Why Clemson will (or won’t) win the College Football Playoff

No. 2 Clemson enters the College Football Playoff with a 10-1 record. The Tigers have made the four-team playoff each of the last six seasons and are looking to make a fifth appearance in the national championship game. It’s an impressive run of success under coach Dabo Swinney.

Clemson is a 7 1/2-point favorite against No. 3 Ohio State in the semifinal at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. It’s a rematch of last year’s 29-23 thriller at the Fiesta Bowl.

MORE: College Football Playoff isn’t fair, but don’t blame four teams who made it

Here is a closer look at the Tigers’ playoff history, and the reasons why Clemson will (or won’t) win a national championship in 2020:

Clemson playoff history

The Tigers have won two national championships in the College Football Playoff era, beating Alabama in the CFP championship game in 2016 and ’18. The Tigers were the No. 1 seed in 2015 and 2017; they lost to Alabama in the championship game in 2015 and the national semifinal in 2017.

Clemson’s College Football Playoff history

Year Rank Results
2015 1 Beat No. 4 Oklahoma 37-17, Lost to No. 2 Alabama 45-40
2016 2 Beat No. 3 Ohio State 31-0, Beat No. 1 Alabama 35-31
2017 1 Lost to No. 4 Alabama 24-6
2018 2 Beat No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3, Beat No. 1 Alabama 44-16
2019 2 Beat No. 3 Ohio State 29-23, Lost to No. 1 LSU 42-25
2020 2 vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Clemson playoff matchup

The Tigers have had Ohio State’s number since the Gator Bowl in 1978. Clemson is 4-0 all time against the Buckeyes, and that includes two victories in the CFP semifinals. Clemson also beat Ohio State 40-35 in the 2014 Orange Bowl.

Why the Tigers will win national title

Swinney will tell you at length that Trevor Lawrence is the best player in college football, and the junior quarterback has a 34-1 record as a starter to back that up. Lawrence averages 292.1 passing yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in four playoff starts, and he has beat the other three teams on this stage. The Tigers have just as much talent as the other national championship teams, and Lawrence continues to be a threat with his legs. Clemson’s offense can engage in a shootout with Ohio State, and the Tigers have outscored three opponents 131-37 since the loss to the Irish on Nov. 7. That young defense has improved under defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Another national title shot with Alabama seems inevitable, and Clemson is 2-1 on that stage against the Crimson Tide.

Why the Tigers won’t win national title

Ohio State blew a 16-0 lead against Clemson in last year’s national semifinal, and Justin Fields returns to that motivated Buckeyes’ team wearing the underdog label. Safety Nolan Turner will miss the first half because of a targeting penalty in the ACC championship game against Notre Dame, and the Tigers are susceptible to another shootout. Clemson can still win that game, but the challenge against Alabama’s offense will be the same as the previous matchups. Clemson has committed the most turnovers (13) of the four playoff teams, and the running game sputtered in the loss to Notre Dame. The Tigers found out against LSU last season that it takes more than just Lawrence to win a national championship.

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