PARADISE, Ariz.– The College Football Playoffs get underway Saturday with two semi-finals featuring top seeded-Alabama vs. fourth-seeded Washington at the Peach in Atlanta and second seeded Clemson vs. third-seeded Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl in nearby Glendale.
Some fans are still clamoring for a bigger playoff bracket and even NCAA executive director Mark Emmert has suggested an eight-team playoff might be the way to go. Judging from the soft market for tickets to these two games, that looks like questionable financial wisdom.
Clemson’s outspoken coach Dabo Swinney, who team has won at least 10 games over the last six years and is playing in its second straight playoff, wants to keep things just the way they are.
“I’m against expanding the playoff, always have been,” Swinney said. “To be honest with you, I thought the BCS got it right. Right now, I think we have the best of all possible worlds when you got four teams. For years and years and years, they used to just pick it. Then you had the BCS. Now, you got four teams. My big thing is I love college football. I love the fact the regular season means something. Everybody thinks this is a big game. Troy was a big time. South Carolina State was a big game. Wake Forest was a big game. NC State was a big game. Georgia Tech was a big game. If we don’t take care of business, we’re not sitting here.
“To me, we have what everybody wants. This isn’t the NFL. To me, to play a 15 game schedule is challenging for these guys when you trying to manage school. I think something would have to happen. You’re probably have to do away with the championship games, go with one less game. I don’t think there’s’ anything wrong with ending your season with a bowl victory. If we just go to a total playoff, there’s only one team happy and the games don’t mean as much. For us, we’re been in the playoff for the last five or six games. If you start your season strong and now you are in the hunt, every game is a playoff. It matters.”
Clemson finished 12-1 and won the ACC for a second straight season. But it wasn’t always easy. Clemson had to go overtime to beat NC State team, 24-17, in overtime. They won at Florida State, 37-34, defeated Louisville, 42-36, and were upset by Pitt, 43-42, at home. But they are here and have a shot to wni it all if quarterback Deshaun Watson turns into Cam Newton.
“People have no concept how hard it is to win,” Swinney said. And to win consistently is so difficult. That’s why I have so much respect for our players. You have to get ready every single weekend and you got to respond to the adversity of the game. You got to have a belief that is deep and you have to have leadership.
“Everybody has good players. Everybody has good coaches. And go out there and turn ball over five times and three times inside the five and come away with no points against an NC State- whose a pretty good team — now you’re in a ball game. And you overcome that. Or you win against Louisville in a game where (Heisman Trophy winner) Lamar Jackson has the ball in his hands over 103 times and we only have 60 snaps and you still win game that’s amazing. For a group of young men to fight through that adversity and have the heart to win that’s football. If you think you just roll out there every week and just kill everybody, that’s so unrealistic. That’s why I have so much respect for teams like Alabama and Ohio State and ourselves. The last six years, only Alabama has more wins than us. To consistently do that is very difficult.
If we go to an expanded playoff, now, all of sudden, you’re 12-0 and you know you’re in the playoff and you got one more game before it starts, you might just sit your best players. Isn’t that what they do in the NBA or the NFL. That’s what makes college football difficult, unique. It matters what you do in September. In the NBA, it don’t matter. You just need to win enough to get into the playoffs. Now we play. Now, its’ win or die. In college football, every single game is monstrous if you want to be relevant in November.”
Swinney thinks college football has struck the right balance.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of people out here who don’t like bowl games, think there are too many of them. But as a player, someone who played, went to bowl games, coached for a long time, I think it’s an awesome opportunity to go somewhere– I don’t care where it is– to spend some time with the team, to have a chance to finish the season with a win, to have that time to develop that team for next year, to practice.”
If it goes bigger, we water it down. And all of a sudden, you got these teams with three losses that get because their brand is strong.
“I love the bowl games. I love seeing some of these matchups, I love watching Northwestern-Pitt, seeing coaches trying to get that last win. If the bowl games go away, college football loses something.”
Along those lines, Swinney can’t understand why potential first round draft picks like running back Christian McCaffrey would sit out of bowl game out of fear of getting hurt before the NFL combine. “It’s hard for me to judge people when I don’t know their circumstances,” he said. “But I thin if guys aren’t committed and all in, I’d rather know at the beginning rather than have guys go through the motions because you work to hard. But if somebody was getting ready to play in a playoff and they would play but they’re not going to play in the Gator Bowl, I have a problem with that.
“Why play your senior year? Just sit the season out because every game is big and any game you could be hurt, I’ve just never lived my life that way. This is a team game and I believe you finish what you started. Now, everybody has their own opinion. Maybe this is future of college football. I just need 11. Give me 11andwe re ‘ going to be excited to play. WE got one who don’t want to play, I promise you the guy behind him will want to.”