Dabo Swinney says his stance Ohio State shouldn't be in College Football Playoff is based on principle

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra

Dabo Swinney can see the benefit of his unpopularity in Ohio.

“I could probably run for governor of Michigan and might have a good chance,” the Clemson coach quipped Monday in a Zoom news conference previewing Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.

Swinney is likely public enemy No. 1 among Buckeyes fans for his recent comments criticizing Ohio State’s selection for the CFP and for ranking OSU only 11th on his final coaches poll ballot.

It’s nothing personal, Swinney reiterated Monday. He said that three years ago he ranked the Buckeyes ahead of Alabama, his alma mater, on his last ballot.

Back in September after the Big Ten reinstated its season, Swinney didn’t have a problem with the possibility the CFP selection committee might select a Big Ten team that played fewer games than other teams.

“Shoot, in a year like this, no,” Swinney said Sept. 16. “It’s a crazy year. Who knows how many games anybody is going to have? You have some of the best teams and coaches in that league. It’s not their fault. They’ve worked their butt off.”

Dabo Swinney, right, with Ohio State coach Ryan Day before last year's College Football Playoff semifinal.

The Big Ten devised a nine-game schedule. Because of COVID-19, three Ohio State games were canceled. To Swinney, a team that played only six games isn’t worthy of making the playoff or being deemed a top-10 team. He voted Ohio State five spots lower than any other coach did.

“To me, right is right,” Swinney said. “It's not always easy to do the right thing. I absolutely knew that I would be the poster child for whatever. I'm not going to say, ‘Well, let me put them here (higher in the rankings)' and do something that I absolutely don't believe in. It's my poll.

“That was just my standard that I put in place, and I wasn't going to change that (to be) politically correct in trying to appease people.”

That’s not the only reason Swinney has gotten under Buckeyes fans’ skin. His 3-0 record against Ohio State also rankles, particularly last year’s 29-23 CFP semifinal victory at the Fiesta Bowl.

Even Swinney seemed to acknowledge that the Tigers were fortunate to win last year. The Buckeyes led 16-0 when cornerback Shaun Wade was ejected for targeting. The defense then wilted, the offense faltered after J.K. Dobbins injured an angle, and then there was the scoop-and-score by Jordan Fuller ruled an incompletion on replay review.

“We did not play well in the game last year,” Swinney said. “They did a great job. I didn't think we played great at wideout. The best thing we did is we took care of the ball, and that was the difference in the game. But we’ve got to play better than we did last year, that's for sure.”

Both teams have lost several key players from last year to the NFL, but both return their star quarterbacks – Justin Fields for Ohio State and Trevor Lawrence for Clemson. Lawrence is a Heisman Trophy finalist and considered a near-lock to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.

“Personnel‑wise, they're no different than we are,” Swinney said. “They lose good players every year, just like we do. But they replace them with good players every year, just like we do, and they do a good job of developing their guys.

“They're a really, really good football team – built in the trenches, built in the front seven, and built to stop the run. So we'll have our hands full.”

He said Ohio State is capable of beating Clemson by two touchdowns and of winning the national championship. Even if, to him, the Buckeyes shouldn’t have been given the opportunity to do so.


No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson

When: 8:45 p.m. Jan. 1


Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)