Ryan Day had the look of disgust on his face at seeing Ohio State given the No. 2 seed. Dabo Swinney immediately played the no-respect card, telling his players Clemson was the first defending national champion since 1966 to open the season No. 1, go undefeated and drop to No. 3.
Both reactions were revealing.
Neither coach — and rest assured their players will feel the same way as this narrative gets hammered into their heads — believes his team is getting the proper respect by having to play the other. In other years, each program may have wound up as the No. 1 seed, and they both feel slighted by where they find themselves, Ohio State given the second seed and Clemson the third.
They will both have plenty to prove, in a showdown Dec. 28 in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. that may be the most anticipated semifinal game in the sixth year of the College Football Playoff era.
It will feature the potential No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft (Ohio State defensive end Chase Young), possibly the top two picks in the following draft (QBs Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and Justin Fields of Ohio State) and two of the country’s top-four scoring offenses and two of the country’s top-three scoring defenses. The respective chip on their shoulders is there for a reason.
Ohio State entered the weekend No. 1, beat eighth-ranked Wisconsin by 13 points and fell a spot, the result of LSU’s 37-10 destruction of No. 5 Georgia and slightly better résumé. The Buckeyes played five teams ranked in the top 21 by the committee and defeated them all by double figures. They have the country’s No. 1 scoring offense and No. 3 scoring defense, the most dominant defensive player in the country in the 16.5-sack Young and went undefeated in the rugged Big Ten East, only to be bypassed by LSU and immediately installed as a two-point underdog against Clemson.
“Do I feel like we should have been the one seed? Yeah,” Day told reporters on Sunday, before commending LSU on a great season. After Saturday’s Big Ten title victory, Day had been more emphatic.
“If there’s a better team out there, I’d like to see them,” he had said.
Instead, the Buckeyes draw Clemson, which won its second national title in three years last January, outscored its opponent by a ridiculous 467 points and was slighted with the third seed, told its dominance didn’t matter because of the woeful state of the ACC. The Tigers’ résumé has been ripped apart, their 35.9 margin of victory deemed insignificant. There have been questions about Lawrence, who threw five interceptions his first three games before rounding into form the past two months, tossing 20 TDs without a pick over his past six games.
Swinney has already planted motivational seeds with his team, creating a narrative that Clemson was unwanted in the playoff, saying recently Georgia was given the benefit of the doubt after losing to South Carolina, but Clemson destroyed that same team and was still criticized for not having beaten anyone. On ESPN, shortly after the pairings were released, he was asked how he can play the disrespect card with 28 straight wins.
“Ya’ll made it easy for me,” he said.
It should be easy for Day to motivate Ohio State, who went from the No. 1 seed to an underdog in the semis. Both teams will arrive in Arizona in a few weeks trying to convince themselves they’ve been disrespected.
It will be the overwhelming subplot in this showdown — undefeated powerhouse programs that have taken a backseat to LSU and can only get their shot at LSU by knocking off the other.
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