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Clemson's Dabo Swinney cool, confident in Fiesta Bowl presser with Ohio State's Ryan Day

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — The question Friday morning, about College Football Playoff scheduling, was directed toward both Dabo Swinney and Ryan Day, but it was Swinney who opened his mouth first. The Clemson coach then turned to Day, Ohio State's head man, who gestured for Swinney to continue. 

It was the final press conference before Satuday's Fiesta Bowl, when Swinney will lead the No. 3 Tigers against Day and the No. 2 Buckeyes. The roughly 20-minute presser underscored the men's difference in comfort with the big stage.

Swinney is the respected veteran, winner of two of the last three national titles. Day is in his first year leading the Buckeyes, and on Friday morning, Swinney appeared to be the more self-assured of the two. 

"It is a national championship game, because if you don't win it, you ain't going to the national championship," Swinney said, grinning.

Swinney's answers Friday continually stretched longer, and were marked by more whimsy, than that of Day, who prioritized brevity over substance. At one point, Swinney was asked about punter Will Spiers' throwing ability. 

"I think we're planning, (the) first punt is going to be a fake," Swinney said, keeping a straight face through laughs. "We've been working the double, triple, reverse pitch back to Will. Throw down the field and our timing's gotten better over the weeks."

Then he turned to his right, a smile returning to his face: "Oh, sorry, coach Day is right there."

Though Ohio State enters the matchup as the higher ranked team, Clemson is favored to win by two points. It's a testament as much to the Tigers' pedigree as the Buckeyes' lack of recent College Football Playoff experience.

Ohio State won the 2014 national title but has been back to the CFP just once since, losing to Clemson 31-0 in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. That Tigers win, memorialized on the bowl trophy Swinney and Day posed for a picture in front of Friday, still haunts Buckeyes fans.

The burden falls on Day, the successor to longtime Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, to atone for that defeat. Day started his coaching career in 2002, with this season representing his first as a head coach. He's guided Ohio State to a 13-0 record and a Big Ten Championship, but Buckeyes running back J.K. Dobbins said earlier in the week his team doesn't get enough credit. 

"We're definitely the most disrespected team in the nation," Dobbins said. "By far."

The sentiment is similar to how Swinney has referred to his program this season. Clemson enters with a 13-0 record having recently won a fifth straight ACC Championship.

Swinney, of course, has long been known as a master motivator, finding creative ways to engage his players and guard against complacency. Dobbins' comment suggests Day has taken a similar tact this season.

It'll take more for Day to match Swinney in swagger, though. The 11-year Clemson coach knows how to work a press conference. At one point Friday, he was reminded that, at the beginning of the decade, he predicted a special 10 years ahead for Clemson. 

He laughed when asked to forecast the next decade for his program: 

"The best is yet to come."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.

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