Faith in Clemson winning a seventh straight ACC championship is dwindling on the national stage.
The “ESPN College GameDay” crew discussed the Tigers on Saturday following Friday night’s 17-14 win over Syracuse with analyst David Pollack giving the team no chance for winning the conference title.
“They’re not good enough to win the ACC,” he said. “I’ve seen enough now. ... I said to myself, bye week, they’re going to be pissed off. They’re going to come out. They’re going to play. They’re just not very good. ... They’re not offensively going to scare anybody.”
Still trying to find their offensive identity, Clemson is averaging 20.5 points per game, down 23 points from a year ago. They’ve only had one FBS game this year with 400 or more yards of total offense. They’ve lost three offensive linemen for the year with others missing with injuries or other reasons. Will Putnam was out against Boston College with an injured toe and Hunter Rayburn didn’t play against Syracuse because he was in COVID-19 protocol.
While Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei played his best game against the Orange, receivers had costly drops and the group, as a whole, incurred penalties at inopportune times that squashed built-up momentum.
“We saw against Georgia Week 1. We thought that’s just Georgia’s defense,” Kirk Herbstreit said. “They’re going to be better, and as David has said, this was an issue last year, but you had (Travis) Etienne. You had Trevor Lawrence, and you were able to kind of still move the ball because you had two phenomenal players.
“Now, I think, with the offensive line issues, you don’t have an elite back. You have good backs, but you don’t have a difference-maker in the backfield, and then the inconsistency at quarterback, you wonder where they go from here.”
At the same time, Herbstreit and Desmond Howard lauded Clemson’s defense, which ranks in the top 20 in the country with fewest points allowed. The group’s depth has been key with being down three defensive starters on Friday night in Bryan Bresee (ACL), Tyler Davis (bicep) and Andrew Booth (hamstring).
“The defense is playing at a championship caliber, which is amazing considering they’ve got two of their best players on the interior out for the year, but they’re still playing good defense,” Herbstreit added. “But the offense is still a work in progress.”
Where Clemson was able to escape Syracuse on the road, the Tigers run into offensive juggernaut Pitt in a second straight road game. The Panthers are averaging 52.4 points per game with their only loss being a 44-41 slip-up against Western Michigan in Week 3.
Even though the “GameDay” crew doesn’t give Clemson a chance at winning the league title, the Tigers are still in the running, improving to 3-1 in conference play — but they must win out to keep themselves in position for a spot in the ACC title game Dec. 4 in Charlotte.
A 27-21 road loss to N.C. State put the Tigers in that must-win predicament for the rest of the season, though it did eliminate hopes of another College Football Playoff. Now both Clemson and N.C. State are looking up at undefeated Wake Forest (6-0, 4-0 ACC) in the ACC Atlantic Division.
The latest ESPN Football Power Index gives Clemson the second-best chances to pocket the ACC crown at 20% with a 34.8% chance to win the Atlantic Division.
Pitt has become the ACC favorite with a 48.1% chance to win the league and a 76.9% chance to win the Coastal Division. The last time the Panthers were division champs was 2018. That year, the Tigers won the ACC championship game 42-10 en route to winning a national championship with a 15-0 season.
Three years later, the Tigers haven’t had as easy of a road and are struggling to get their offense going.
“Clemson Tigers fans, your team is who you see,” Howard said. “They’re not going to get better. ... Not this year.”
Clemson upcoming football schedule
Oct. 23: at Pittsburgh
Oct. 30: vs. Florida State
Nov. 6: at Louisville
Nov. 13: vs. Connecticut
Nov. 20: vs. Wake Forest
Nov. 27: at South Carolina