Dabo is wrong: Clemson is not the first team to start No. 1 and finish No. 3 without losing

Ryan Young
·Writer

Dabo Swinney isn’t giving up his narrative that No. 3 Clemson is being overlooked after its second straight undefeated season.

The Tigers earned the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff on Sunday, and will take on No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28. The postseason berth marked Clemson’s fifth straight appearance in the playoff.

Yet after finishing the regular season with a perfect record — albeit full of blowout wins with an extremely easy schedule — the Clemson coach seemed to take issue with their third-place finish.

“We started the season No. 1, went undefeated in the regular season and finished third,” Swinney told his team Sunday after the selection show. “OK, so that’s history, first time that’s happened. No. 1. So congratulations on that.”

Except it’s not the first time it happened.

A nearly identical scenario played out in the ACC — Swinney’s own conference — just five years ago in Tallahassee with Florida State. The Seminoles started out the 2014 season ranked No. 1, and finished the year without a loss in the regular season.

Despite being unbeaten, however, Florida State was No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff rankings and entered the postseason with the No. 3 seed. The Seminoles then got ran out of the Rose Bowl, falling to No. 2 Oregon 59-20.

Clemson’s season this fall looks extremely similar. Even with their undefeated regular season, the Tigers were ranked No. 5 in the first College Football Playoff rankings before finishing at No. 3 after starting the year as the top-ranked team.

The only major difference between the two teams — besides the postseason result, which hasn’t happened yet — is strength of schedule, and it’s not leaning in Swinney’s favor.

Clemson has not played a single team this season still ranked in the Associated Press poll, and its strength of schedule is ranked No. 62 in the country. By comparison, No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Oklahoma all have schedules inside the top 30.

Florida State had a much tougher schedule in 2014, finishing the year with the 35th-hardest in the country. It also picked up key wins against No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 12 Georgia Tech and No. 22 Clemson after opening the season with a win against Oklahoma State at a neutral site.

Regardless, Swinney has a chance to prove how good his Tigers are later this month against Ohio State. If they really are as good as he says they are, it will show against the Buckeyes in Arizona.

But if history is to be believed, and Swinney’s team is truly like the 2014 Seminoles, a very lopsided Fiesta Bowl could be looming on the horizon.

Despite earning a spot in the College Football Playoff, Dabo Swinney is upset his undefeated Tigers didn't take the No. 1 spot. (AP/Sean Rayford)
Despite earning a spot in the College Football Playoff, Dabo Swinney is upset his undefeated Tigers didn't take the No. 1 spot. (AP/Sean Rayford)

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