CLEMSON — Clemson is slotted No. 5 in the season's first College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night.
Ahead of Clemson in the rankings are No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Penn State. Rounding out the Top 10 are Georgia, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma and Florida.
The Tigers are 9-0 this season, having most recently blown out Wofford, 59-14. The biggest blemish on Clemson's resume is a 21-20 victory at North Carolina (4-5) that went down to the wire. The Tigers' strength of schedule ranks 64th in the nation, according to USA Today's Jeff Sagarin ratings, and has been a point of contention for some pundits.
Coach Dabo Swinney on Tuesday said criticism of the Tigers' schedule is merely the latest "spin" used by those seeking to cut down on his program's legitimacy.
"In the beginning of my career it was, there will never be an ACC great team in the playoff because they don't play anybody," Swinney said. "Then we become a dominant team in the postseason and now we only win because we don't play anybody."
Swinney on Tuesday defended the ACC and said the conference has had the most bowl teams over the past three seasons. Both the ACC and the SEC have had 32 bowl-eligible teams; the ACC gets the nod if counting Notre Dame, which is independent but plays five ACC teams annually.
The coach also pointed out that Alabama, like Clemson, has long been dominant in conference play. Swinney hinted at a double standard in favor of the Crimson Tide, who plays SEC foe LSU this Saturday in the most anticipated game of the regular season so far.
"How many games have they lost in the last five years in the conference? Got to really think about that, don't ya? It ain't many," Swinney said. "But yet, we've had a great run in our conference, but it's only because there's nobody else any good. It's just the rhetoric. It's the same."
Since the start of the CFP era, in 2014-15, Clemson is the lone ACC team to qualify for the playoff. After missing out the first season, the Tigers fell to Alabama in the 2016 national championship game. Clemson got revenge on the Crimson Tide in the following season's national title game, but then fell to Alabama in the national semifinal in 2018. Last season, Swinney's team crushed the Crimson Tide, 44-16, in the championship.
Earlier on Tuesday, Swinney said he had no intent of setting aside time to watch the rankings reveal show on ESPN. Perhaps if it was on in the Tigers' facility, he said, he'd sneak a peak.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "If we lost to N.C. State (this weekend), we going to celebrate? Woo! We're third in the poll. No, I don't think so."
Clemson running back Darien Rencher, a redshirt junior, echoed that sentiment.
"At the end of the day, we keep winning, we keep dominating, and we keep playing our best ball, when it's all said and done, we'll be one of the last teams left standing," Rencher said.
With three games left in the regular season — and a likely ACC Championship game in early December — the Tigers seem to control their playoff fate, given that LSU plays Alabama this week and Ohio State hosts Penn State on Nov. 23.