Clemson against South Carolina in November 2019.

It’s true that there are questions surrounding the Clemson Tigers as the 2019 college football season winds down and we near the College Football Playoff. There are certainly concerns about the defending champion’s strength of schedule as well as the fact that the ACC was a major disappointment this season. When the Tigers were ranked No. 1 earlier in the season there was a lot of talk about the quality of their wins compared to teams such as Ohio State, Alabama, and LSU (a fair comparison to make).

All of that said, at no point in the 2019 season have the Clemson Tigers been ranked lower than No. 4 in the nation in any media poll. And while the early College Football Playoff rankings might not have been kind to the Tigers, they’ve successfully managed to complete their regular season unblemished and find themselves well-regarded as one of the four teams likely to be chosen for the College Football Playoff (assuming they can beat Virginia in the ACC Championship Game).

On paper, certainly, there is no possible reason anyone would doubt the Clemson Tigers are not one of the top programs in the nation. They’ve won two national championships in the last four years and they’re currently riding a 27-game winning streak over the last two seasons. They are no one’s underdog and they are not a football opponent anyone would take lightly.

And yet, before Clemson became the powerhouse that it is, head coach Dabo Swinney always seemed to be able to mine the #DISRESPECKT in order to motivate his squad. Clemson was something of an outsider for a while under Swinney until they overtook Florida State for conference supremacy. The Tigers were also considered weaker than Alabama when the two would meet the CFP. And it was presumed for a while that any success there would be a flash in the pan. Dabo and Clemson proved any doubters wrong and now sit atop the throne as the one waiting for a challenge.

So in some ways, it’s not surprising to see Dabo try to go back to the disrespect well one more time in order to motivate his team and air his grievances regarding the way his 2019 squad has been perceived. After the team’s route of South Carolina, Dabo launched into a diatribe about how Clemson has no choice but to win (and win big) because otherwise “they’re going to kick us out.”

“Obviously, if we lose this game, they are going to kick us out. They don’t want us there anyway. We’d drop to 20 [had Clemson lost to South Carolina]. Georgia loses to this very same team, and it’s, ‘How do we keep Georgia in?’…We win, against the team that beat [Georgia], and it’s, ‘How do we get Clemson out?’ It’s the dadgummest thing.'”

Swinney later added, facetiously, “We’ve got to go 30-0. We ain’t got no choice because we don’t play nobody.”

Clemson did have one close call this season against North Carolina. And while most rational college football folks realize that every top program has a tough game or two each season, the vocal minority of those who can’t let it go means Dabo can’t let it go either.

“Some guy said the other day on the radio, ‘Y’all are pre-North Carolina.’ What season has [he] watched? It’s like, ‘You want me to agree with that?’ We’ve dominated 11 out of 12 games. Dominated. We’re not any different. There’s no pre-North Carolina. We just had one close game where we stunk. We turned it over, gave up a big play, but we won. There’s nobody that’s been more consistent than us.”

Clemson is currently No. 3 in the CFP rankings and, barring a shocking upset, they’ll be in the playoffs where they’ll have the chance to put any perceptions about their worthiness to bed. Until then, expect to hear Dabo play the #DISRESPECK card plenty more times. It’s worked in the past to motivate the Tigers when they actually were disrespected, so perhaps it’ll work again even if they aren’t.


About Sean Keeley

A graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Keeley is the creator of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and author of 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse related things for SB Nation, Curbed,, and many other outlets. He currently lives in Chicago.