Dabo Swinney has two national championships, 140 career wins (fourth-most among active FBS head coaches), six straight conference championships, and only seven losses over the last six years. He’s a future Hall of Famer with an $8.3 million salary, five top-100 signees in the 2021 class, and, presumably, has at least another decade to cement his legacy as one of the 10 best coaches in college football history.
Life is good for Dabo Swinney. He could quit today and walk away with one of the best coaching résumés ever. But on Friday night, he was a punching bag as Clemson was throttled by the 11th-best team in college football in the Sugar Bowl, during which he punted in the fourth quarter when down 21 points.
"[The ranking] had nothing to do with Ohio State,” Swinney said after the game, answering a question about his ranking for the Buckeyes in the Coaches Poll two weeks ago. “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."
Meanwhile, Alabama is an early 7.5-point favorite over Ohio State in national championship odds. It’ll be their fourth-ever meeting and first since the national championship six years ago.
Trailing LSU, 28–25, with six minutes remaining in last year’s national championship, Clemson’s defense faced first-and-10 from its own 16-yard line and needed a red-zone stop to avoid a two-score deficit. The Tigers didn’t get it, allowing a touchdown two plays later when Joe Burrow connected with Thaddeus Moss.
Clemson linebacker James Skalski wasn’t on the field for the scoring play because he was ejected for targeting a play earlier. The rule was applied correctly as Skalski checked two NCAA rule boxes by making forcible contact with the crown of the helmet and making forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player. Ultimately, Skalski’s ejection didn’t matter because Clemson didn’t score another point, losing 42–25, but at the time it was a huge loss.
Almost exactly one year later, Skalski was tossed again, this time for targeting Justin Fields in an open-field hit to Fields’s midsection. And, as it was 50 weeks ago, the rule was applied correctly, though a shocking number of pundits disagreed.
Article 3 of Rule 9 (Conduct of Players and Others Subject to the Rules) in the 2020 NCAA rule book: No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet. The crown of the helmet is the portion of the helmet above the level of the top of the face mask. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting. (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul.
Note 1: “Targeting” means that a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball. Some indicators of targeting include but are not limited to:
And the fourth bullet point of the “not limited to” section: Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet.
Clearly, the rule was applied correctly. The rule itself, however, remains frustrating. While the NCAA took one step in the right direction prior to this season by allowing ejected players to remain on the sideline, they didn’t adjust the rule to allow for more interpretation of intent. In the case of Skalski’s hit, it should be flagged for targeting but not targeting with ejection. After a second hit, Skalski should be ejected.
Like last year, ultimately the ejection didn’t matter because Ohio State was shredding Clemson’s defense with or without Skalski, but the rule remains frustrating nonetheless.
Odds & Ends
Sports Illustrated nailed the future … 2021 NFL Mock Draft … 32 craziest things sports fans have done … Ranking the best Group of Five teams of the playoff era … Mike Leach was in the stands taking photos with fans during Mississippi State’s brawl … Albert Breer breaks down the NFL coaching carousel … How the wheels came off the Patriots’ dynasty … Peacock unveiled a hilarious, never-before-seen cold open from The Office.
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