Clemson sophomore QB Deshaun Watson celebrates a touchdown in Thursday evening's Orange Bowl with his teammates. The top-ranked, but disrespected, Tigers rolled fourth-ranked and favored Oklahoma, 37-17.
BY THE NUMBERS
75 Clemson wins under Dabo Swinney
26 Losses under Swinney
7 Full seasons under Swinney (Took over midway through 2008 season)
5 Bowl wins under Swinney
4 Division titles under Swinney
4 Bowl wins under Swinney over teams that have won national titles since 2000
3 Orange Bowl appearances under Swinney
2 Conference titles under Swinney
2 Orange Bowl victories under Swinney
1 National title game appearance under Swinney
It does seem funny on the face of it.
Basking in the emotion of his team’s convincing Orange Bowl victory against favored Oklahoma in Thursday’s Game 1 of the College Football Playoff, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made a point to emphasize, or overemphasize, just how much his Tigers are disrespected and not recognized for being as good as they are.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation for quite some time now, Clemson hardly comes across as a woebegone underdog that hasn’t been given it’s just due. You hear Swinney rant and rave, in a polite way, mind you, because, after all, the man is a Christian sort and isn’t prone to much verbal venom, and you think, what the heck is he talking about?
Truth be told, though, he is spot on. Yeah, his team tops the rankings and the ratings that determined seeding in the Football Bowl Subdivision’s simpleton four-team postseason bracket, but, really, truly, is it actually seen by the masses as one of the best teams in the country, never mind the best?
No, all season, Swinney and his Tigers have been fighting a perception battle because they’re not representing Notre Dame or an SEC university. They play in the ACC, which is pretty much regarded as the Little Sisters of the poor outfit among the Power-5 circuits. They somehow manage to make orange uniforms boring. They benefitted from a somewhat weaker Florida State posing little threat in conference this fall.
They just don’t elicit … well, they don’t elicit much of anything with the masses. They’re just there. You know, 9, 10 or even 11 wins a season, a bowl entrant and a spot in the final top 25 every season. Kinda ho-hum. Pretty much meh …
The fact Clemson came into this second edition of the FBS Final Four as No. 1 wasn’t a testament to respect. It was a condemnation of those calling the shots not having the guts to place the Tigers where they thought they deserved, but unable to do so because, well, you can’t have a Power-5 school be the only undefeated team in the country at that level and not be No. 1.
Reality is, Clemson was viewed as the weakest team of the four in the playoff, which is why it was viewed as a solid underdog against No. 4 Oklahoma. Yes, Oklahoma – a team that lost to 5-7 Texas earlier in the season, should have lost twice more, to Tennessee and Baylor, and, oh yeah, got smoked by the Tigers just a year prior in the Russell Athletic Bowl to the tune of 40-6.
Without Clemson’s best player, quarterback Deshaun Watson, even in the lineup then ... and in it for this one just a few weeks after a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
That is the epitome of no respect, so every utterance out of Swinney’s mouth on the subject has merit, and when he starts rambling on about the Tigers being at the level of any elite program in the country, it might be a good idea to discard tired, old beliefs and recognize that he is right on the money.
Clemson hasn’t won less than 10 games since 2011. It’s been ranked in the final top 10 three times since then. It cranks out NFL draft choices with the best of them.
It also enters the national title game against Alabama at 14-0 … and certain to be a heavy underdog.
In perfect position to get the last laugh, if not actual respect.