Dabo’s gripe isn’t with Georgia. It’s with the awful ACC

Dabo Swinney leads his team onto field during Clemson's game at Williams-Brice Stadium Nov. 30, 2019 in Columbia, S.C.

Credit: Streeter Lecka

Credit: Streeter Lecka

Dabo Swinney leads his team onto field during Clemson's game at Williams-Brice Stadium Nov. 30, 2019 in Columbia, S.C.

For the record, I took no issue with Dabo Swinney's latest rant. For the record, I'm not sure it qualified as such. If you watch the video, this wasn't a manic Dabo. (We've seen how that looks.) He wasn't speaking especially loud or fast. He was making a point. That he used Georgia as a vehicle for point-making frosted Bulldog Nation, but just about anything frosts Bulldog Nation, so no news there.

Dabo’s point was that his Clemson Tigers are held to a different standard than teams from the SEC. They are, but that’s not necessarily an injustice. Clemson’s league is awful. The two SEC teams the Tigers played this year finished 7-5 (Texas A&M) and 4-8 (South Carolina).

The only ACC team besides Clemson included in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings was Virginia Tech at No. 24. The Hokies promptly lost to Virginia. Also, the Hokies didn’t face Clemson. The only other ACC team to be ranked by the committee this year was Wake Forest at No. 19 a month ago. The Demon Deacons have since lost three of four. They were beaten 52-3 by Clemson.

Does the committee tend to err on the side of the SEC? Yes. No other conference has sent two teams to one playoff, and a year ago Georgia came close to becoming the first two-loss non-champion to crack the field of four. Was Georgia’s Oct. 12 loss to South Carolina the worst suffered by any significant team this season? Without question. So was Dabo correct when he claimed the committee was, “the very next day,” asking, “How do we keep Georgia in it?” No.

The committee didn’t release any rankings the week after Georgia lost to South Carolina. The CFP’s first set was issued Nov. 5, three days after the Bulldogs beat Florida in Jacksonville. That gave them a second win over a team in the committee’s top 15. (Florida was No. 10, Notre Dame No. 15.) At that moment, Clemson had no victories over a CFP-ranked opponent. At this moment, Clemson has no victories over a CFP-ranked opponent.

It surely irks Dabo that Georgia, lugging that ugly loss, has moved in lockstep with his Tigers, unbeaten since Jan. 1, 2018, each week in the CFP rankings. Clemson and Georgia were No. 5 and 6 the first week; they’ve been No. 3 and 4 every week since. Here we note that the committee doesn’t take previous seasons into account, nor should it. Its mission is to pick the best four teams of this season, not this quadrennium.

Georgia has a terrible loss offset by three strong victories. (Auburn was the third.) Said Dabo: “If we lose (to South Carolina), they’re going to kick us out. They don’t want us in there anyway. We drop to No. 20.”

Probably not No. 20. Maybe No. 10, though. The committee has no reason to hate Clemson. (It hates the Tigers so much it has invited them to every playoff from 2015 on.) The committee does have issues with Clemson’s schedule, which isn’t entirely within Clemson’s control. It is, however, reality.

Had Clemson not converted against Syracuse on a fourth-and-6 pass by the backup Chase Brice of Grayson, the Tigers — who would win the national championship in dominating style — mightn’t have made last year’s field. They wouldn’t have played for the ACC title, which meant they’d have been a one-loss non-champ, which is treacherous ground. Syracuse was the only other ACC team included in the CFP’s final rankings. Clemson’s lone victory over a ranked team would have been against Texas A&M, which finished No. 19.

The source of Dabo’s frustration, it says here, isn’t so much Georgia as the state of the ACC. Florida State used to serve as a second tentpole, but FSU is 18-19 over the past three seasons. Georgia Tech is 27-34 since winning the Orange Bowl on Dec. 21, 2014. Louisville is 17-20 since Lamar Jackson won his Heisman Trophy. These are opponents the Tigers play every year.

Said Dabo, telling the truth: “It’s not my job to build a good league; it’s my job to build a good program.”

He has built the best program in college football, but the flimsy state of his league means any wobble can be calamitous. Georgia had Florida and Auburn left after South Carolina. Had Clemson lost at North Carolina on Sept. 28 – the Tigers stopped a two-point conversion and won 21-20 — there'd have been nowhere to turn for redemption. Clemson will face Virginia, ranked No. 23 in this week's Associated Poll but unranked by the CFP last week, for the ACC title in Charlotte. The Tigers are favored by four touchdowns.

Clemson might well win its third national championship in four years. That said, there’s no way for anybody — not you, not me, not Dabo — for anyone to know how good these Tigers are off this season’s body of work. They’ve destroyed every opponent save one, but they really haven’t played anybody. Notre Dame, a full-blooded ACC member in every other sport, worked five games against ACC opposition this year; it went 5-0. Only the Virginia Tech game was close.

Truth to tell, the latest indicator of the committee’s slight SEC bias had nothing to do with Georgia. It had to do with Dabo’s alma mater. Alabama lost to the one good team it played – LSU – but was, as of last week, No. 5 in the rankings, two spots back of Clemson. The matter resolved itself: Bama lost 48-45 at Auburn and is, playoff-wise, done. Still, an Alabama team that had lost Tua Tagovailoa and was without a victory over a ranked opponent entered the regular season’s final week one notch from the top four. That shouldn’t have happened.

I understand Dabo’s point — he’s a coach, and coaches lobby for their teams this time of year – which isn’t to say I endorse it. It’s not Clemson’s fault the ACC has become a one-team league. It’s not Georgia’s fault, either.