In other words, both tried to talk about a subject they didn’t understand as well as what usually falls in the domain of their regular jobs. It happens. Imprudence does not equal malice.
Which brings up this week’s spat between Clemson and Florida State — or, more specifically, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney and decision-makers at Florida State. The teams were supposed to play last Saturday. Clemson was already in town.
Swinney was less than thrilled Florida State officials balked over medical concerns, leading to the game’s postponement at 9 a.m., three hours before kickoff. Florida State was less than thrilled Clemson had a player test positive for coronavirus on Friday.
This probably should have been a one-day story, but Swinney fired away on Sunday. And again on Tuesday. It’s probably the sort of grandstanding Clemson fans will savor, and it’s not really out of character for Swinney, who is often willing to offer an opinion on a range of subjects. But it’s all unnecessary for two reasons.
One, if there is an all-encompassing rule that should be applied to the last eight-plus months, it’s that caution is justified and safety should be a priority — especially when it comes to players who are not, ahem, getting paid anything beyond what they normally receive (scholarship, cost of attendance, etc.) while producing a product that is effectively keeping athletic departments afloat financially in dire times.
Two, even if Clemson believes the 2-6 Seminoles want no part of getting trounced, guess what? Neither team is scheduled to play on Dec. 12, and there’s nothing stopping Clemson from laying a name-your-own-score whupping on Florida State in a few weeks.
The Tigers, while not boasting their best offensive line this season, are certainly capable of hanging a big number on a lot of teams. And the Seminoles are frankly a mess right now. While not likely, Clemson could attempt to drop Tallahassee’s area code (85-0) on Florida State if it was sufficiently motivated and on point, then wave it at the Seminoles for years to come.
It’s safe to say that would be just what the doctor ordered to soothe the Tigers’ tempers. But quietly rescheduling and then administering a rout of any kind — without needlessly claiming silly gamesmanship in the middle of a pandemic or complaining about the travel costs of a weekend when so much of the world remains inconvenienced — would have been a better way for Swinney and Clemson to handle things.
A lost year: Big Ten edition
Ever since Penn State’s arrival in the Big Ten in 1993, the Nittany Lions’ games against Michigan have been among the most reliably meaningful in the conference.
The Wolverines have won 14 of the 23 meetings (the game cycled off the schedule in 2003 and 2004, and again in 2011 and 2012), but something is usually at stake. Take the 1997 game, when 8-0 Michigan claimed an early November game from 7-0 Penn State. Or just two years ago, when the 7-1 Wolverines blasted the 6-2 Nittany Lions in one of Jim Harbaugh’s best victories as Michigan’s coach.
This year does not fit the pattern. Penn State is 0-5 for the first time in its century-plus program history, and Michigan needed triple overtime to outlast Rutgers last week and improve to 2-3. Only one other time in series history have the teams entered with more than a combined five losses: On Nov. 11, 2000, when 6-3 Michigan dispatched 4-6 Penn State.
Nonetheless, the two blue bloods receive a prominent noon kickoff on ABC. Just don’t feel obliged to pay much attention out of habit to a game that usually warrants plenty of interest — but definitely doesn’t this fall.
Five with the most at stake
1. Alabama. Is Arkansas going to trip up the No. 1 Crimson Tide? Probably not. Might LSU, if the Tigers’ game against Nick Saban’s bunch gets rescheduled? Unlikely this year. But does No. 22 Auburn, which has quietly gotten itself to 5-2 and tamed LSU and Tennessee in its last two outings, have the goods to make the Iron Bowl interesting? You bet.
2. Clemson. Hard as it is to believe given all the talk about last week’s postponement, but the No. 1 Tigers actually have a game this Saturday. Pittsburgh (5-4, 4-4 ACC) rolls into Death Valley after bludgeoning Virginia Tech last week, and the Panthers are probably the greatest remaining threat to Clemson (7-1, 6-1) finding its way to the ACC title game.
3. Notre Dame. The 8-0 Irish head to Chapel Hill on Friday to face an erratic North Carolina team with a habit of nodding off on defense. But the No. 25 Tar Heels (6-2, 6-2 ACC) also have Sam Howell, who threw for 550 yards and six touchdowns in his last outing. This is anything but a gimme for No. 2 Notre Dame.
4. Texas A&M. The last time the Aggies (5-1, 5-1 SEC) played host to LSU, the game went seven overtimes two years ago. The last time the Aggies played host to anyone, it was Halloween. No. 5 Texas A&M had its last two games shelved, and whether it is sharp enough to handle LSU will determine whether it stays in the playoff hunt.
5. Southern California. Assuming the Trojans (3-0) can even play Colorado (2-0), they’ll have a chance to take sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South and would require only a split against Washington State and UCLA to reach the conference title game. No. 19 USC is coming off its best outing to date, a 33-17 victory at Utah, and has so far avoided unleashing a massive amount of grumbling. Staying unbeaten — and at least nominally in the playoff race — would ensure that doesn’t change.
1. QB Kyle Trask, Florida; 2,554 yards, 31 TDs, 3 INTs. Like clockwork, Trask threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns against Vanderbilt. With up to four games left before the postseason, the senior has a chance to wind up around 4,000 yards and 45 touchdown passes — silly numbers in any season, especially this one. (Last week: 3)
2. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; 1,833 yards, 17 TDs, 2 INTs passing; 71 yards, 4 TDs rushing. You’ve got to play to win. Lawrence hasn’t taken the field in the last four weeks, losing two games to a positive coronavirus test and another to a postponement. (LW: 1)
3. RB Najee Harris, Alabama; 797 yards, 16 TDs rushing; 22 receptions for 210 yards. Harris is tied for second in the country in touchdowns scored, behind only North Carolina’s Javonte Williams (18). Expect Harris to receive a healthy workload against Auburn. (LW: 4)
4. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State; 1,208 yards, 13 TDs, 3 INTs passing; 135 yards, 3 TDs rushing. Throwing three interceptions in a defeat of Indiana didn’t help. The underwhelming state of the No. 3 Buckeyes’ remaining opponents before a possible conference title game trip (Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan) helps Fields even less. (LW: 2)
5. QB Mac Jones, Alabama; 2,426 yards, 18 TDs, 3 INTs passing. Nothing fancy about Jones’ day against Kentucky (230 passing yards, two TDs, one INT), but he’s still in the mix entering the final month of the season. (LW: 5)
6. QB Zach Wilson, Brigham Young; 2,724 yards, 26 TDs, 2 INTs passing; 191 yards, 8 TDs rushing. Padded his numbers like he was supposed to in a half’s worth of work against North Alabama. He’s only scheduled to play one more regular season game (against San Diego State’s stingy defense), but the Cougars could still add a game or two. (LW: 6)