One ACC championship game participant has been installed as a four-touchdown favorite; the other is the biggest underdog it has been since facing a Lamar Jackson-led Louisville squad during a two-win 2016 season.
And yet, only one of these two teams — Clemson and Virginia — has publicly complained that it is being underappreciated. Any guess which one?
That’s right! It’s Clemson.
Somehow, it’s Clemson.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney must be watching the wrong television programs and listening to some whacked-out podcasts. Because when it comes to the respect level for his team, he seems to be hearing a lot of things that the rest of us aren’t — at least around here.
“I’m not going to let anybody diminish what’s been accomplished by our program, first of all, because it’s incredible,” Swinney said on a Sunday conference call with reporters. “Again, even going back to ACC media days, I made the comment then: We used to couldn’t win in the postseason because we didn’t play people; now we only win because we don’t play people.
“It’s just the same old storyline. People just flip it around to whatever their agenda they want to have.”
In fairness to Swinney, anyone who says Clemson isn’t one of the best four teams in the country is nuts. But is anybody actually arguing that? And if they are, are those people doing anything other than trying to stir up debate during a long football season?
It’s like those click-bait stories you’ll sometimes see pop up on social media: “So-and-so got RIPPED for her choice of outfit at the award show last night!” When you follow the link — we’ve all made that mistake at least once — you find that those doing all the supposed ripping are Twitter eggs.
Tune out the Twitter eggs, Dabo.
“My job is to speak the truth and stand up for this program when I feel like it’s necessary,” Swinney said. “What’s been accomplished by this group is unbelievable. I mean, it’s incredible. They’ve won 27 games in a row, won four conference titles in a row with a chance for a fifth. They’ve been in four playoffs, won two out of the last three national championships, and have beaten the best of the best to do it, period.”
Again, who exactly is refuting any of that? All I hear — and rightfully so — is that Clemson has created a dynasty that ultimately could challenge Alabama’s. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is praised from coast to coast, as NFL teams salivate about his potential draft entry in 2021.
Publications will be lining up to put a bunch of Clemson Tigers on their All-America teams over the next few weeks.
“People who have not focused on what Travis Etienne has done, what Trevor Lawrence has done,” Swinney said. “People still want to talk about you threw a few interceptions at the beginning of the year. It’s a joke. It’s a joke. It doesn’t even make any sense.
“What these receivers have done, what this defense has done, it’s incredible. It’s just really incredible. These players, they deserve that credit.”
Maybe he’s just sticking up for his conference, but Swinney’s protestations feel a little Jordanesque. Once Michael Jordan reached the pinnacle of the NBA and no longer had detractors, he had to invent his own slights to keep himself motivated.
Clemson’s players, meanwhile, are listening to their coach on all of this.
“Yeah, it’s definitely something he relates to us,” Tigers safety Tanner Muse said Monday. “He’s like our voice. As a team, we’re always told to keep your head down, eyes forward, stay humble. There comes a point in time where when things aren’t the way they need to be, where you have somebody like coach Swinney that needs to be vocal about it.”
Oh, he’s been vocal, all right. Apparently, though, not as vocal as the legions of imaginary voices ripping the four-touchdown favorite.