The SEC’s advertising campaign brashly proclaims “It just means more.” Clemson’s Dabo Swinney isn’t buying it.
The head coach of college football’s defending national champions was skeptical of the claim that his Tigers’ win over Alabama was assisted by an SEC schedule that wore the Crimson Tide down. Clemson won last season’s College Football Playoff National Championship by a 44-16 score, denying Alabama a third CFP title. It was Swinney’s second national title at Clemson, and both have come against Alabama.
Some have since claimed the Tide’s blowout defeat was the result of exhaustion after a rigorous SEC schedule. Swinney shut that down when speaking to ESPN on Wednesday.
“Listen, the SEC is a great conference, but I don’t think they’ve been as deep the last few years. I think they’ve had two or three really good teams and then it’s kind of been hit or miss from there. It’s an awesome league, for sure, and I know people say that Alabama was tired because they went through the grind and had to play all these teams,” he said, per Chris Low. “Well, they won by an average of 33.1 points per game (going into the playoff), so they ought to be well-rested.”
To Swinney’s point, Alabama won all of its regular season games by at least 20 points. The Crimson Tide would often pull starters from games once the score became comfortable. Furthermore, prior to the SEC title game, the Crimson Tide had defeated nine conference opponents by an average margin of 32.7 points. Alabama came from behind to defeat Georgia 35-28 for the conference title.
“My thing on that is, ‘Are you serious? They’re tired?’ Then you look at Clemson, and we won 12 games by 20-plus. Who really challenged Alabama in the SEC? They didn’t get challenged by anybody until the Georgia game.”
Swinney’s Tigers have had a similar reign over the ACC. While the conference hasn’t gained the national championship reputation the SEC has, it has still been well represented in the postseason. A dozen ACC squads reached bowl games last season, going 6-5 (Boston College earned a spot in the canceled First Responders Bowl), barely edging out the 6-6 SEC. The SEC, however, had a big advantage in the final Associated Press rankings, featuring six teams compared to the ACC’s two.
Clemson likewise rolled their conference schedule en route to the CFP title game. They defeated ACC squads by an average of 35.8 points (including a 42-10 conference title game win over Pittsburgh) before rolling through the playoff. The Tigers dominated previously-undefeated Notre Dame 30-3 in the CFP’s Cotton Bowl semifinal before the showdown with Alabama.
Swinney finds the critics’ discounting of the ACC hypocritical.
“Well, now, they’ve flipped it around, and the only reason we’re winning is because we don’t play anybody in the ACC,” he said. “You don’t just come out of a soft conference and haven’t played anybody and all of a sudden go out and beat Notre Dame and Alabama. I mean, give me a break. Now that happens in other conferences. I’ve seen that, people that get propped up, and then I watch the tape and go, ‘They ain’t played what we’ve played.'”
Clemson’s quest for a third national title in the Swinney era begins on August 29 against conference foe Georgia Tech.