Clemson finds a level above the Playoff debate
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The College Football Playoff is musical chairs. As long as there are five major conferences and merely four spots, at least one league will be left standing when the music stops.
At the advent of this system five years ago, countless coaches and administrators grumbled about potential biases and inequities that would favor some leagues over others in the selection process. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney heard qualms from his colleagues in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He refused to join the chorus of consternation.
During a league meeting, he dismissed any notion that the ACC would lose its seat as national title contenders. He acknowledged the league’s unstable, unfavorable national perception then, but he asserted that the league would not change it by whining.
It had to change it by winning.
“Any of you who don’t think this league is going to be a prominent part of the playoff, you need to take a look in the mirror,’” Swinney told the coaches. “If you play the right people and develop your program enough to win enough of the right games, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the playoff every year.”
Swinney has done his part. Through the last five seasons, Clemson has won 63 games, claimed a national championship and notched landmark victories against prominent programs Alabama, Oklahoma, Auburn and Ohio State.
However, compared to Clemson’s vivid brilliance, the other ACC teams have been flickering bulbs. Programs like Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Miami and Louisville have flashed into the limelight, but none of them has sustained its shine. Consequently, they remain in Clemson’s broad shadow.
Clemson won its fourth consecutive ACC championship last weekend with a 42-10 victory against Pittsburgh. Clemson defeated four different teams in these four title games — North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami and Pitt — by a combined score of 167-85.
The latest drubbing culminated the 2018 campaign of dominance. Clemson edged Syracuse, the only other ACC team ranked in the Top 25 of the CFP standings, 27-23 on Sept. 29. Clemson defeated its other eight ACC foes by an average margin of 39.1 points.
The swollen margin helped Clemson overcome the ACC’s weakened reputation. Regardless of how one may assess the ACC as a whole, no one can dispute Clemson’s status as one of the top four programs in the country. The most stubborn bias could not diminish a 13-0 record.
Clemson certainly would benefit from a stronger, deeper, more consistent conference. It would expand Clemson’s margin for error and sharpen the Tigers for the playoff. However, in the ACC’s current composition, Clemson was forced not only to play beyond perception but to play beyond presumption.
From the day the schedule was announced, Clemson was expected to sweep through it. The Tigers exceeded those lofty expectations.
They won the games they were presumed to win and collected the necessary style
Danny Sheridan’s line: Clemson by 111⁄2
points to sway their detractors. Clemson’s merciless dominance left nothing to debate except where the Tigers would play their CFP semifinal.
They found out Dec. 2 they will play Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 at “Jerry World” — the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and the brainchild of team owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
The season is a series of competitions, not 13 exhibitions. Georgia had an opportunity to win its way into the bracket. It faltered, losing 35-28 to Alabama in the SEC championship. The assessment of its performance should not be inflated by the elevated regard for the Tide.
Top to bottom, the SEC may be stronger than the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten this season. Notre Dame may not have closed the regular season undefeated if it played Georgia’s schedule. Florida, Auburn and Louisiana State would have presented more formidable challenges for Clemson than Wake Forest, Duke and Georgia Tech.
But Clemson cannot be faulted for the caliber of its foes. Clemson could only play the schedule as it was printed. The Tigers took care of business and took the debate off the table.
They won, simply and emphatically.
“They say Dallas is a nice place,” Swinney said.
“I’ve gotta get my boots out, gotta work on my apparel. I’ve never been to Jerry World, but we’re gonna paint Dallas orange.”
HEAD COACH DABO SWINNEY, 53-4 IN FOUR SEASONS,IS IN THE MIX FOR THE NATIONAL TITLE AGAIN
Coach Dabo Swinney kisses the ACC championship trophy after Clemson defeated Pittsburgh 42-10 Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.