After Ohio State walloped Clemson 49-28 in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Friday, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said it was clear the better team won. But that wouldn’t change Swinney’s mind on where he ranked the Buckeyes on his ballot in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Swinney took criticism for ranking Ohio State 11th entering the playoff, a decision he said he made exclusively due to the Buckeyes’ playing just six games, and he said after Friday’s loss that he doubts that provided much motivation.
“I don’t regret any of that, and polls have nothing to do with motivation,” Swinney said. “Both teams were highly motivated to play.”
Swinney reiterated that his ranking was not meant to diminish Ohio State’s talent, but rather a decision not to put any team with fewer than nine games in his top 10.
After the game, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said his team was highly motivated to play, in part because of the ranking, but more so because of the memories of its playoff loss to Clemson last year.
“I don’t know if we’re more excited about a chance to play for a national championship,” Day said, “or avenging that loss.”
Day said he had no hard feelings about Swinney’s ranking, and that after Friday’s game, the Clemson coach told him to “go out and win it all.”
Swinney downplayed any notion that Ohio State had added motivation to win, saying his team was prepared and focused, but simply didn’t execute well against a talented Buckeyes squad.
“They’re a great team,” Swinney said. “[The ranking] had nothing to do with Ohio State. I said they were good enough to beat us, good enough to win the whole dang thing. But I didn’t think anybody that didn’t play at least nine games, in my poll, that I wasn’t going to put them in the top 10. So I wasn’t going to change that just because there was a chance we could play them. So I don’t have any regret about that. Only thing I regret is obviously not doing a good enough job getting my team ready. But I don’t regret anything about that at all.”
A higher ranking by Swinney certainly wouldn’t have changed the outcome, Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert said, but it did help make Friday’s dominant performance a little sweeter.
“Anything motivates you, whether it’s what they say or what we say,” Ruckert said. “This is the biggest stage in college football. If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what you’re doing here. We definitely heard what he was saying and used it as motivation, but the stage, the platform of the playoff and the chance to go move on, that’s motivation in itself. Now we just have to keep that energy going.”