CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney said he did not care.
"They could have us 10th, it just doesn't matter," the Clemson football coach said Tuesday morning ahead of the first College Football Playoff rankings reveal Tuesday night. "If they have us second and we get our butt beat this week it don't matter."
The Tigers were ranked closer to the latter.
The College Football Playoff committee — chaired by Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt — ranked the Tigers No. 4 on Tuesday night in the first installment of the rankings leading up to the January playoff. Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively, meaning Clemson would play Georgia in a semifinal playoff bowl if the games were this week. Oklahoma came in at No. 5, while Ohio State followed at No. 6 as the first two teams out.
Clemson is currently 7-1 on the season and 5-1 in ACC play with signature wins over currently-ranked Auburn and Virginia Tech. The Tigers also had no issues handling Louisville and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in September, who were ranked at the time, but who have since imploded and lost four divisional games. Clemson's month of September certainly boded well for the Tigers, who became the first team in AP Poll history to beat three top 15 teams all in the same month. Clemson did it by beating Auburn at home, then Louisville and Virginia Tech on the road. The AP Poll has been in existence since 1936.
The Tigers, of course, are coming off of a national championship from 10 months ago when Swinney's team knocked off perennial Alabama and won the program's second title in school history. Clemson entered the playoff ranked No. 2 last season, then went on to thump No. 3 Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl Playoff before taking care of No. 1 Alabama 35-31 in the championship.
The committee, which is adamant in publicizing that it does not take the AP or USA Today Coaches polls into consideration, does have a human element to it that Clemson clearly benefited from this week. The College Football Playoff committee took into account junior quarterback Kelly Bryant's injury at Syracuse, which softened the Tigers' stunning loss a bit.
"Clemson (has) an impressive resume (with) six wins against teams with a winning record and two wins against two College Football Playoff top 25 teams," Hocutt said on ESPN. "Only loss, quarterback was injured, returned the following game."
Moving forward, Clemson will have to win out and then win the conference to stay in the top four. Notre Dame, which does not participate in a conference championship, was one of the major teams those around college football were curious about and the committee made it clear it was impressed by the Fighting Irish's margin of victory against several top teams, including Southern California. The Irish have only lost to Georgia, who was ranked No. 1, and only did so by one point.
Penn State, previously ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll, is likely out of the mix with no marquee win yet and now, thousands of eyes will turn to Oklahoma and Ohio State to see if either the Sooners or Buckeyes can slide into the top four. Oklahoma beat Ohio State on the road earlier this season and is backed by Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield. Hocutt said ranking Nos. 3-7 involved loads of passionate debate and added that the committee did take that head-to-head matchup into account. Even harder, Hocutt said, was ranking No. 1 and No. 2 between Georgia and Alabama. It is certainly possible both teams could stay undefeated and then meet in an SEC Championship game.
Clemson players indicated they had no plans to watch the rankings Tuesday night, but knew they would not be able to escape at least hearing second-hand where they indeed landed. The rankings will continue to come out each Tuesday night until the playoff field is set. Ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll, the Tigers travel to No. 20 N.C. State on Saturday for a showdown that will almost certainly decide the ACC Atlantic division. For that reason, Saturday has major national ramifications.
"I think we’ve played a pretty good schedule. We’ve played a lot of teams that have won a bunch of games and a lot of teams that have been in position to win some others, some very competitive teams. But we’ve got to take care of business. It’s just that simple," Swinney said. "If you win, I think when it’s all said and done you’ll have an opportunity whenever the last poll comes out. That’s the one that matters. That’s when I could really give a real answer to that question as far as how I feel or how I view it. Right now it’s just irrelevant. I know it matters to the fans and all that stuff, but it is so irrelevant to what’s going to happen in Raleigh this weekend. It just doesn’t matter."