Clemson Tigers’ Dabo Swinney stands by decision to rank Ohio State Buckeyes 11th on coaches’ poll ballot

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows folks in Ohio aren’t thrilled about where he ranked Ohio State on his ballot in the Amway Coaches Poll from USA Today (No. 11), but he’s not backing down from the choice.

Asked about his ranking during a Monday media session in advance of No. 2 Clemson’s matchup with the third-ranked Buckeyes in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Swinney said he wasn’t trying to slight his opponent but rather felt it wasn’t right to rank any team that hadn’t played a full schedule of games in the top 10.

“There’s no question Ohio State is good enough to beat us, to beat any of these four [playoff teams] and be the national champion,” Swinney said. “That’s not a question at all. I didn’t rank anybody who didn’t play nine games or more in the top 10. That’s why they were 11. I have all the respect in the world for Ohio State.”

Swinney pointed to his 2017 end-of-season ballot, in which he ranked Ohio State at No. 4 — ahead of his alma mater, Alabama. Ohio State won the Big Ten but failed to make the playoff ahead of the Crimson Tide, which did not qualify for the SEC championship game that season.

“I’m an equal-opportunity guy,” Swinney said.

Swinney said he was well aware that his vote would become public knowledge and likely bulletin-board fodder for the Buckeyes and their fans, but he said he wasn’t worried about the response but rather wanted to emphasize a larger point that playing the games has to be weighed heavily.

“To me, right is right,” he said. “I knew I’d be the poster child. I could probably run for governor in Michigan and have a good chance.”

While Ohio State’s rivals might love the vote, it certainly has set up a talking point in advance of the playoff game between the Tigers and the Buckeyes, and Swinney reiterated that, despite where he ranked his opponent, this will be no easy win for his team.

Just last year, Clemson fell behind 16-0 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, but then came from behind to secure a shot at LSU in the national title game with a Travis Etienne TD reception with 1:49 to go and a Nolan Turner interception of Ohio State QB Justin Fields on the Buckeyes’ final drive.

“We didn’t play well in that game,” Swinney said Monday. “We’ve got to play better than we did last year, that’s for sure.”

That this matchup is happening at all, however, is a source of frustration for Swinney, who felt the committee chose a name brand over teams that had gone through the battles on the field this season.

“That’s on the committee. That’s what they decided to do,” Swinney said. “The games matter. I don’t think it’s right that Texas A&M and Oklahoma and Florida and Cincinnati got punished because they played more games. I know we can say they should be one of the best teams, but the game’s not played on paper. And in this year, every time you step on the field, you can get beat. That’s football. To say they would’ve won, I don’t think that’s right.”

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