COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 1 Alabama went down. No. 2 Miami was upset. No. 3 Clemson showed up strong, and after a dominant, 34-10 victory over South Carolina, the Tigers are now poised to finish the 2017 regular season in the same spot they finished the 2016 playoff: at the top of the rankings.
Not that Dabo Swinney is going to heap much praise on his team for its position in the next College Football Playoff selection committee poll. If the Tigers are No. 1, great. But Swinney has repeated for the past three seasons, he cares little about the rankings, so long as Clemson is in the playoff. And that, he said, will still require one more win.
Still, to watch Clemson (11-1) rout rival South Carolina on Saturday night was a reminder of why Swinney’s crew is so dangerous. While the two teams ahead of the Tigers in the polls fell in embarrassing fashion, Clemson played arguably its most complete game of the season.
Kelly Bryant‘s struggles in the passing game seem like a distant memory. He connected on deep balls, such as a 40-yard bomb to Tee Higgins. He connected on quick throws, such as a short pass Hunter Renfrow turned into a 61-yard dash to the end zone. And with the bulk of the fourth quarter remaining, Bryant gave way to backup Hunter Johnson.
And the defense? Well, No. 24 South Carolina (8-4) once again found absolutely nothing against Brent Venables’ crew.
The Tigers opened the scoring with a Ryan Carter pick-six. They tormented South Carolina QB Jake Bentley, who’d raised eyebrows after last season’s blowout loss by suggesting the Gamecocks weren’t far off from matching Clemson. Until Bryant threw a pick from his own 41, South Carolina didn’t run a single play in Clemson territory.
It was an emphatic statement on a weekend when those were the exception among the committee’s top four.
The win sets Clemson up as a potential No. 1 in the nation for its date with Miami in next Saturday’s ACC championship game. It also would make for a strong case for a playoff berth, even if the Tigers don’t win.
Saturday’s victory was Clemson’s eighth over a bowl-eligible team. It was the fourth time Clemson toppled a ranked team on the road — three of those wins coming by double digits. It was an exclamation point on a résumé the Tigers have been building since they beat Auburn — suddenly the hottest team in the country — in Week 2.
Still, that’s an argument Swinney would rather not have. There is a far easier path to the playoff, and Saturday’s victory was another showcase for a Clemson team that appears to be clicking on all cylinders headed into its showdown with a reeling Miami.