Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is hardly concerned about the Tigers' No. 5 ranking in the first CFP poll. File/Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney missed the College Football Playoff rankings show Tuesday night. He got the time wrong, he said.

When the poll was revealed and Clemson was slotted at No. 5, Swinney was eating birthday cake with his mother. 

"I found out pretty quick," Swinney said later. "My phone started blowing up: 'Gas up the bus, coach!' People were so mad."

Swinney takes a different view. He said he's happy Clemson, which checked in behind No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Penn State, is in the mix.

"We're a team that's got a chance," Swinney said. "There's a lot of ball left to be played. It's not worth getting worked up about."

Despite not landing in the top four Tuesday, Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC) likely controls its own destiny and can earn a playoff spot if it wins its final three games of the regular season, starting Saturday at N.C. State (4-4, 1-3), and then wins the ACC Championship game.

The current top four teams, after all, have challenging games left in the regular season. LSU and Alabama play on Saturday, and Ohio State and Penn State play on Nov. 23. That's not counting potential rematches in the SEC and Big Ten Championship games, respectively.

So Clemson, barring any late-season upsets, is not really in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. But Swinney knows the margin for error is slim.

"If you go lose to N.C. State, none of it matters," he said. "We're in playoff football. Everyone wants to expand the playoff. If you expanded the playoff and there were 8 to 10 teams, then this game ain't as a big deal this week. ... This is a huge, monstrous game."

Swinney argued the Tigers' current ranking is unlikely to be a product solely of on-field production. He's spoken often of apparent bias against his program.

The Tigers began the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, but Clemson's strength of schedule has become a talking point for critics, and the team has slipped in the rankings.

He said this season's Clemson offense has had "the best production we've ever had," and pointed out the defense has held all nine opponents to under 300 yards.

"We're in a very similar position, team-wise, as we were last year," Swinney said. "That team finished. Is this team going to finish?

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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