Unfortunately for ESPN and the College Football Playoff, there will be little to no suspense when the field is announced on Sunday. Thanks to the Clemson’s 45-37 victory over North Carolina, the Tigers will be the top seed when the brackets are unveiled.

I’m surprised that the four-letter network is trying to act like this topic is somehow open for debate. After all, Clemson went 13-0 and posted victories over three teams in the Selection Committee’s top 10. In addition, the Tigers have one of the top defensive units in the country. Coming into the game, Clemson was ranked eighth nationally in sacks, fifth in total defense, third in tackles for a loss, and first in third-down conversion defense, allowing opponents to stay on the field just 24 percent of the time.

This dominance was on full display on Saturday evening. Sure, the Tigers gave up 382 yards and 37 points, but those numbers don’t tell the entire story. The fact of the matter is that the Clemson defense kept the pressure on North Carolina all night long. This constant bombardment caused all sorts of problems for Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, who completed just 11 of his 33 passes. Not surprisingly, the Tar Heels converted just 5 of 14 third downs, and held the ball for only 21 minutes and 4 seconds.

It’s also worth pointing out that most of North Carolina’s points came on short touchdown drives as opposed to long, sustained ones. In fact, four of the Tar Heels’ five TD drives were less than 50 yards long. They were set up by either a penalty, turnover, or inexplicable special teams gaffe.

Of course, the reason the Tigers were able to overcome these lapses is that North Carolina couldn’t stop their explosive offense. Clemson demolished a much-improved Tar Heel defense to the tune of 6o8 yards, including 187 yards rushing from Wayne Gallman and another 131 from Deshaun Watson. Clemson’s quarterback was equally effective as a passer: Watson completed 26 of 42 passes for 289 yards and 3 TDs. That’s an outstanding performance considering that it came against a UNC defense which entered the game ranked 19th in passing defense and 17th in interceptions.

It’s hard to argue with those results.


So, what does this victory mean in the grand scheme of things?

The most obvious takeaway is that the Tigers should be headed to the Orange Bowl as the College Football Playoff’s No. 1 seed. As mentioned above, Clemson beat three teams in the Selection Committee’s top 10. No one else in the country has that many top-quality wins, making the Tigers the obvious choice at No. 1. Besides, top-10 wins should matter a heck of a lot more than top-30 or top-40 wins, shouldn’t they?

That question was rhetorical, although I’m sure some SEC fans would dispute that point.

The other lesson learned from Saturday’s contest is that this year’s Clemson team is every bit as resilient as the one which captured the national championship in 1981. Despite falling behind early and shooting themselves in the foot in the first half, the Tigers always managed to come up with big plays when they needed them. Whether it was running the two-minute drill to perfection to take the lead at the end of the first half; coming up with a big pick to prevent Carolina from retaking the lead in the second half; or keeping the chains moving on third down, Clemson got the job done when it had to. The Tigers were so tough under pressure Saturday night that I’m positive they would have kept the Tar Heels out of the end zone had the officials not erroneously called a offsides penalty on a UNC onside kick recovery in the final 90 seconds of regulation.

Does this resilience mean Clemson will win the College Football Playoff? That’s tough to say, as Alabama, Oklahoma, and Michigan State are all playing extremely well right now.

However, based on what we saw on the gridiron Saturday night, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. The Tigers are solid on both sides of the ball, and have overcome every adverse situation they’ve faced this season. No one else in the field will be able to say that.

With Iowa’s loss to Michigan State, Clemson becomes the only FBS team to finish an unbeaten regular season in 2015. For the second straight season, the ACC will produce the only unbeaten team in college football’s version of the final four.

Clemson stands alone in college football at the end of the regular season. With two more wins, the Tigers can stand alone in an even more prominent way.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.