Coolican: Clemson deserves celebration, not criticism
Liam Coolican | Wednesday, January 15, 2020
On their way to the national title game, Clemson had many doubters. The media has been lambasting them all year for playing in a weak conference and not being as good as last year’s title-winning team was, which is not completely untrue. The ACC, especially this year, was arguably the worst of the Power Five conferences.
Although he was still outstanding, sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s stats have not been quite as good.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney clearly feeds on the doubters and inspires his team to do the same.
Clemson blew out nearly everybody they faced this season, and while the best team they played in the regular season was 8-5 Wake Forest, they obliterated them 52-3.
In the ACC championship game, they faced a solid team in Virginia, and beat them 62-17. Virginia lost by just one score to No. 9 Florida in the Orange Bowl.
The media hones in on Clemson’s narrow win against North Carolina. The team escaped 21-20 on the road against a Tar Heels team that would barely be bowl-eligible. This clearly wasn’t their best game, and other playoff teams (excluding Oklahoma, who did lose to Kansas State) didn’t have many close games against inferior opponents. LSU played many close games, but they also played a very tough schedule in the SEC West, and Ohio State didn’t have a single one-score game until they lost to Clemson in the semi-finals.
Ohio State was seen by many before the playoffs as the best team in the country, as many fans and media members put them in front of even LSU. Undoubtably, they were a great team. They beat a very good Wisconsin team twice, defeated Penn State and blew out Michigan on the road. Most people picked Ohio State to come away with the win.
But after a tough first half, the playoff experience of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the rest of the roster proved to be the difference as Clemson came back for a 29-23 win.
They entered the title game with no losses in the last two seasons. With 29 consecutive wins, Clemson had the 12th-longest winning streak in the history of college football. That is an accomplishment that should be celebrated, but instead has been overshadowed by the fact that they play in the ACC.
LSU is an all-time great team as well. Quarterback Joe Burrow had one of the best seasons ever in college football, and they beat an astounding six teams in the top 15. There is no question they were the better team on Monday night; the 17-point differential makes that clear.
However, Clemson stayed in the game for nearly three quarters, which is impressive against such an incredible team. Most of the media coverage after the game praised LSU, and rightfully so, but the few articles about Clemson criticize the ACC or assert that Lawrence played poorly, instead of praising Clemson for such an amazing run.
While Lawrence was outshone by Burrow on Monday night, he didn’t play badly, especially against such an elite defense. Additionally, Burrow did not even play in a meaningful game until he was two years older than Lawrence, as he transferred to LSU as a redshirt junior, while Lawrence is a sophomore.
Next year, Clemson will lose several key contributors to the NFL, including star running back Travis Etienne and multiple starters on defense, although Lawrence will enter his third year as a starter.
Their schedule is only slightly tougher. They will come to play Notre Dame on the road, which will likely end up being their only tough game, unless there is a surprise ACC contender. Clemson will finish the season with one or no losses, and the media will still assert that they don’t belong in the playoffs.
Clemson has earned the right to be respected, although they likely won’t get that from most people until they win another national title. They deserve praise for having an amazing two seasons, not criticism for merely losing one game — even the national championship — against a historically good opponent.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.