College Football Playoff 2018: Clemson ponders failed drug tests, looks to Dexter Lawrence's replacement

DALLAS – Now, it's just a matter of how to classify for Clemson the absence of All-American defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, one of three Tigers who failed a recent NCAA drug test and are expected to be suspended for the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.

"You treat it like an injury. That's all it really is," Tigers defensive tackle Clelin Ferrell said Wednesday.

That's one way of looking at Lawrence's suspension for a positive drug test this week. Coach Dabo Swinney announced Tuesday that Lawrence and two teammates had tested positive for ostarine -- an illegal substance that resembles an anabolic steroid.

Clemson players on Wednesday were parroting their coach's assertion that it was just a "trace" amount of the substance. Their coach took it further.

"If they tested all of us right now, we might all -- or some of us -- have something in our system that we have no idea how it got there," Swinney said.

For years, the NCAA has said ignorance of ingestion is no excuse in a drug positive. And in any positive, it doesn't matter if the substance is a "trace" amount or not. As of Wednesday, Clemson is awaiting results of testing on the "B" sample to confirm the positives. It may appeal depending on the results of that sample, but a decision would not be reached before kickoff of the Cotton Bowl.

"It could be anything," said Ferrell. "A lot of times these companies that put these things in there don't even tell you. Like I said, it's not about the food that you eat. Talking to Coach Swinney, it can be about different lotions that you put on your body, different creams. We got a float tank; they're checking out the float tank. Hair products, there is a different array of things."

At least at the Power Five level, trainers urge players to get approval before taking any supplement. CBS Sports spoke to two prominent college trainers who doubted the assessment the positive could have come from a myriad of sources.

"I've never heard of it in a cream," one source said.

"I guess it's possible." The other source asked, "Did [Clemson] have supplement[s] reviewed?" A tainted supplement, the second source added, will be reviewed only on listed ingredients. But again, based on NCAA protocol, the issue of whether ostarine was listed is not an excuse. The World Anti-Doping Association has banned ostarine since 2008.

The United States Anti-Doping Association says on its website that ostarine has "the potential to be misused for performance enhancement in sport due to their anabolic properties." The NCAA classifies ostarine as an "anabolic agent." On its website, the association states, "It is your responsibility to check with the appropriate or designated athletics staff before using any substance."

It's not clear if the three Clemson players did that.

"You always are kind of cognizant of what you're taking, what you're putting in your body. From what I heard, this could come from anything," fellow defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said.

Wilkins was asked if he was concerned that something purported to be so easy to enter the bloodstream could cause a drug positive.

"Does it scare me? Not really," Wilkins said. "It's something you can't prevent. Some things can't be prevented."

Ferrell estimated Clemson players get tested by the NCAA "3-4 times" a year. Clemson, he said, tests about once a month.

As far as on the field, the Tigers may not suffer that much from Lawrence's absence.

Senior Albert Huggins is expected to be slotted into Lawrence's defensive tackle spot. Huggins typically gets about 20 percent of the snaps on the defensive line but still is considered a draft prospect. He averages 23 snaps per game.

The starters on Clemson's vaunted defensive line typically get only 70-80 percent of the snaps, according to a team spokesman. That is not unusual for deep defensive lines that rotate players in and out.

Still, the No. 2 team in the nation is expected to be down one of its top players ahead of its biggest game of the season. Not a position a team wants to be in against No. 3 Notre Dame.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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