Clemson football will open against Georgia for the second straight season Saturday. If it were up to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, that would be a permanent fixture on the schedule.
“Personally I wish we would play Georgia and South Carolina every year,” Swinney said at a Tuesday news conference. “That would make life easy. Not competitively, but easy from a scheduling standpoint. It would be great for our fans.”
Annually playing a Georgia, or some comparably elite nonconference opponent, has always been Swinney’s preference, but now, because of the change in how the national championship will be decided, it’s more of a necessity.
The title will be decided by a four-team playoff rather than just a national championship game. While that’s not quite a tournament, there are tournament-like elements to the new process. Specifically, a committee will select the four most deserving teams similar to how the NCAA basketball tournament is run.
There figures to be little difference between the fourth-best team that gets into the playoff and the fifth-best team that is left out. That’s why Swinney and others believe strength of schedule will be more important in coming seasons.
Clemson doesn’t control which ACC teams it plays each season, so scheduling tough nonconference opponents is the only pro-active way the Tigers could influence the playoff process.
“You’d play Georgia every year, South Carolina every year and your conference schedule – you get through that and then nobody could say you didn’t play anybody,” Swinney said.
“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to stay with eight (ACC) games, because we do play South Carolina. We wanted to (have the option) to play somebody outside our footprint, to go and play Auburn or whoever.”
Swinney said any program with national championship aspirations has incentive to schedule tougher opponents.
“I think so because you’re dealing with human beings (on the selection committee). Ultimately it’s going to skew a little more toward what you see in the basketball tournament,” he said. “Some of these (basketball) teams that are 22-5 don’t get in, but this other team that is 19-7 gets in. Well, their schedule is a big part of it.”
Swinney said he favored going to a four-team playoff but would have misgivings about expanding to eight teams. At four, he said, regular-season games are still hugely important and adding one playoff round doesn’t significantly change the length of the season.
Eight playoff teams, he said, would water down the regular season and cause much more restructuring of the season.