Dabo Swinney will use the NCAA transfer portal.
It won't be today. It probably won't be this season. But at some point, the Clemson head coach will turn to the method much of college football is using to better programs.
The thing is, Swinney doesn't have that need at this time. Anytime the big man talks, people find something wrong with what he says. So when he stated last week that if he needs players, "I just have to go to the locker; that's where our replacements are," he was going to catch some flack.
And he did. Going against one of the hottest topics in college football doesn't make you popular, but this is not about Swinney being right or wrong or standing up for him in any way. His accomplishments speak for themselves.
This about the reality of one of the nation's top programs being in a unique position. You see, Swinney's made a pretty nice living and won a ton of games (including two national championships) with his own philosophy.
He has always been committed to building his program through recruiting and development. He doesn't care how many stars a player has. He's coached Deshaun Watson just as hard as he coached Hunter Renfrow.
That system works for Swinney. Clemson has won 87 percent of its games since 2011, and it hasn't needed the transfer portal, which came into existence in 2018, to get where it is.
The portal, especially with every player getting an extra year of eligibility this year, is flooded with athletes from all positions, backgrounds and talent levels. Many of them likely won't find a home by the fall because of how few roster spots college teams have compared to the more than 1,500 players looking to move on.
This issue some folks have with Swinney doesn't add up, though. Yes, it's a fact that Clemson has had its season end at the hands of a transfer quarterback the last two trips to the College Football Playoff.
But why does that mean the Tigers should be entering the fray when it comes to accepting transfers? They don't need a quarterback. D.J. Uiagalelei is primed to be the next big thing, replacing Trevor Lawrence and continuing a run of great signal-callers that have gotten the program to the CFP for six consecutive years.
There simply isn't another position like QB. Don't have a really good one? You aren't getting into the CFP anymore, sorry. Justin Fields, Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts are exceptions to the rule. They left good programs for other good programs and had great success making the playoff, but that's not the end-all answer.
Go through the portal list right now and pick out a QB who can have that kind of impact, and then look at Clemson's situation for the next couple of years. Nothing adds up.
There are undoubtedly other positions that a program can improve at by using the portal, but picking up a center here or a defense tackle there isn't going to automatically improve your chances to get over the national-title hump the way a QB can, so why is Swinney taking heat for not using the portal to improve his team?
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He's not willing to sacrifice development and culture. He trusts the talent he and his staff brought in more than he does a player who left his previous school and culture for whatever reason. That doesn't mean that player wouldn't help the Tigers in some way. It means he's not going to make the difference between getting to a CFP (or winning it) or not.
And don't forget that Clemson is recruiting at the highest level it ever has, landing its second consecutive top-5 class in 2021.
Swinney's stance is simple: Will he need the portal one day? Yes, he isn't denying that. It's one of the reasons he moved former assistant coach Danny Pearman into a transfer portal administration role. Will he sacrifice the foundation of his program to bring players in he doesn't believe in just for the sake of making people happy? Of course not.
Does Alabama's Nick Saban get heat from his fan base about the transfer portal? Does he care?
The college football coaching G.O.A.T., who is coming off his seventh national championship victory, has accepted a whopping four players from the NCAA transfer portal since 2018. Only one is a player you've probably heard of: Landon Dickerson, a Florida State transfer and offensive lineman who had a stellar All-American career.
Another exception to the rule, Dickerson isn't a player Clemson likely could've landed in 2019 had Swinney been open to the portal anyway. The Tigers has a senior-laden O-line going into that season, and there would've been no guarantee for Dickerson that he would've started for the Tigers, so why would he have gone there and why would Swinney have pursued him?
Pointing out individual circumstance is just a way to show how fluid the portal process is, and why it's not crazy that Swinney hasn't used it yet. That being said, don't expect his stance to change in 2021.
Looking at his roster and comparing it to what's in or has been in the portal, it's hard to find a truly impactful player. Again, Clemson didn't need a QB heading into this year. But what about a running back? Sure, a guy like former Tennessee rusher Eric Gray, who moved on to Oklahoma, would've helped a transitioning RB room that just loss Travis Etienne.
In no way is this an indictment on Gray or his character, but would he have fit Swinney's culture and thrived? Would it have even been worth the risk?
While the answer to the first question is unknown, the answer to the second question is no. How many good, developing backs would the Tigers have lost had they brought in an outsider? What holes would then be created that recruiting would have to fill?
Could Clemson benefit from an offensive or defensive linemen? Probably so, but again, it wouldn't change the course of the season or alter the expectations.
Eventually, there will come a time when Clemson does indeed have a spot that a more seasoned, potentially sudden-impact player is needed to fill, and at that time, expect Swinney to use the transfer portal.
That time is not now, and it makes zero sense for him to start pillaging the massive list of available players just because a couple of programs hit the jackpot with difference-making quarterbacks.