The Sugar Bowl matchup between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State needed less than 24 hours to evoke bitter feelings on both sides.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney — who questioned Ohio State because of the number of games it played during the season — put the Buckeyes at No. 11 in his final USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll ballot. For what it’s worth, Indiana finished in that spot in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
Then, video leaked of Ohio State coach Ryan Day’s postgame speech after the Big Ten championship, and it came with some NSFW language. It could serve as bulletin board material for Clemson, Notre Dame and Alabama.
Neither Swinney’s poll ballot nor Day’s locker-room talk matter that much, but both are out there. The coaches likely will spill out platitudes about how much respect they have for the other program in the press conferences leading up to the game.
But we know how they really feel now. They’ve added spice to the rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl semifinal, a game that still carries these narratives: Did the Buckeyes blow a 16-0 lead in their eventual 29-23 loss? Or did the Tigers benefit from questionable officiating calls?
The answer is both, and that sets up a simmering sequel.
You could make a strong argument that Swinney has bypassed Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh as Public Enemy No. 1 in Columbus. Consider: Since Urban Meyer arrived in 2012, the Buckeyes have lost 10 games. Three of those losses are to Clemson — more than any other school and two fewer than the entire Big Ten combined.
Ohio State losses since 2012
|Michigan State: 2|
|Virginia Tech: 1|
|Penn State: 1|
The Tigers beat the Buckeyes 40-35 in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl and 31-0 in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.
Clemson is 4-0 all time against the Buckeyes — and that first meeting was the 1978 Gator Bowl where legendary coach Woody Hayes took a swing at Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman.
The bad feelings on both sides haven’t stopped since.
In Columbus, Swinney is a motor-mouthed Southern televangelist who has taken advantage of a weak ACC to prop up his SEC-wannabe program. In Clemson, the Buckeyes are Yankee arrogance personified — a Big Ten program that plays in the slowest, stodgiest, most overhyped conference in college football.
Sound about right on Twitter?
The truth is the programs have more similarities than differences. The Buckeyes are 81-8 (.910) and the Tigers are 89-9 (.908) in the CFP era, which began in 2014. The only program with a better record in that time, of course, is Alabama at 89-8 (.918). Ohio State is 58-4 in the Big Ten and Clemson is 58-5 in the ACC.
Both have built NFL pipelines, and Day and Swinney are competing for the best quarterback recruits in the country. The rematch will feature another installment of Trevor Lawrence vs. Justin Fields, two quarterbacks who won’t win the Heisman Trophy this season but who are more than capable of winning the national championship.
Lawrence and Fields were instrumental in making sure a college football season happened in the first place. Both could have said no to playing and started preparing to be the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Instead, Lawrence returned in midseason after testing positive for COVID-19 and Fields has persevered through a season in which the Buckeyes have had three games canceled.
Clemson averages 44.5 points per game, Ohio State 42.5 points per game. Chances are we’re going to get a shootout — and a third playoff installment that should be better than the first two matchups.
That’s why it’s the second Playoff matchup on Jan. 1. Last year’s matchup drew 21.2 million viewers, and this game should surpass that.
There isn’t much left to talk about.
We know this Sugar Bowl is going to be sweet.