would go on to win the ACC championship in November, but action across the country and Clemson’s body of work to that point helped keep that group in the top four of the playoff rankings after the loss, which was their only one of the season. That might not be the case for this year’s Tigers, with it not only being the second loss but coming at a point where there won’t be as much time to make up the ground and get back into the top four of the College Football Playoff Rankings.
Clemson: For all that was made of the Dabo Swinney vs. Florida State administration feud (also known as the latest chapter in Dabo Swinney vs. The World), one aspect of last week’s game between the Tigers and the Seminoles getting postponed at the last minute that has gone under-discussed is the delayed return of Trevor Lawrence. While the “Tank for Trevor” efforts are clearly all the rage in the NFL, we haven’t seen Lawrence play in more than a month. Prior to his positive COVID-19 test, Lawrence was pacing as one of the most productive and efficient quarterbacks in the entire country. He had a top-10 passer rating, top-10 completion percentage and 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Because he’s been a dominant piece of the college football conversation since the start of the 2018 season, Lawrence’s place among the elite quarterback talents is so entrenched that his actual production gets overlooked.
Freshman D.J. Uiagalelei was fantastic in relief of Lawrence, but the Tigers absolutely welcome the return of their quarterback who carries a 31-1 record as a starter. Saturday’s game against Pitt is not only a chance to get back into rhythm on the field but to tie Deshaun Watson, Tajh Boyd and Rodney Williams for the career wins record at Clemson, not to mention a handful of other school records that are in reach over the next couple weeks. It’s also Senior Day in Death Valley, and while Lawrence has not committed to one decision or the other, the assumption is that he will exit with this year’s senior class given all that interest in the “Tank for Trevor” movement.
Pitt: When Paris Ford opted out and Kenny Pickett was sidelined with an injury in the midst of a four-game losing streak, it looked like Pitt’s season was on the brink. Credit to the coaches and leadership in that locker room for getting everything stabilized and allowing a strong final movement here in the symphony of the season. Running up the score on Florida State and Virginia Tech not only helped the confidence of the offense — who, by the way, was missing three offensive linemen and top wide receiver Jordan Addison for the win against the Hokies — but finally allowed the Panthers to win with complimentary football. The defense has been playing well all season, particularly up front, but the offense’s struggles in the red zone and in key third-down situations have prevented the team from capitalizing on that strength in a way that produced wins. Clemson is going to be a very different challenge than what the Panthers faced against Florida State and Virginia Tech, but regardless of result, Pitt has done a great job pulling things together for a strong finish to 2020.
Date: Saturday, Nov. 28 | Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Clemson Memorial Stadium — Clemson, South Carolina
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Clemson vs. Pittsburgh prediction, picks
One of the reasons to like Pitt in any matchup is going to be its defensive line. The Panthers are among the best teams in the country in tackles for loss and stopping the run, which makes it more difficult for everything that Clemson wants to do offensively. Throw in Kenny Pickett’s recent hot streak moving the ball through the air and you’ve got the makings of a far more interesting game than the oddsmakers suggest. Pick: Pitt +25