Tee Higgins

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Get ready for the best College Football Playoff yet

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Entering its sixth season of existence, this year’s College Football Playoff may have its deepest field of playoff participants yet. Oh yes, this one is going to be good.

A system that has yielded what appeared to be a definitive two-team race the last handful of seasons with continued dominance by Alabama and Clemson, this year’s field feels as wide open as it has been under this new format. With one undefeated national champion riding a 28-game winning streak (Clemson), an undefeated SEC champion with the likely Heisman Trophy winner (LSU, with Joe Burrow), and an undefeated Big Ten champion with a trio of players that have been mentioned as worthy Heisman candidates (Ohio State), the main ingredients for a dynamic College Football Playoff are locked in. Throw in a one-loss Big 12 champion with one of the hot young names in coaching and a terrific story in the making (Oklahoma with Lincoln Riley and Jalen Hurts), what could there possibly be not to like about this year’s playoff field?

The College Football Playoff will once again have a fairly straightforward decision to make with the top four teams in this year’s playoff. There hasn’t really been much debate about which four teams have been worthy of inclusion in the playoff since its inception outside of the first season depending whom you ask (TCU and Baylor). When it has come time for the committee to make the decision they are put together to do, it’s been pretty easy. That seems to have worked out again this season with undefeated conference champions from the ACC (Clemson), Big Ten (Ohio State) and the SEC (LSU) and just one other 1-loss conference champion in the running (Oklahoma) after Utah stumbled before crossing the finish line Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game. Utah’s loss was the Big 12’s and Oklahoma’s gain once Georgia was handled by LSU in the SEC Championship Game.

Clemson is making its fifth straight appearance in the College Football. The Tigers now own the longest active streak of playoff appearances after Alabama fell short of the playoff this season. Clemson’s five appearances now ties Alabama for the most playoff appearances in the brief history o the College Football Playoff, and the pursuit of a 3rd national title in the era would give Clemson the lead in all-time College Football Playoff national titles. With offensive stars in Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins, and Travis Etienne, it’s difficult not to like Clemson’s chances to put some points on the board this year. That’s good because this could be the most explosive College Football Playoff yet. Ohio State (49.9 ppg), LSU (48.7 ppg), Clemson (44.3 ppg), and Oklahoma (44.3 ppg) were ranked in the top five in the nation in scoring at the close of the regular season. Defense wins championships? Not this year, it would seem.

Transfer quarterbacks are also all the rage this year, showing how valuable the transfer market can be for a team hoping to reach the College Football Playoff. Ohio State’s Justin Fields was the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year in his first season after transferring from Georgia a year ago. Ironically, it is former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow who has been the catalyst for a playoff run at LSU. Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma is in his fourth College Football Playoff after transferring from Alabama. There is a storybook ending being scripted for any of those three right now, although Lawrence and Clemson are working on their own sequel as well.

We have yet to see a real good showing from the College Football Playoff in terms of the national semifinals. Aside from Ohio State’s upset of Alabama in 2014 and Georgia’s overtime thriller in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma two seasons ago, the semifinals have largely been a relative bust in terms of entertainment. With this year’s field, however, that should not be the case.

So let the games begin! We should have a dandy of a College Football Playoff on our hands.

No. 3 Clemson wins fifth consecutive ACC championship as they return to College Football Playoff

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The defending national champions are back for some more. No. 3 Clemson (13-0, 8-0 ACC) locked up a fifth consecutive ACC Championship Game victory Saturday night with a 62-17 victory over No. 23 Virginia (9-4, 6-2 ACC), and with that all but officially submitted their R.S.V.P. for this season’s College Football Playoff. What’s not to respect?

Trevor Lawrence passed for 302 yards and four touchdowns before getting an early exit in the fourth quarter, with Clemson leading 45-14 at the time. Travis Etienne rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown and star receiver Tee Higgins hauled in nine passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Virginia’s Bryce Perkins had some positive moments with 265 passing yards and two passing touchdowns with 52 rushing yards, but he was picked off twice. His first interception came at the end of the game’s opening possession in the end zone.

Clemson’s 62 points are the most point scored by a team in the ACC Championship Game, which was first played in 2005. Clemson has now outscored its opponents in the ACC Championship Game by a cumulative score of 229-102 over the last five seasons. Clemson has held each of their last three ACC Championship Game opponents to 30 points (3 vs. Miami in 2017, 10 vs Pitt last season, and 17 against Virginia). Clemson is now 5-1 all-time in the ACC Championship Game with their only loss coming as an underdog in 2009 against Georgia Tech.

After 13 consecutive wins this season, on top of the 15 straight wins Clemson had last season en route to a national title, Clemson is going to be riding a 28-game winning streak back into the College Football Playoff. With Alabama being knocked out of the playoff race last week, Clemson will now own the longest active streak of playoff appearances with five straight. That matches Alabama’s record set last year with the Crimson Tide’s fifth consecutive appearance. This will be the first College Football Playoff without Alabama. All that is left to determine is what seed the defending champs will have. Whether Clemson is ranked No. 2 or No. 3 ultimately wouldn’t matter as the Tigers wouldn’t get to have a say which bowl destination they’d prefer, nor would it change the opponent. While Clemson will feel they made a case to be considered as the No. 1 team in the field, that decision now rests with the selection committee, which will make their final decisions on Sunday. A matchup with either LSU or Ohio State is likely the pairing for Clemson. Dabo Swinney will certainly have his team ready for whatever comes next, as his fight for respect will continue even if nobody is actually disrespecting his program these days.

Virginia’s bowl outlook is also likely fixed. Win or lose, Virginia was likely to be in the Orange Bowl, either as the ACC champion or the bowl’s pick from the ACC. When the ACC champion is in the College Football Playoff and unavailable for the Orange Bowl, the next highest-ranked ACC team fills the slot. Virginia being the only other ranked ACC team this week by the committee seems to suggest Virginia will be the locked pick for the Orange Bowl, although if Virginia manages to slip out of the playoff rankings, the Orange Bowl could choose from any available ACC team that is bowl eligible. But even in that scenario, Virginia would likely still be the pick. Virginia would play a team from the SEC or Big Ten, with the opponent being the highest-ranked available team from either conference. The Florida Gators may be the most likely opponent, with Penn State as the alternative. Regardless of how the first experience in the ACC Championship Game went for Virginia, Bronco Mendenhall continues to be doing a terrific job in building the Virginia football program, and a chance to play in the Orange Bowl is a significant step forward.

Clemson on cruise control to another ACC title, leading Virginia at half

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Virginia created some buzz early in the game, but Clemson appears to be another 30 minutes from celebrating another ACC championship in a comfortable fashion. Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers lead Virginia 24-7 at halftime in Charlotte.

Lawrence has completed 12 of 15 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns, and he has rushed for 24 yards as well. Tee Higgins has caught seven of those passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Star running back Travis Etienne has carried the football nine times for 84 yards and a score too.

Virginia did get off to a solid start with Bryce Perkins connecting on a deep pass to Hasise Dubois on the opening drive, but Perkins was picked off by Nolan Turner in the end zone at the end of the drive. After Clemson scored on their first offensive series following the interception, Virginia went right down the field their next time out to tie the game at 7-7. But a fumble on their next offensive series led to a Clemson touchdown to increase Clemson’s lead to 24-7 in the second quarter.

The way things are going tonight, Clemson is certainly about to wrap up a fourth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff as the ACC champion. They could also be making a case for a top-two seed with Ohio State in some trouble tonight in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, although getting to the No. 1 seed may be just out of reach for the defending national champions after LSU’s big win today in the SEC’s championship game.

No. 1 Clemson hangs on against UNC for 20th straight win

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Over the course of a 20-game winning streak, there are bound to be some close calls. On Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, No. 1 Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC) had one of the closest calls of their current 20-game winning streak as the Tigers held on to escape an upset bid by North Carolina (2-3, 1-1 ACC), 21-20. Clemson came up with a stop on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute of the game and prevented UNC from coming up with an onside kick to grab the win.

North Carolina did a good job of keeping Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence off his mark for most of the night (Lawrence was 18-of-30 for 206 yards and a touchdown), but he delivered a perfect pass to give Clemson its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter with a pass to Tee Higgins.

UNC had an answer, however. Freshman quarterback Sam Howell led the Tar Heels on a 16-play drive and 75 yards to get on the doorstep of the end zone in the final minutes of the game. Javonte Williams pushed the ball in for a touchdown to cut the Clemson lead to one. Head coach Mack Brown didn’t hesitate and was ready to go for two and the win. But Clemson was ready for the play and was all over Howell on the run.

After the win, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney praised the effort by the Tar Heels and admitted to being out-coached by Brown. Swinney also said his team is not entitled to win and still has to go out and earn their wins just like everybody else.

Clemson now continues to extend its winning streak to 20 games, a school record. After getting next week off, the Tigers will host Florida State. North Carolina will visit Georgia Tech next week. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 24-2 loss at Temple.

No. 1 Clemson peels Orange

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After beating Clemson in the Carrier Dome two years ago and nearly doing the same in Death Valley East last year, tonight’s Clemson-Syracuse game was billed preseason as a meeting of the ACC’s two best teams, a de facto ACC semifinal even. Pretty much all of that hype evaporated when Syracuse was crushed 63-20 by No. 21 Maryland last week, but, still. If this is truly the ACC’s second-best team… woof.

Trevor Lawrence tossed two interceptions and generally put in a workmanlike effort, and still the defending champions won with ease: No. 1 Clemson 41, Syracuse 6.

Lawrence completed 22-of-39 passes for a career-high 395 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing four times for 42 yards and an additional score. Most of his success through the air came on jump balls and screens to his massive, speedy wide receivers. Tee Higgins caught seven passes for 150 yards, Amari Rodgers snared four for 121 yards and two scores, and Justyn Ross snared five passes for 64 yards.

The heroes of the night were the Tigers’ defenders. Clemson (3-0, 2-0 ACC) limited Syracuse (1-2, 0-1 ACC) to 184 yards of total offense. Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito was 15-of-27 for just 172 yards with an interception and while absorbing six sacks.

If there was one moment of drama on the night, it came early in the third quarter when, trailing 17-6, Syracuse linebacker Christopher Frederick intercepted Lawrence and returned the ball to the Clemson 9, but DeVito gave the ball right back by throwing it to Clemson’s Mario Goodrich.

Lawrence hit Rodgers for an 87-yard touchdown two plays after that and the game was all but over.