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Is return to College Football Playoff ‘essential’ for Dabo Swinney?

Thursday marked 100 days until the 2024 college football season officially kicks off in Dublin, Ireland with Florida State facing Georgia Tech in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic.

One week later, Clemson opens its season in Atlanta against the Georgia Bulldogs, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the nation in various way-too-early rankings this spring.

The Tigers finished 9-4 a season ago with five straight wins to close out the year after a disappointing and, given the standards set by two-time national champion head coach Dabo Swinney, practically unprecedented 4-4 start.

As such, ESPN released a “10 lists of 10” to get fans ready for the upcoming season. One of those includes a list of 10 coaches to watch in 2024. To no surprise, Swinney made the list, checking in at No. 10.

Per a pool of ESPN reporters:

“(Swinney is) a future Hall of Famer and the first coach to truly challenge Nick Saban’s stranglehold on the sport, winning national titles in 2016 and 2018. But his hands-off approach toward the transfer portal has raised questions, especially after Clemson dropped four games last season for the first time since 2011. A return to the CFP is essential for Swinney.”

That “hands-off approach” to the transfer portal has been a hot topic of conversation for some time and has only ratcheted up in the wake of Clemson being the only non-service academy to not take a single player in the transfer portal this off-season. Unlike the Tigers, however, Army, Navy and Air Force do not accept transfers.

Former Clemson players like Ben Boulware and others have weighed in with their support of Swinney’s approach to the portal.

Swinney himself has repeatedly defended his program’s lack of additions in the portal. During an interview on SiriusXM’s College Sports Radio this week, the coach offered a rather simplistic take for why the Tigers haven’t added anyone via the portal this off-season.

“There’s three types of players in the portal,” Swinney told SiriusXM. “It’s really pretty simple. Most of the guys in the portal aren’t good enough to play for us. That’s just the reality of it.

“The majority of guys, they’re guys that are in the portal because they want to have a chance to start somewhere. They’re not playing where they are. They’re not good enough to come in and play for us. We’d rather take a good high school player as long as we can get them, which we do, and you develop them.”

Swinney also talked up things like Clemson’s graduation rate and the number of players the program has sent to the NFL — all of which are valid points.

But the use (or lack thereof) of the portal will continue to be a hotly contested issue for Swinney’s detractors — even more so if the Tigers suffer through another season similar to 2023 and miss out on the expanded 12-team College Football Playoff.

Clemson-Georgia will kick off at noon EDT on August 31 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The game will be televised nationally by ABC.

Story originally appeared on Clemson Wire