Five things Tigers need to happen to win national title

Everything seems to be falling into place for Clemson to play for the national championship, but some things are beyond their control.

The Tigers are 8-0 with the worst part of their schedule behind them, yet they remain ranked behind four teams in the latest BCS standings. They must pass three of them without being jumped by another in order to play in the BCS national title game.

So for Clemson to play for their first and only national championship since 1981, here are the five things that must go their way:

1) Run the table: It seems obvious, but this year it looks like it’s going to take a perfect record to play for the national title. In addition to the six also-unbeatens, there are a lot of one-loss teams hot on their heels if they slip, such as Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin. Clemson still has some tough games ahead, beginning with Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets can eat some clock on the ground and keep the Tigers from topping the 50-point mark for the third straight game. If they beat Georgia Tech, the Tigers get a week off to get ready for the stretch run – at home against Wake Forest, then at N.C. State and in-state rival South Carolina, which will be Clemson’s toughest test. The ACC Championship Game appears to be a rematch with Virginia Tech, which will be out for revenge. But even if Clemson can run the table, there are still some road blocks en route to the BCS title game in New Orleans.

2) SEC-ond chance: The first comes Nov. 5 when No. 1 Alabama visits No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The winner will have the inside track to the SEC and BCS title games, which have had the same winner for the past five years. The loser isn’t likely to drop very far unless the showdown in T-Town turns into a blowout. That would allow Clemson to leapfrog the loser and make a strong case that it deserves a shot at the winner instead of a rematch. Of course, the best case scenario would be for the winner of LSU-Alabama to get upset later in the season. That isn’t likely to happen, but Alabama has the easier route to an undefeated season. The Crimson Tide still faces Mississippi State, FCS school Georgia Southern and hated rival Auburn, which the Tide has a score to settle after last year’s comeback loss. LSU closes with Ole Miss, Mississippi State and No. 9 Arkansas in a 13-day period, so it is the most likely to lose in November. Of course, the winner will face either Florida, Georgia or South Carolina in the SEC title game, so the odds of both Alabama and LSU falling aren’t as far-fetched as they might seem. Clemson fans should probably root for its Bayou Bengal cousins.

3) Cowboy Down: A lesser known but possible bigger matchup of unbeatens takes place the same day as the LSU-Alabama game – No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Kansas State. The Tigers have a dog in this fight (actually, a Wildcat), needing the Cowboys to suffer a loss in order to pass them in the BCS standings. Of course, there’s always the danger that a K-State win in Stillwater would vault it ahead of Clemson in the standings, so a close game would be best. But if OK State wins, as it is favored to do, there are still a few cow pies for the Cowboys to step in on the way to the Big Easy. Most notably is the Dec. 3 game against No. 9 Oklahoma. A win by the Sooners would drop both schools behind Clemson, and the winner still faces a tough test in the Big 12 title game. Until then, the Tigers must cheer for Kansas State to beat the Cowboys, but just barely.

2) Tim-ber!: Another important step for Clemson comes in the form of the Stanford Cardinal, whose mascot is a tree. For the Tigers to stay ahead of Stanford in the BCS standings, they need for a Pac-10 team to prove that Andrew Luck is not the second coming of Peyton Manning. Luck is a can’t-miss candidate for the Heisman Trophy, and many of the people who vote for the award are the same people who vote in the Harris Poll. They feel a strong connection to the winner of the little golden statue and it could be reflected in their votes in an effort to give the Golden Boy a shot at the national title. Fortunately for Clemson, the Cardinal still face Southrn Cal, Oregon State, No. 7 Oregon, California, Notre Dame and a TBA opponent in the Pac-10 title game. Clemson needs the Fightin’ Trees to fall in order to clear a path to New Orleans.

1) Battle of New Orleans: Clemson could face any number of teams in the title game, but in a perfect world with orange skies and paw-print covered streets, the Tigers are 13-0 and have leaped Alabama/LSU and Oklahoma State. That leaves just one other undefeated team, Boise State, which has the best chance of running the table this season, has been getting the run around from the BCS for the past few years. Assuming the BCS voters and computers will finally let Boise State into the top 2, Clemson should get a winner-take-all shot for the national title. Like Clemson, the Broncos have a high-powered offense for an entertaining national title game, but the Tigers get the best of this battle and finally scratch the 30-year itch.

Photo by Mark Sturgis

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