Following Clemson’s 38-3 rout of South Carolina, a team that beat #5 Georgia, Dabo got to ranting – as Dabos tend to do.
"Obviously if we lose this game, they gone kick us out ... we gotta go 30 and 0, we ain't got no choice."— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 1, 2019
—Dabo on how the committee grades Clemson pic.twitter.com/JPHjq2dCr4
Now, Dabo gets pretty spirited here — dare I say he almost let loose a swear word — but strip away the exaggeration and he’s got a pretty clear point:
Clemson isn’t given the same room for error as other elite teams
Let’s grade Dabo’s take and look at some examples, shall we?
This isn’t the only example, far from it, and it may not even be the best example, but the first team that came to mind was 2017 Alabama. Here’s their schedule up until November:
They started the season off by beating #3 FSU in what had been dubbed one of the best opening-season games ever... except that FSU team was Jimbo’s last before bolting for
oil money Texas A&M – they weren’t exactly the Noles of even the year prior, let alone 2013.
They didn’t play a single ranked team until November, struggled somewhat with A&M, and all the while they maintained a #1 ranking. The question “should we move Bama down?” was never asked until they lost to Auburn, and even then they only fell to 5th.
Compare that with 2017 Clemson – the defending champs started the season ranked 5th, proceeded to sack Jarrett Stidham 11 times in a win over Auburn, then beat #12 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, rising to #2.
Then, a Friday the 13th game in Syracuse happens, Kelly Bryant goes down, and so too does Clemson. The following week they fell to 7th, and would only make it back into the playoff because of a series of losses by teams ranked ahead of them. It created a lot of drama, and it was super exciting to watch Clemson claw its way back and even reach #1 headed into the playoff.
The next team I thought of was, of course, 2014 Florida State.
Now, when most people compare a team to 2014 Florida State, they’re saying that a team is weak, but lucky. They play down to every opponent, they win games on lucky bounces every week, and they make an inordinate amount of mistakes that never seem to bite them.
2019 Clemson is the furthest thing from 2014 FSU in terms of how they treat opponents.
While a supremely talented, defending champion 2014 FSU backed into wins in a bevy of surprising one score games, 2019 Clemson cruises with on average a 45-10 win. Jameis Winston had thrown 17 picks going into the ACC title game including four versus Florida, while Trevor Lawrence hasn’t thrown a pick since mid-October. So that comparison isn’t why I’m thinking of 2014 FSU here.
This is why:
Both teams win and get moved down multiple times. You could argue they’re given a playoff spot out of obligation instead of resume, and generally they’re seen as undeserving teams given an easy path to the playoff. Team quality never enters the equation.
It is not important that 2014 FSU would go on to lose the semifinal in spectacular fashion, and the result of Clemson’s season won’t bear any importance either. The point is that they were not treated the same as other undefeated teams.
Overall, if you take away the coach speak and Daboisms, Dabo’s take is solid. Yes, he exaggerates and lives in hyperbole — but that’s Dabo for you.
Now, here’s the part where you may start arguing.
Maybe that I shouldn’t strip away the exaggeration and that Dabo’s wrong because Clemson lost games in 2016 and 2017 but still made the playoff.
Or you might point out that Georgia fell from #2 to #10 after they lost to South Carolina and they only rose back up because they beat Florida and Auburn a few weeks later, a totally reasonable fall and recovery for a team to make.
But when it comes down to it:
Dabo doesn’t actually care whether or not it’s a good take.
He knows that most doubts levied against Clemson are half-hearted and that Clemson has no risk of missing the playoff if they beat Virginia. Dabo doesn’t care that Finebaum called him “the sorest winner in sports” in probably one of the worst pot-calling-kettle cases ever.
Dabo could be way more wrong, he could steer into the spin and just start inventing things to be mad about instead of at least trying to come up with a legitimate quote — something Nick Saban has done before.
And it’s all because he’s purely talking to the team, the coaches, and the boosters — the people that can actually change things.
This is how you motivate players, this is how you show recruits that you’ll fight tooth and nail for them, this is how you get people to donate, and this is how you enter into the Championship Phase®
If you see it as anything other than a coach playing 3D Chess, you clearly don’t know Dabo.