Once more, Dabo Swinney had to defend himself.
The Clemson head coach made headlines a week ago when he voted upcoming Sugar Bowl opponent Ohio State at No. 11 in his USA Today coaches poll ballot, putting the Buckeyes below Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Coastal Carolina. A villain in the state of Ohio who has only become more despised by Buckeye fans in the past couple of weeks, he knew his votes would be made public yet decided to go through with putting Ohio State – which none of the other 60 voting coaches placed below No. 6 – outside of the top-10.
Swinney, in an interview with ESPN over the weekend, originally defended his ballot by saying the ranking had nothing to do with Ohio State as a team but everything to do with the Buckeyes having to play eight games to win the national championship game while others must play 13. Again on Monday, he was predictably asked about it in back-to-back questions to open his Zoom press conference, and one last time he defended it.
Here is the full, unedited transcript with both questions and both answers:
Q: As you can imagine, you voting Ohio State 11th on your final ballot and some of the comments about Ohio State's worthiness as a playoff team because it played only six games has not gone unnoticed up here. There are people who think it's gamesmanship or you don't have as much respect for Ohio State as people here would like. What would you like to say about that?
A: “Again, what I've already said. It's a big deal because we're having to play them. As I said earlier, there's no question Ohio State is good enough to beat us. They're good enough to beat anybody of these four. They're good enough to beat the national champion. That's not a question at all. I didn't rank anybody who did't play nine games or more in the top 10. Nobody. And then after that, I said, OK, anybody who played at all, that's how I'll rank that group. That's why they were 11th. I didn't even consider anybody... It had nothing to do with whether or not... I mean, I have all the respect in the world for Ohio State. And for people not to think that, I can't do anything about that. I think the world of Ryan Day. We've talked many times. They're a wonderful program. We recruit against them because I think they have a lot of similarities in how we go about our business. There's really nothing to it.
“As I've said, you can change the name to any other name, anybody. If Southern Cal had been 6-0, I wouldn't have had them in there. So no disrespect. People can perceive and take things however they want, but for me, every year I take it seriously, but especially this year. I just don't think it's right – it's not that they're not good enough – I just don't think it's right that three teams have to play 13 games to be the champion and one team has to play eight. If people have a problem with that, I don't really care. It's my poll and it doesn't matter who the person is; it has zero to do with Ohio State.
“And I also will remind the Ohio State people I voted them in 2017 for the same reason. I left Alabama out, and guess who was mad at me then? Alabama people. And they were good enough to win it. And that wasn't a matter of whether Alabama was good enough to win it. They won it. I just felt like Ohio State deserved it. I felt like they played more games, they were the Big Ten champ, and to me that mattered. So that's why I put Ohio State in ahead of Alabama that year. I played at Alabama. I went to Alabama. So I'm an equal-opportunity guy here, I guess. I love the University of Alabama.
“There's no gamesmanship. I just didn't put anybody in there or consider anyone that didn't play nine games or more. That's really as simple as that. It just worked out that, hey, we got to play one of those teams. Well, that's on the committee. That's what they decided to do. I think the games matter. I don't think it's right that Texas A&M and Oklahoma, that Florida, that Cincinnati got punished because they played more games. These games matter. That game against LSU, that was a big deal for Florida.
“And I know we can say, well, yeah, they should be one of the best teams. Well, the game's not played on paper. You can go back and look at the top-10 preseason rankings every year for the last 20 years. There's a lot of those teams that finished the season not even ranked. The game's not played on paper. Guys can get injured. You can get beat. There's a lot of games that we've won where we were't supposed to win, and there's a few that we were supposed to win that we lost. That's football. And to just say, oh, well, they would have won, I don't think that that's right. And so that's nothing to do with Ohio State.
“If it had been anybody, give me another 6-0 team, it would have been the same result. Shoot, people take it personal, but it's nothing personal at all. That's up to the committee.”
Q: Was there any part of you that thought, well, there's a reasonable chance we'll play Ohio State and maybe just to make it easier, just...?
A: “Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. You don't think I know that's going to be public? But, you know, to me, right is right. It's not anyway easy to do the right thing. I absolutely knew that I would be the poster child for whatever. I could probably run for governor in Michigan. Might have a good chance. But probably not very popular in Ohio. But listen, I don't live my life that way. I'm not going to say, well, let me put them here and do something that I absolutely don't believe it.
“Again, it's not that they're not good enough. They could beat us by two touchdowns. They're plenty good enough to beat us. They're good enough to win it all. I just had a problem with the fact that three teams have got to play 13 games and one has to play eight. And I don't care what the name is. Change the name. Ohio State, whoever. Fill in the blank. Penn State, Michigan, Southern Cal. I don't really care. That just was my standard that I put in place. I wasn't going to change that because being politically correct and trying to appease people. It is what it is.”