Friday, January 22, 2021

Dabo Swinney and Ryan Day add heat to Clemson-Ohio State Playoff rematch, and we’re here for it all

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The Sugar Bowl game between No.2 Clemson and No.3 Ohio State took less than 24 hours to evoke bitter feelings on both sides.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney – who polled the state of Ohio because of the number of games he has played in the season – placed the Buckeyes 11th in his USA Today / Amway Coaches final ballot. For what it’s worth, Indiana finished in that spot in the final college football playoff standings.

BENDER: Why Clemson will (or won’t win) the playoffs

Then a video of Postgame speech by Ryan Day, Ohio State coach after the Big Ten Championship, and it came up with NSFW language. It could serve as bulletin board material for Clemson, Notre Dame and Alabama.

Neither Swinney’s ballot nor Day’s locker room speech matter so much, but both are there. Coaches are likely to spread platitudes about their respect for the other program at pre-match press conferences.

But we know what they really feel now. They added spice to last year’s Fiesta Bowl semi-final rematch, a game that still carries these stories: Did the Buckeyes take a 16-0 lead in their eventual loss 29-23 ? Or have the Tigers benefited from questionable arbitration calls?

The answer is both, and it sets up a quivering sequel.

BENDER: Why Ohio State Will (or Not Win) The Playoffs

You could argue that Swinney bypassed Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh as Public Enemy # 1 in Columbus. Consider: Since Urban Meyer’s arrival in 2012, the Buckeyes have lost 10 games. Three of those losses are at Clemson – more than any other school and two less than all of the Big Ten combined.

Ohio State Losses Since 2012

Clemson: 3
Michigan State: 2
Virginia Tech: 1
Oklahoma: 1
Penn State: 1
Iowa: 1
Purdue: 1

The Tigers beat the Buckeyes 40-35 at the 2014 Fiesta Bowl and 31-0 at the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.

Clemson is an all-time 4-0 record against the Buckeyes – and that first meeting was at the 1978 Gator Bowl where legendary coach Woody Hayes gained momentum against Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman.

The bad feelings on both sides have not stopped since.

In Columbus, Swinney is a motivated Southern televangelist who took advantage of a weak ACC to support his budding SEC program. In Clemson, the Buckeyes are Yankee arrogance personified – a Big Ten program that plays out in college football’s slowest, humblest, and most hyped conference.

Sounds fair on Twitter?

The truth is, there are more similarities than differences in the programs. The Buckeyes are 81-8 (.910) and the Tigers are 89-9 (.908) in the PSC era, which started in 2014. The only program with a better record at that time, of course, is Alabama at 89-8 (.918). Ohio State is 58-4 in the Big Ten and Clemson is 58-5 in the ACC.

The two have built NFL pipelines, and Day and Swinney are vying for the nation’s top quarterback rookies. The rematch will feature another episode of Trevor Lawrence against Justin Fields, two quarterbacks who won’t win the Heisman Trophy this season but are more than capable of winning the national championship.

Lawrence and Fields have been instrumental in ensuring that a college football season takes place in the first place. The two could have refused to play and started preparing to be the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Instead, Lawrence returned mid-season after testing positive for COVID-19 and Fields persevered during a season in which the Buckeyes had three games called off.

Clemson averages 44.5 points per game, Ohio State 42.5 points per game. There’s a good chance we’ll get a shootout – and a third playoff game that should be better than the first two clashes.

That’s why it’s the second playoff game on January 1. Last year’s match attracted 21.2 million viewers, and this game should surpass that.

There is not much more to say.

We know this Sugar Bowl will be sweet.



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