Clemson coach Dabo Swinney shuts down the 'SEC grind' argument made for Alabama
Swinney believes the Crimson Tide weren't challenged nearly as much as others say
Swinney took issue with the notion that the Crimson Tide entered the national championship game in January more banged up because of the grind of playing in the SEC. Namely, Swinney felt the SEC hasn't been as deep in the past few seasons, and that the number of challengers to Alabama hasn't been as high.
Here's what he said in an interview with Chris Low of ESPN.
"Listen, the SEC is a great conference, but I don't think they've been as deep the last few years," Swinney told ESPN. "I think they've had two or three really good teams and then it's kind of been hit or miss from there. It's an awesome league, for sure, and I know people say that Alabama was tired because they went through the grind and had to play all these teams. Well, they won by an average of 33.1 points per game [going into the playoff], so they ought to be well-rested.
"My thing on that is, 'Are you serious? They're tired?' Then you look at Clemson, and we won 12 games by 20-plus. Who really challenged Alabama in the SEC? They didn't get challenged by anybody until the Georgia game [for the SEC championship]."
First, let's take a slightly more detailed look at what Swinney is saying. If you want to take a data approach to it, Sagarin ranked Alabama's strength of schedule -- which includes nonconference games and the postseason -- ninth nationally while Clemson's was 25th. That's a difference of 16 spots -- notable, but not enough to really separate the two. Both had difficult games, including some against common opponents like Texas A&M. S&P+ had a far wider gap between Bama and Clemson, with the latter's schedule comparing more to UCF's, numerically speaking.
However, a team, outside of its nonconference, can't control its schedule. And then there's what a team does with that schedule. No one can argue that Alabama and Clemson weren't the most dominant teams all year long; both boasting playoff-worthy resumes.
That leads to another point: any team that's made it to the national championship has been through a grind. First of all, that means they've navigated through a Power Five conference schedule either unscathed or with only one loss. And while people may debate the difficulty of each conference, the reality is those teams have played quality opponents and easy opponents -- but most importantly, they've played familiar opponents, which is hard in and of itself.
Then, take into account that each team in the national title game has already played 14 times, so they're banged up. Add in any additional "distractions" -- yes, players thinking about their NFL dreams and assistant coaches may be interviewing for other jobs -- and both teams have a lot to deal with going into the final game of the year.
The difference, at least in Dabo's eyes, is that Alabama gets excused for it.
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