Since taking over as the head football coach at Clemson in 2o11, Dabo Swinney has been a thorn in the side of the Ohio State program.
Whether it be winning recruiting battles or prevailing on the field, Swinney has gotten the better of the Buckeyes far more often than not while turning the Tigers into a powerhouse rivaled by only a few at the top of college football.
Ohio State will soon have a tremendous opportunity to turn the tide when the two teams meet in New Orleans, a game the Buckeyes head into as 7.5-point underdogs. But before Ohio State can potentially turn away the shadow cast by Swinney over it on Friday in the Sugar Bowl, Swinney appears poised to seize every last opportunity to elevate his status as, perhaps, public enemy number one in and around the Buckeye program.
Plenty of feathers were ruffled by Swinney last week when the rankings of each coach’s national Coaches Poll were revealed, his having third-ranked Ohio State just outside the top 10 as the 11th-ranked team in the country. Teams Swinney ranked ahead of Ohio State included Iowa State and Coastal Carolina.
Speaking during Monday’s Sugar Bowl virtual media day, it didn’t take long for Swinney to be asked about his final poll and how it was received by some, and while he shared some words of praise for his opponent, he also wasn’t backing down on his belief that Ohio State didn’t deserve to be considered for the CFP.
“There’s no question Ohio State is good enough to beat us,” Swinney said. “They’re good enough to beat anybody of these four. They’re good enough to be the national champion. That’s not a question at all. I didn’t rank anybody who didn’t play nine games or more in the top 10. Nobody.”
Swinney added, “I mean, I have all the respect in the world for Ohio State and for people not to think that, I can’t do anything about that. I think the world of Ryan Day.”
Still, he said on Monday he couldn’t get past the idea of allowing a six-win team to play for a national championship over teams who had to put their seasons on the line far more times this season in order to even position themselves as contenders.
“I don’t think it’s right that Texas A&M and Oklahoma, that Florida, that Cincinnati got punished because they played more games,” Swinney said. “These games matter. That game against LSU, that was a big deal for Florida.
“And I know we can say, ‘Well, yeah, but (Ohio State) should be one of the best teams. The game’s not played on paper. You can go back and look at the top‑10 preseason rankings every year for the last 20 years, there’s a lot of those teams that finish the season not even ranked. The game’s not played on paper.”
Aware that his Coaches Poll ballot would be made public and sure to face some backlash, Swinney admitted he considered ranking Ohio State in line with most other polls simply to avoid the inevitable press clippings that would follow. However, he said any potential headlines ultimately didn’t matter to him because “what’s right is right” and “it’s not always easy to do the right thing.”
Swinney first made headlines two weeks ago in the days leading up to conference championship weekend while lobbying for both ACC Championship Game participants — Clemson and Notre Dame — to make the College Football Playoff (CFP) regardless of the outcome of their rematch.
“I just think there has to be some sort of standard,” Swinney said on a national radio show on Dec. 12. “I just think if I was on a committee, it would be hard for me to leave out a 10-1 Texas A&M or an 11-game Florida team over a team that’s played six games. That would be hard for me if I was on the committee.”
Of course, Swinney’s comments did little to sway the CFP committee as Ohio State was awarded the third ranking in the final CFP poll following its win over Northwestern in the Big Ten title game, sending the Buckeyes to New Orleans for a third playoff matchup with Clemson.
In the days following the revealing of the CFP semifinals, Swinney continued to hammer home his stance while appearing on national sports shows such as ESPN’s Sportscenter, joking about the relative ease of preparing for a team with only six games worth of film compared to a typical season that would require 12 or 13 games to be studied.
Rest assured, Swinney is well aware of his perception around the state of Ohio following his slew of shots aimed toward Columbus. “I could probably run for governor in Michigan and might have a good chance, but probably not very popular in Ohio,” Swinney said on Monday.
Regardless of his self-awareness, it’s unlikely Swinney much cares what the state of Ohio thinks of him. A two-time CFP national champion with three consecutive wins over Ohio State and a team favored to move that record to 4-0 on Friday, Swinney could elect for nothing but glowing praise toward the Buckeyes in the days leading up to the game and little about his perception would change.
But that’s never been the preferred style for Swinney, ever the free talker who is willing to speak his mind. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they’ve been the butt of his jokes for far longer than they’d prefer. However, if they want to shut him up, they will have every opportunity to do so on Friday night.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.