Two days after defeating Utah to reach 8-0 for the first time in 26 years, Washington was ranked fifth in the initial (Week 9) College Football Playoff Rankings for the 2016 season. They jumped to fourth in Week 10, slid to sixth in Week 11, back to fifth in Week 12 and back fourth in Week 13, the final rankings before the final rankings.
It seemed simple: Beat Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship to earn a playoff bid. Nonetheless, it wasn't a simple debate; Washington would be a 12-1 Power Five champ but, entering the conference championship, ranked 60th in strength of schedule (ESPN), the worst of any top-12 team. Washington smashed Colorado and made the playoff.
"I think our discussions and our decision would have been much easier if Washington would have had a stronger strength of schedule," Kirby Hocutt, then-chair of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, said after the Huskies overcame the 55th-ranked strength of schedule to finish fourth in the rankings. It remains the worst SOS of any playoff team, though Clemson's cupcake walk is threatening.
More often than not, playoff teams didn't run through gauntlets. In fact, most playoff teams navigated strong but not eye-poppingly tough schedules. Sure, they have other strong metrics (e.g. strength of record, game control, etc.) but rarely do they boast a strong SOS.
Only one of the 20 playoff teams, Alabama (2015), had the top-ranked SOS, and only four were in the top 16. Meanwhile, seven teams ranked 40th or worse, including two 50th or worse. Average SOS of playoff teams: 29.4.
Entering Week 13, Clemson's SOS is 68th, or in the bottom half of college football. The Tigers haven't played — not defeated; they haven't even played — another current top-25 team. And unless the ACC Coastal champ is gifted an undeserved spot prior to the ACC Championship, Clemson could be 13-0 with 13 wins against unranked opponents.
Even if things fall perfectly for their final two opponents, South Carolina and the Coastal champ, it's highly unlikely Clemson will enter the playoff with a SOS higher than Washington's 55 from 2016.