CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Before their programs battle for the 2015 ACC Championship on Saturday, Larry Fedora and Dabo Swinney took a unified approach in promoting their conference for a College Football Playoff berth on Friday.
When asked if the ACC champion, regardless of which team wins, deserves a spot in the New Year’s Eve semifinals, Swinney replied: “Absolutely.”
Thus begun an effort, starting with the Clemson head coach and ending nearly 45 minutes with Fedora, to praise the quality of the ACC and all but demand a top-4 ranking for the eventual champion.
“We've got three top-10 teams in this league,” Swinney said. “You know, the third-best team in this league just beat the SEC East champion. We've got a pretty good league, and it’s getting better quickly with some of the coaches that are coming into this league. I don't think there's any question that the ACC should be in one of those games.”
More importantly, Swinney’s take served to prop up UNC’s case for a playoff bid. The top-ranked Tigers are a lock for inclusion with a win on Saturday night. The Tar Heels, however, were ranked No. 10 in the penultimate rankings on Tuesday, suggesting that even a win over Clemson may not be enough to make the playoffs.
For the third time this week, Fedora played the PR game that he typically prefers to avoid, telling reporters at Bank of America that he “most definitely” thought his team deserved a playoff spot with a win.
“I think if we beat the No. 1 team in the nation, then I believe this team deserves to be in the College Football Playoff,” Fedora said.
The playoff pairings will be announced at approximately 12:30pm (ESPN) on Sunday, followed by the New Year’s Six bowls and the final top-25 rankings at 2:45pm.
What’s the mood of your team been like this week, with how they're preparing for this game and how you've also lost players to injury?
“You know, it's really interesting, this group, whether it was Tuesday of this week, Wednesday of this week or Thursday of this week, you could have picked out the first week or the sixth week or the ninth week -- these guys have been the same. They really have. It's not like you think, hey, we're getting ready to play for the championship, so they're out there gunned up running around, going crazy in practice. That doesn't happen. They have really just kind of stayed at one level all the way through, and it's been fun to watch, actually, because it hasn't been a deal where as a staff we've come off the field and said, ‘wow, today was really rough, had to really push them.’ We haven't had one of those days.
“They've just kind of been the same way, haven't been too high, haven't been too low. They're going to be the same way in pregame. They're going to be the same way in the locker room, and they're just a different group. It's made it fun.
“We hate to lose Sam Smiley. Our guys always understand they're one play away from it being over, and we hope they all play like it's their last play. Dominquie Green will step up and he's got experience, and the rest of the guys will pull up the boots around him, and we'll play good defense.”
You said back in February you thought this team could win the Coastal. This was before spring practice, before fall practice. Why did you believe that back then?
“Well, I really believed it because of all the adversity we had last year and all the adversity we created for ourselves and just the whole culmination of everything. I was really hoping -- I felt like we had the pieces of the puzzle. Now, whether or not we were going to make it all melt together, that was still the question at that time, but I really felt like we had the pieces of the puzzle to be successful and win the Coastal.”
Jeff Schoettmer talked about in the locker room, in this building, after losing to South Carolina they said we're going to be back here to play for this championship. It's one thing to say that, it's another thing to do it. Can you talk about that?
“Well, they did say that. We did say it and they meant it. You're right, it is one thing to say, but everything these guys have said this year, and they haven't done a whole lot of talking, they really haven't, but everything they've said and the things that they talk about in our meetings, they've done. And it hasn't been me that's had to push them to do these things. I say, hey, guys, I want to do this and I want us to do this, and then those guys go back to the team, and they say, hey, this is what we're going to do, this is why we need to do it and this is how we're going to do it and then they do it. They've done a great job of leading this football team. They really have.”
You were talking about the amazing consistency of preparation for your team this year. Are you confident in the Marquise Williams you're going to see tomorrow night after --
“Very much so. I've got as much confidence in 'Quise as anybody that's going to step on that football field. He's going to go out and he's going to play the game of his life. He's going to do an exceptional job leading, and he's going to be very consistent and calm, and he's going to have a great game.”
Clemson has been on this stage before. Obviously you guys have not. How much of an advantage is that for them and do you look at that as a disadvantage for you?
“I mean, there's no doubt. Experience is always something that you never can replace. It's going to be -- they've been here. They've been in this situation, so they understand it. They know what's expected. Our guys haven't. This will be our first time. Carolina hasn't.
“But really because of the consistency and the way these guys have reacted all year, I just don't see them being any different, and I don't think they need to be any different. I don't need them to do anything -- I've told them, you're not going to have to jump over any small buildings or anything to make this happen. Just go out and do the things that we do. I really think that'll be enough.”