We’d normally say Dabo Swinney was standing on a soapbox following Saturday’s rout of South Carolina, but we don’t believe there’s one sturdy enough to support the weight he says he holds on his shoulders.
In his effort to provide the motivation he believes stokes the fire that fuels his program, Swinney, Clemson’s outspoken coach, regularly goes on rants about how the committee which determines who plays in the College Football Playoff wishes his Tigers would just slink away.
It’s Swinney’s opinion the committee would rather his defending national champion not take up a space that might otherwise to go a team in a more competitive conference than the ACC.
It’s Swinney’s contention the committee is annoyed that Clemson has won 27 straight, mostly against inferior conference opponents, while Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, likely even Utah and Oregon, slave away on a weekly basis.
You could sense the frustration in Swinney’s voice Saturday after the Tigers wrapped up the regular season with a 38-3 win over the Gamecocks.
“Obviously, if we lose this game, they are going to kick us out. They don’t want us there anyway. We’d drop to 20 [had Clemson lost to South Carolina]. Georgia loses to this very same team, and it’s, ‘How do we keep Georgia in?’
“We win, against the team that beat [Georgia], and it’s, ‘How do we get Clemson out?’ It’s the dadgummest thing.'”
And then there was this: “We’ve got to go 30-0. We ain’t got no choice because we don’t play nobody.”
Who knows, maybe Swinney is right. Perhaps the powerful lobby that sings the praises of the other Power Five conferences is working hard to convince the committee that an ACC team, even an undefeated ACC team, doesn’t deserve a Top 4 ranking.
Fact is, Clemson does play a very soft schedule. The ACC generally sucks and the only Top 25 non-conference opponent the Tigers played this season was No. 12 Texas A&M in Week Two – a 24-10 win at home.
Of course, there was also this small matter: On Sept. 28, North Carolina came within a point (21-20) of beating them in Chapel Hill.
If you believe the selection committee leans heavily on quality wins and frowns upon close calls as much as losses, you could see how Swinney might be right. Maybe the selection committee is begging Virginia to beat Clemson this weekend in the ACC Championship Game so it can find a way to accommodate someone who might otherwise be left out of the tournament.
As of now, Clemson (12-0), is No. 3 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. It has won its last seven straight – since the North Carolina struggle – by at least 31 points.
However, as we mentioned before, the Tigers are the only team among the top 19 in the CFP rankings that hasn’t played a team in the committee’s top 25. In fact, the Tigers have faced just three Power 5 opponents this season with winning records.
“It’s been that way all year long,” Swinney said. “Some guy said the other day on the radio, ‘Y’all are pre-North Carolina.’ What season has [he] watched? It’s like, ‘You want me to agree with that?’ We’ve dominated 11 out of 12 games. Dominated. We’re not any different. There’s no pre-North Carolina. We just had one close game where we stunk. We turned it over, gave up a big play, but we won. There’s nobody that’s been more consistent than us.”
True that: Clemson is the first team since at least 1996 to hold all 12 of its opponents under 300 total yards. It’s also scored 38 or more points in 10 of its 12 games.
“Again, our league doesn’t get enough credit,” Swinney said. “Maybe we need some of them ACC guys on some of them big network shows they have.
“All I can tell you is that we’re 10-1 against the SEC in our last 11. We’ve won 115 games this decade. So had Ohio State. So had Alabama. We’ve played both of them [and won the last time they played Alabama and the last time they played Ohio State]. Our program is what people don’t focus on. Virginia … they would be 9-3 in any league.”
There is an argument to be made that Clemson is better this season than it was last year when it beat Alabama in the National Championship Game. And that’s even with saying sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a pre-season Heisman favorite, isn’t considered one now.
Lawrence was 26 of 36 for 295 yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina. He tied an ACC record with 18 straight completions and hasn’t thrown an interception in four games. And let’s not forget that he gets to play with trendsetters like halfback Travis Etienne and receiver Tee Higgins, who averages 20.9 yards per catch.
The improvement can easily be measured defensively where the Tigers have allowed only 10.1 points (first in FBS) and 232.8 yards (second) per game. Keep in mind that the Tigers lost three defenders among the first 17 players taken in the NFL Draft.
“At the end of the day, it’s not my job to build a good league. It’s my job to build a good program, and I think we’ve done a nice job of that for a long time,” Swinney said. “This team has gone 12-0. In 124 years of Clemson football, and that’s the fourth time, ever – 1981, 2015, 2018 and 2019. It’s hard to do, and there’s only three undefeated teams in America. So if it was easy to be undefeated, how come there’s not more than three?”