Dabo Swinney still believes his Clemson program is behind what Nick Saban has built at Alabama, but he also admits that the Tigers are closer than anyone else to matching the Crimson Tide.
“I definitely think it’s Alabama and the rest of y’all, which we’re a part of that,” Swinney said Wednesday after Clemson’s first practice for the Cotton Bowl. “I still think we’re on the ROY bus. We’re driving, though. We’re in the front seat of the ROY bus. But I think it’s definitely the rest of us.”
Alabama has won five national titles since 2009, including last year’s, and the Crimson Tide have been in the playoff each of the five seasons it has existed.
But Clemson has been more consistent than any program other than Alabama in the College Football Playoff era. The Tigers are in the CFP for the fourth consecutive season and are four quarters away from playing in the national championship game for the third time in four years.
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Clemson won the national title in 2016, beating Alabama in Tampa. Alabama and Clemson have played in the College Football Playoff each of the past three seasons.
“I mean Alabama, they’ve been unbelievable. Somebody asked me the other day are they becoming a rival. And I’m like, ‘Well I mean you’ve gotta win a few times before it can really be a rivalry I think.’ They’ve just been unbelievably dominant,” Swinney said. “It’s incredible what they’ve done over the last 10 years and the championships that they’ve won. They’re a tough out for everybody. They’re on Bus 1, 2 and 3 and then the rest of y’all, we’re on Bus 4 just hoping that we can get it done.”
Clemson’s coaching staff has been out on the road recruiting for the past several days, and several coaches took a trip to California earlier this week.
That has led to Swinney and his assistants spending lots of time on airplanes and lots of time watching film of Notre Dame.
“Me, personally, I feel like I’m probably more ahead than I’ve ever been from a prep standpoint at this stage, just because I’ve had a lot of plane time. A lot of long legs. So I’ve had a lot of time,” Swinney said. “Usually my plane time is up and down and in and out. And it’s kind of hard to get situated. But I’ve had a lot of time. I’ve seen all their games on both sides and have a good feel for who they are and what we’ve gotta do from a prep standpoint. And the same thing for our staff.”
Clemson All-American left tackle Mitch Hyatt was in yellow during Clemson’s practice on Wednesday. Swinney did not provide a reason for Hyatt being held out of the Tigers’ practice, but Hyatt did suffer a stinger last month against Boston College.
Hyatt jogged outside during most of the open portion of Clemson’s practice Wednesday.
“There ain’t nothing wrong with Mitch,” Swinney said. “Just a nice day off. That’s it. He’s fine.”