Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney says most people are not aware of what his team, in particular, has gone through to get back to the College Football Playoff and be in position to play for another national championship.
The Tigers, the No. 2 seed, will play No. 3 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl Friday in one of the CFP’s two semifinal games. However, this year’s CFP, like the 2020 football season, is going to be unlike any playoff the program has been in.
While other programs have already shut down due to the wear and tear of a long season from COVID-19 protocols and testing, the Clemson program has pushed forward and is now where it has wanted to be even way back in March when the pandemic shutdown spring practice and sent everyone home for more than two months.
“It is unprecedented. It has been incredibly challenging.” Swinney said Monday. “I just tell them not give up what they want the most for what they may want in the moment. It is really just that simple.
“The teams that do this the best and manage this the best. That is who is going to finish the best. I challenged them early on that this could be a competitive advantage. It does not have to be a competitive disadvantage. The glass is half full. It is not half empty.”
The Clemson coach said his players and staff has taken what it received and made the best of it. They have not focused on the what ifs or what could have been. Instead, to be cliché, they have taken it one day at a time and just tried to get to the next day, knowing nothing is guaranteed for tomorrow.
It is a concept, Swinney instilled in his program when he first became its head coach 12 years … control what they can control and let the rest take care of itself.
“It is all about taking what we got and making the best of it,” he said. “It’s been an unbelievably tough year on these kids. It has been incredible. People will never know. There will be books. There will be documentaries. There will be things … these kids twenty years from now will be telling stories that people will not believe.
“This is unprecedented times. We never had a moment like this and what these kids had to sacrifice to play is incredible. Again, that is why I will go back to the way I did my poll.”
Swinney has taken a lot of heat by the media and from Ohio State fans for ranking the Buckeyes No. 11 in his coach’s poll, which was released last week to the public. He said he ranked the Buckeyes No. 11 not because of their play, but for the simple fact he thought those teams who played at least nine games, considering what everyone has had to go through to play that many games, deserved to be ranked higher.
He did not think it was fair to punish teams such as Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia and Cincinnati because they played more games. He reiterated it had nothing to do personally with Ohio State. It was just something he believes in.
“From the isolation to virtual work to not seeing their families, postgame, the way we have to meet, just buying in to not going places, not doing things … You name it! Just the adjustments are very abnormal what they have had to do,” Swinney said. “They have all sacrificed so that we would have a chance to get to this point. I am just really proud of them. Their commitment, their leadership and how they bought in. And not just our players, but our staff. All of our medical people, our administration. I mean it has been an unbelievable undertaking that we have all been a part of.
“We are near the end here. Everybody just has to stay committed. We are testing four times a week and every time we get that test, again, just the discipline they have had to apply to their lives has been incredible. I am just super proud of them. Most people don’t really understand what has all gone on this year.”
Swinney is thankful for his 2020 team because they fought hard to play the game and to get to this point in the season.
“This has been a year I will never forget,” he said. “This is one of the closest teams I have ever been a part of. We really have had each other. So, I am looking forward to seeing them finish well.”