Ohio State didn’t need any extra motivation. The Buckeyes already had the memory of last year’s crushing loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals seared into their brains, the pain and anguish of blowing a 16-0 lead with a chance to play for the national championship.
And now the coach who beat them last year, ending third-ranked Ohio State’s season, was questioning them. In the final Amway Coaches Poll ballot last week, Dabo Swinney didn’t even rank Ohio State in the top 10. He placed them 11th.
“We definitely heard about it. It was just fuel to our fire,” wide receiver Garrett Wilson said over Zoom on Monday, five days before the two teams meet in the Sugar Bowl on Friday in New Orleans. “I’m not gonna sit here and say we didn’t hear about it and didn’t react to it.”
All-American offensive guard Wyatt Davis echoed Wilson, saying, “We’re going into this game not respected at all.”
Swinney took a step back somewhat, saying his decision to rank the Buckeyes 11th had very little to do with what he thought of them as a team. It was the result of them playing only six games due to the Big Ten starting late and two of their games getting canceled due to COVID-19. Others, like Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame, have played 11 games.
“I wanted to recognize the teams that played nine games or more,” Swinney said. “And so, if you didn’t play nine games, I just didn’t consider you for the top 10. That’s why they were 11.”
“Obviously, they’re a great team,” Swinney added. “They’re plenty good enough and talented enough to beat us and good enough to win the national championship. But, in my opinion, I don’t think that it’s right that three teams have to play 13 games to win it all and one team has to play eight.”
Swinney has made tweaking Ohio State somewhat of a habit of late. He recently told ESPN preparing for the Buckeyes would be a “quick study” and a “little bit easier” than normal because they only played six games. Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson shot back, tweeting that he missed some of his 25th wedding anniversary because he was stuck in the office studying No. 2 Clemson’s game film against The Citadel.
“Missed Out on a Great Night with my Lovely Bride — Got Some Great Triple Option Plays!” Wilson tweeted.
“I could probably run for governor of Michigan and probably have a good chance,” Swinney joked on Monday. “I’m not that popular in Ohio.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day added to this back-and-forth himself on Monday, alluding to Clemson’s alleged signal-stealing that was recently detailed by Sports Illustrated, when asked about matching wits with defensive coordinator Brent Venables. The practice is legal.
“He seems to always know exactly what the other team is doing in terms of the plays that they’re running each play and seems to call the right defense into that play a lot,” Day said. “Why that is, I don’t really know. But I can tell you that he’s been doing it for a long time, and it’s a good challenge.”
Swinney knew his ranking would make news. The final coaches poll votes are made public. Day, no doubt, knew his comment about Venables would draw attention, too. Neither coach could help himself, adding to the hype for this heavily anticipated playoff rematch.
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