CLEMSON – So what does Dabo Swinney think of the College Football Playoff rankings?
Not much, even though his Clemson team would be among the four semifinalists if the season ended today.
“They could have us 10th; it just doesn’t matter,” Swinney said. “If they have us second and we get our butt beat this week, it doesn’t matter. If they have us 10th and we win out, we’ll be right where we need to be. We’ve just got to take care of business.”
That business begins Saturday with a rare day game away from home – Raleigh, North Carolina, to be exact – where a No. 19 N.C. State team lies in wait in a Carter-Finley Stadium that coach Dave Doeren hopes is awash in full-moon fever.
“It is a full moon, so we’re asking people to come out and be crazy because all of it helps our football team play well,” said Doeren, whose team beat Louisville 39-25 on a full moon in early October. “We’re excited for homecoming and hope the crowd is as excited as it was for the Louisville game. We need crowd noise in this game big-time.”
And both teams need the victory. The game essentially shapes up as a showdown for the Atlantic Division title – the No. 5-ranked Tigers are 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the ACC; the Wolfpack are 6-2 and remain unbeaten in league play at 4-0.
Clemson is No. 4 and N.C. State is No. 20 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
“This is playoff football,” Swinney said. “And the other team wants it just as bad as you do.
“It’s down to two teams and that’s what it’s all about, man. You hope to be in this situation. It ramps up as you go through November. You don’t really sit around worrying about ‘what if?’ You just want to put your best foot forward.”
As well as one’s best ankle.
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant’s ankle appeared to be at full strength in the Tigers’ 24-10 victory against Georgia Tech last week, and N.C. State’s top threat – running back Nyheim Hines – is expected to play after suffering a sprained ankle less than six minutes into the game in the Wolfpack’s loss at Notre Dame.
Clemson has held the upper hand in the series against N.C. State in recent years, but there have been some tenuous moments, the latest of which unfolded last season. The Wolfpack missed a 33-yard field goal on the last play of regulation and Clemson eventually won in overtime, 24-17.
“They absolutely remember it, but it’s not last year, so all that is going to do is serve for how much they want to win it this year,” Doeren said. “The guys that played in that football game remember it well and I’m sure their players do, too. It was a great game.”
Swinney hopes that his players who were part of that win will impart the importance of consistent effort.
“Last year was a hard-fought game, and we were fortunate to win,” Swinney said. “I think our guys understand you’ve got to play well and you’ve got to earn it, especially when playing teams that are pretty evenly matched. You’re not going to go on the road and beat N.C. State if you don’t play well.”
If Clemson wins Saturday, it will mark Swinney's 97th career victory, breaking a tie as the Tigers' all-time winningest coach with Danny Ford and the late Frank Howard, both of whom had 96 career wins.