SAN JOSE, Calif. — While Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Alabama coach Nick Saban are aware of the narrative of fan fatigue that has surrounded their fourth straight matchup in the five years of the College Football Playoff era, neither is going to apologize for being here, Swinney said on Sunday morning.
“I mean, I’m not going to apologize for having a great team and a great program and a bunch of committed guys, and Coach Saban is not, either,” Swinney said at the head coaches’ final news conference before facing each other in the national championship game on Monday night. “I think the objective is to get the two best teams. That’s kind of the way it is. If that’s not best for college football, then why did we even do it?”
Alabama is 2-1 against Clemson in the CFP, beating the Tigers in the 2015 season national championship and the 2017 season semifinal. Alabama has been to the national championship in each of the past three seasons, winning two titles.
Both coaches were asked on Sunday whether their recent rivalry is good for the sport, considering the fact that it has denied other teams a chance to participate in the four-team field. Saban said the playoff “has probably minimized the number of teams that really get the same kind of positive self-gratification from going to bowl games in other venues that have been really unique to allowing players to get a lot of positives from having a good season.”
“Now there’s a lot of focus just on the playoffs,” Saban added “and that becomes the target that every program and every team is sort of aiming for, and it’s certainly the target that we have and a goal that we have as a program, and we’re going to continue to have. I can’t really speak for other teams or what the impact of college football really is, but it’s my job and my responsibility to do the best job that we can for our team, our players, our program in terms of what it takes for us to be successful, and I guess that’s what we’ll continue to focus on.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the perceived Alabama-Clemson fatigue is “almost a created narrative” and said he had been thinking of other great repeated matchups in sports, noting the Celtics-Lakers in the 1980s as an example.
“Nobody said, ‘Oh, they’re playing again for the NBA championship,'” Sankey said. “Pistons-Bulls in the Eastern Division. Cowboys-Steelers in the Super Bowls. Nobody said, ‘Oh, it’s that again.’ It was an appreciation for high-level competition and the intensity of that competition. That’s how I feel. This is not some fatigue. This is two programs that met on the highest national stage and they have provided some good games.”
Swinney said the CFP works in its current format.
“We went to a playoff, and the two best teams are here, and the two best teams have been here every year,” he said. “… If this isn’t good for college football, the two best teams, then we just kind of go back to the way it used to be and create all the good matchups however you want them, and then you just kind of elect a captain and you’ve got one national champion in this poll and one national champion in this poll and one national champion in this poll.”
Swinney was also asked about facing Alabama without three players who have been suspended for failed drug tests: starting defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella. For the second consecutive game, Clemson will play without the threesome, whose B samples of NCAA drug tests showed trace amounts of ostarine, a banned substance.
“The other two didn’t play much, so that didn’t really — I hated it for them because they missed out on an opportunity to be a part of it,” Swinney said. “But certainly from a team competitive standpoint, Dexter was the guy that was starting, playing a lot of ball for us. We miss him. He’s a great player, tremendous, one of the best in the country at doing what he does. So I’m thankful that we’ve got Albert Huggins and some other guys, Nyles [Pinckney] and Jordan [Williams] that have stepped up, and they’re ready to go perform to the very best of their ability. We certainly miss Dexter.”