Clemson's biggest hurdle to a return trip to the playoff has been itself.
All season long, the No. 3 Tigers have fought to overcome their worst selves. They managed to do so again on Saturday night to survive a Virginia Tech rally and beat the No. 23 Hokies 42-35 to win the ACC title and most likely lock up a playoff spot.
The same Tigers that beat Florida State on the road and knocked off Louisville needed a missed field goal in the final seconds to get past N.C. State. The same Tigers that shut out Syracuse 54-0 gave up 43 points in a last-second loss to Pitt that squandered an opportunity for another perfect regular season.
Both Tigers showed up to Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Saturday.
The Tigers raced to a 14-0 lead and looked prepared to turn its night into a victory lap. Virginia Tech's first two first downs came on a 20-yard jump pass from punter Mitchell Ludwig and a pass interference flag on a deep ball from fullback Sam Rogers.
The Hokies rallied to make the score 21-14 at halftime, but Clemson's defense held the Hokies to negative yardage on each of their first four drives in the second half, capping the fourth with an interception and putting the Hokies in an imposing 35-14 hole.
The Hokies climbed back out with touchdowns on their next three drives as quarterback Jerod Evans' 264 passing yards allowed him to break a 44-year-old single-season school record.
Clemson kept the Hokies at arm's length with a timely touchdown drive, but it took a 31-yard toss from Watson to Hunter Renfrow on second-and-19 and a 30-yard completion to Deon Cain on third-and-14 after consecutive false starts to make it happen.
The Hokies forced a punt to make Clemson's defense sweat once more, but Cordrea Tankersley's interception in the red zone on fourth down let the engraver get to work on the Tigers' trophy and booked a ticket to the playoff.
The last time Clemson repeated as ACC champion -- 1986-88 -- none of the players on its current roster were born, and Florida State was not in the conference yet.
It wasn't easy. Watson had to run the ball a season-high 17 times for 85 yards and two scores. He threw for 288 yards and three scores with an interception on a tipped ball, giving himself a great shot to spend next weekend in New York City at the Heisman Trophy presentation.
The only drama left for the Tigers now is who they'll face in a national semifinal. The most likely candidate is Ohio State, who the committee indicated held a sizeable lead in last week's CFP rankings ahead of the Tigers in the third spot. But the Buckeyes didn't play on Saturday and are not a conference champion while three teams below them -- Clemson, Washington and Penn State -- beat top-s25 teams to win conference crowns.
After the game, coach Dabo Swinney didn't sound concerned about Clemson's place "somewhere" in the playoff.
Regardless, he and his team can sleep tight on Saturday night with a trophy in hand and a CFP spot on the way, hoping to leave their uglier self back home for the holidays when they leave for the playoff.