CHARLOTTE — Clemson offensive lineman John Simpson stifled a chuckle and sat up in his chair. Alabama coach Nick Saban and linebacker Dylan Moses were 400 miles away in Hoover, Ala., but words travel fast in 2019, especially those related to the burgeoning rivalry between college football's two superpowers.
"They got their opinions," Simpson said. "That's just how it's gonna be. We got our opinions, they got theirs."
Saban and Moses at SEC Media Days on Wednesday attempted to poke holes in the Crimson Tide's 44-16 defeat to Clemson in this past season's national title game. Saban blamed the loss on his coaching staff's lack of focus. Moses claimed that, actually, Georgia is the best team he's played against in college. Not Clemson.
Simpson, representing the Tigers at ACC Media Days, responded with his own declaration: Notre Dame, which the Tigers defeated in the Cotton Bowl, had been Clemson's stiffest opponent last season, he said.
"No one ever gives us our credit, man," Simpson said. "It kinda sucks. But is what it is."
The widening gulf between Clemson and the rest of the ACC loomed over the affairs Wednesday in Charlotte, where teams from the league's Atlantic Division addressed the media before the start of fall practice. The still-simmering tension between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide was a hot topic, too.
"Nobody ever gives us our credit when it's due. I mean, what more can we do?" Simpson said. "We beat 'em twice, and we beat them pretty good the second time. Like, why is there even an excuse?"
The verbal jabs exchanged between the two programs are sure to provide fodder for daytime cable television programming and, in the event the teams again meet in the postseason, easy locker room material. The teams have met in three of the last four national title games, with Clemson winning the last two.
But Swinney is adamant that the Tigers not get ahead of themselves. Clemson kicks off the season Aug. 29 against Georgia Tech, before opening the conference slate Sept. 14 at Syracuse. The Tigers have several goals to hit before thinking about another showdown with Alabama, and the staff's preparation starts anew Thursday, Swinney said.
"Even though we've all been together for a long time, when we meet up tomorrow, it's as if we all just showed up and met each other for the first time," Swinney said. "That's just the mindset. It's woven into the culture."
Still, the Crimson Tide were a frequent topic of conversation Wednesday, with the discussion spilling onto social media.
Moses, back in Hoover, attributed Clemson's national title win to a lack of preparation on Alabama's part.
"He could say whatever he wants to, but at the end of the day everyone gets the same amount of preparation time, so I don't even see how that plays a factor," safety Tanner Muse said. "But, you know, maybe they had some events they had to go to that we didn't. I don't know if that's the case. You'd have to ask him."
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was less diplomatic.
"No. Clemson was actually the better team," Haley wrote in a tweet. "Alabama just needs to get used to it."
It doesn't seem Saban and his team are ready to concede the sport's brightest spotlight to Swinney and Clemson. The Tigers are fine with that, but Simpson offered a different perspective.
"It's all about the facts," he said. "We went undefeated last year. What more can we do?"