CLEMSON — Clemson is in. The Tigers are on top. For now.
The Tigers are seeded first overall in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s first set of 2015 standings released Tuesday evening on ESPN.
“It’s a sign we’ve had a great season to this point,” head coach Dabo Swinney said in a live interview on ESPN’s one-hour special. “I don’t think anybody should be having a party over the poll, and I don’t think anybody should be disappointed.”
The committee will continue to release weekly standings until the playoff selection show on Dec. 6.
Clemson has only played one football game in its 1,197-game history with the number “1” of any kind next to its name: the 1982 Orange Bowl, a 22-15 win over No. 4 Nebraska capping the Tigers’ lone unbeaten, untied national championship season.
“They’re not going to give us any midseason trophies,” Swinney said after his team’s last victory, a 56-41 win at N.C. State Saturday. “We’re not ready to pick the Grand Marshal for the parade just yet.”
LSU is No. 2, Ohio State is No. 3 and Alabama is No. 4 in the standings. Notre Dame, whom Clemson beat 24-22 on Oct. 3, is fifth, followed by Baylor at No. 6.
“The quality of their victories, certainly Notre Dame, and four teams that have better than a .500 record that they’ve defeated,” selection committee chairman Jeff Long said on ESPN. “That, combined with an offense and defense that are very strong on both sides of the ball, is what won the day in the committee’s eyes for the No. 1 ranking.”
Florida State enters its Saturday showdown with Clemson sitting at No. 16 in the standings. Clemson and FSU are the Atlantic Coast Conference’s only teams in the committee’s top 25. The Tigers close November at Syracuse (3-5), vs. Wake Forest (3-6) and at South Carolina (3-5), and if they defeat FSU, the ACC Championship Game is Dec. 5 in Charlotte.
Clemson’s highest-ever ranking during the BCS era, from 1998-2013, was No. 5 as an 8-0 squad on Oct. 23, 2011. That was erased by the Tigers’ 31-17 loss at Georgia Tech that started a 2-4 slide to conclude that season.
Last year’s eventual final four got there in different ways: FSU was No. 2 in the inaugural standings, while Oregon was fifth and Alabama was sixth, climbing a short distance. The ultimate national champion, Ohio State, was all the way down at No. 16 in the first standings.
Clemson is one of 11 undefeated teams remaining, including eight in Power 5 conferences. Only Clemson, LSU, Iowa and Toledo are assured of not having to play a fellow undefeated opponent the rest of the season.
“The confidence we have is we control our own destiny,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said Monday. “If we go out and execute in our remaining games, we feel very confidence we’ll be in the top four. The rest of it is outside stuff that’s fun to talk about, but this is a time for us to keep our head down, keep working and not look at the big picture just yet. It’s too early.”
Predictably, this initial glimpse of the committee’s pecking order isn’t making many waves inside the Tigers’ football complex. For the most part, coaches and players were uninterested in the hubbub surrounding the standings, regardless of Clemson’s spot.
“I don’t care. Not unless they’re going to give me an exemption, like in golf, when you win a tournament and you don’t have to play the rest (of the tournaments), you just get to show up to the Masters,” Swinney said Tuesday. “Maybe that would be a great addition — the first poll comes out, if you’re in the top four, you get two mulligans or something.
“No, it’s just so irrelevant. I know they’ve got to fill the air time and it’s great for college football and they’ve got to have something to talk about, create some drama and excitement and sell advertising, but it has nothing to do with us.”
If the Tigers end up in the final four, five Sundays from now, Swinney made a pledge he might have to honor.
“The only poll we’re worried about is Dec. 6. I promise you, we’ll have the biggest poll party you’ve ever seen. We’ll open up Death Valley and serve pizza to everybody and have a poll party on Dec. 6,” Swinney said. “But until then, it just doesn’t matter. You’ve got to go win the games. We don’t get any passes. Our focus is on trying to beat Florida State.”
Team leaders echoed their coach’s sentiments.
“That’s not my main focus. It’s still early in November. We have 4-5 more weeks to go,” sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “Anything can happen. Those rankings are just numbers right now. If we keep playing Clemson football, we’ll be all right.”
Said junior defensive end Shaq Lawson: “I pay no mind to that. I know we’ve got to continue to win, and everything else will take care of itself.”