CLEMSON, S.C. — Coach Dabo Swinney isn’t buying that Alabama was worn out from the grind of a more rigorous schedule and wasn’t as well-rested as Clemson a year ago in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Clemson routed Alabama 44-16, with Swinney’s Tigers scoring the last 30 points of the game to win their second national title in the last three years, both coming over Alabama.
“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,” Swinney told ESPN, discussing a narrative he has heard mostly in media circles. “Well, they won by an average of 33.1 points per game [going into the playoff], so they ought to be well-rested.
“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 [for the SEC championship].”
Alabama and Clemson were both 2-0 in the regular season a year ago against teams finishing in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll. Counting the 35-28 SEC championship game win over Georgia, the Crimson Tide were 3-0. Both teams have dominated their conference foes over the past three seasons. Alabama is 26-1 against SEC teams and Clemson 25-2 against ACC teams during that span.
Swinney said he has enormous respect for Alabama and what Nick Saban has accomplished there by winning five of the last 10 national championships, but Swinney is also growing weary of people diminishing what Clemson has done based purely on conference affiliation.
“People get amnesia,” Swinney said. “A lot of folks make a lot of bold claims early in the year and then they forget, and there’s a lot of excuses when it doesn’t go that way. Five, six or seven years ago, the rhetoric was that an ACC team is not going to win a national championship because they don’t play anybody during the season, so then they get to the postseason and are just not prepared for the big, bad boys.
“Well, now, they’ve flipped it around, and the only reason we’re winning is because we don’t play anybody in the ACC. … 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 beat Notre Dame and Alabama in the College Football Playoff last season by a combined 55 points, and Swinney is 13-5 against SEC teams since the start of the 2012 season. Having coached and played in the SEC, he has tried to steer clear of the “my conference is better than your conference” debate.
“At the end of the day, I’m never going to be the guy running around with the flag saying, ‘We’re the best conference in the world, the greatest conference,'” Swinney said. “I’ve never done that and never will do that. All I do is stand up and say, ‘Hang on. We don’t take a backseat to anybody.’ The SEC is the exact same way. If I were over there, I’d be saying the same thing.”
“I keep hearing that Alabama was worn down by this gauntlet they went through,” Swinney said. “I’m like, ‘What game did they get challenged in?’ And the response is, ‘They played in the SEC.’ Well, we played Alabama, Texas A&M and South Carolina, three SEC teams, and one of our toughest games was Syracuse. Our quarterback got hurt in that game, and we found a way to win. That [Clemson] team last year was a dominant team, and it’s just fascinating to me to see all the stuff out there.”
Alabama and Clemson have faced off each of the last four years in the College Football Playoff and have split the meetings. Swinney disagrees with the notion that it would somehow be bad for the sport if they were to meet again for the national title.
“I think it’s good for college football that you get the two best teams there,” Swinney said. “If it happens to be Clemson and Alabama three out of the last four years, isn’t that what we want, the two best teams? A lot of people have opportunities to get into the mix. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to earn it. That’s just the way it is. Take your hat off to what they’ve done at Alabama and what these guys have done here.
“I don’t sit around and worry about it. I’m never going to apologize for trying to be the best that we can be. That’s what I was hired to do.”