DALLAS – It’s that time of year again. When everybody starts talking about post-season reform in college football and potential College Football Playoff expansion.
Recent success of teams in the Group of Five (Sun Belt, C-USA, Mountain West, MAC, American) has led to a rise in talk about CFP expansion to accommodate teams who cannot crack the metrics used to qualify teams for the playoff. UCF is riding the nation’s longest active win streak in the FBS with 24-straight wins and a 12-0 record, good enough for the New Year’s Six Fiesta Bowl but not the CFP.
The other side of the debate is how insignificant many lower-tier bowls outside of the CFP and New Year’s Six now seem. With 40 bowl games and more on the way it seems everybody getting consolation has diluted the glory of the bowls.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is preparing for the Cotton Bowl Classic with No. 3 Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium for the second-ranked Tigers’ fourth straight appearance in the College Football Playoff. He is rarely one to hold back his opinions and chimed in on the matter during the Head Coaches News Conference Friday at the Omni Hotel.
Swinney conceded that very few teams actually have an opportunity at the beginning of the year to make the highest tier games in college football. But, Swinney doesn’t think that is a bad thing, it’s just football.
“There’s always going to be tiering in the bowls, just like there’s tiering in college football. You have 130 teams, and there’s tiering. It’s just simple as that,” Swinney said. “There’s probably only 12 or 15 teams that really have a chance to get here at the beginning of every year. And so, to me, everybody wants to expand the playoffs.”
Everybody wants a piece of the pie, but the pie is not for everyone to eat, you have to earn it. Not only do you have to earn it, you have to be at the table and in the conversation. Strength of schedule matters, the way you win matters and most importantly winning games matters.
The Clemson coach thinks the Playoff is already expanded, a twelve-game regular season and a conference championship (for everyone but the Irish) make for a brutal season and going undefeated is no easy task.
“I think it’s already expanded, I think that the regular season is the playoffs and it’s critical,” Swinney said. “If we lose to Pitt, we’re not here. That was a playoff game. If we lost to South Carolina, we’re probably not here. That was a playoff game. If we lost to Duke, we’re not here. That was a playoff game,” he said.
“So, I think we have playoffs every week. If [Notre Dame] had lost to Southern Cal, they’re not here. It’s a playoff game. If they’d lost to Pitt, they’re not here. It’s a playoff game,” Swinney said.
As for the bowl system as a whole, what issue do people have with Sun Belt and Conference USA squaring off in the New Orleans Bowl? Or a MAC team playing a school from the Mountain West on blue turf in Boise? And, why is it so bothersome to watch Duke beat Temple or Baylor win a shootout with Vanderbilt?
Swinney loves the bowl system and has been around it since his playing days at Alabama. He enjoys watching his friends’ coach in games for a shot at their own championship and if we’re honest with one another, so do we.
“I love the fact that I can turn on the TV and watch Baylor and Coach Rhule who’s building his team, who just has had all this time to prep, extra practice, to go out and compete and to be able to celebrate a great moment,” Swinney said.
“You know, as opposed to only one team walks away and is happy. We have that in all the other sports, and I think the combination of what we have right now in college football is great. It’s unique,” Swinney said.
Every team cannot win a national championship, if they could it would be exciting, but the trophy would lose some value. And, while Clemson is playing in its fourth straight CFP Semifinal, they won’t be in contention every year either and that’s okay.
The head coach of the Tigers knows his unprecedented success is not eternal and is enjoying their time in the spotlight. But, if Swinney ends up in the Music City Bowl again in the near future he won’t mourn a lackluster season but celebrate a chance to end on a high note and develop his team.
“We’re not going to make the playoff every year, so there’s going to be a time where we’re at whatever bowl and we’re going to love that,” Swinney said. “And we’re going to compete, and we’re going to get our team better, and we’re going to do the very best we can,” he said.
So, settle in and enjoy the Sun Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the College Football Playoff it’s a great time to enjoy the best sport around.