SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- They are both 13-0 and were considered near-locks for the College Football Playoff throughout the season.
Yet for all the dominance that Ohio State and Clemson showed, another thing unites them -– their belief that they haven’t gotten the respect they deserve.
The Buckeyes were miffed that they fell from No. 1 to No. 2 behind LSU in the final CFP rankings after rallying to defeat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Coach Ryan Day has claimed more than once that Ohio State was picked by some to finish as low as fourth in the Big Ten East. That seems a stretch, though many did pick Michigan ahead of the Buckeyes before the season.
“We're definitely the most disrespected team in the nation, by far,” Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins said Tuesday. “I mean, we blow everyone out the whole season and then we have a bad half and drop to No. 2.”
Clemson is perturbed that the mediocrity that pervaded its Atlantic Coast Conference prevented the Tigers from ranking higher than third. As the defending national champion riding a 28-game winning streak, the frustration is understandable.
“It gives us a little fuel and something to work for,” sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “People think we're the third-best team, so that’s how it's gonna be till we prove it. Since we’ve got the opportunity, we're not upset. We're just happy to be here and happy to have the opportunity to prove ourselves.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is a master motivator, and he hasn’t shied away from pressing the disrespect button.
“He's used a lot of it,” Lawrence said. “It's been really good and that's motivated us. He's not making stuff up. This is stuff people are saying, so any free fuel, we'll take it.”
Most college football observers have regarded Ohio State and Clemson as the most complete teams all season. But this time of year, teams are more than willing to use slights, real or perceived, for inspiration.
“It's wild,” Dobbins said. “That's what makes us both premier programs. We have a chip on our shoulder all the time.”
Ohio State defensive co-coordinator Greg Mattison shed some light on the diminished role that Brendon White had on the Buckeyes’ defense this season. White is no longer with the team after entering the NCAA transfer portal.
White emerged as a difference-maker late last year at safety. He was named defensive MVP in Ohio State’s Rose Bowl victory.
When Mattison and linebackers coach Al Washington came from Michigan, White was thought to be a natural for the hybrid safety/linebacker “bullet” spot expected to be a fixture in the revamped Ohio State defense. That didn’t happen, largely because of strongside linebacker Pete Werner’s versatility.
“Usually what happens is when you have a big, strong Sam linebacker in passing situations, you put in an athlete that is like a strong safety,” Mattison said. “If you notice, Pete Werner’s had a pretty good year this year, and he’s proved that he could be that guy at the same time, so you didn’t get that (bullet used) as much.
“I wish him the best of luck,” Mattison said of White. “He’s a tremendous young man, and he’s going to be very successful.”
Hafley & Mattison
had one sweet year
Mattison worked with co-coordinator Jeff Hafley to reshape the Buckeyes’ defense this year. It will only be a one-year partnership. Hafley accepted the Boston College head coaching job and will leave Ohio State when its season ends.
“I'm so happy for him,” Mattison said. “Selfishly, I wish he was still here. We work tremendously together. He does a great job.
“But I'm happy for him because at a young age, he's got a chance to have a great job, and he will do a really good job, And I'm so proud of him that he stayed (for the CFP), and he is putting everything into this right here. A lot of guys wouldn't have done that.”