Friedlander: SEC, B1G have 1 big advantage over ACC -- a national advocate to shape Playoff message
It’s all about the messaging.
We saw that during the recent midterm elections and it’s playing out again as the lobbying heats up for the 4th and final spot in the College Football Playoff.
Usually, it’s the people who shout their opinion the loudest that end up getting the most traction. And when it comes to college football, no one shouts louder or has a more powerful platform than Paul Finebaum.
Turn on any one of ESPN’s family of networks at any time, on any day and there’s a good chance the SEC’s resident mouthpiece will be creating or repeating some kind of narrative that boosts the league’s already high profile.
One of his favorites is marginalizing the ACC.
That’s become an especially important topic now that LSU, Alabama and Tennessee all have 2 losses, all but relegating the SEC to a single representative in the final 4 and opening the door for Clemson to sneak in.
Clemson still needs some help, most notably losses by TCU and Southern Cal in 1 of their 2 remaining games. But you can tell he’s getting nervous.
Saturday afternoon, Finebaum fired off a preemptive strike on just such a possibility by saying that the Tigers have “no business being in the CFP.”
You’ll probably hear Joel Klatt of Fox Sports parrot something similar this week as he works to lobby the committee into seeding both Ohio State and Michigan into the Playoff semifinal bracket.
My question is: Other than Georgia and whichever team wins the Big Ten title, who does have a fool-proof Playoff case?
Provided it’s able to beat rival South Carolina on Saturday and North Carolina for the ACC crown, Clemson – as a 12-1 conference champion – would have more of a legitimate claim to a spot in the Playoff than anyone’s runner-up
And possibly an SEC champion with 2 losses — including 1 to an ACC opponent.
“Anybody can beat anybody,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said last week. “It’s no different than any other league. I know there’s a lot of media-driven jargon, narratives out there, which is ridiculous.
“Florida State … people are talking about LSU (being) as good as anybody out there. Florida State beat them. We beat Florida State at their place.”
That’s a message the ACC needs to do a better job of getting out to the public.
The league has its own network, affiliated with the World Wide Leader. But it arrived late to the party and doesn’t use it to anywhere near its full advantage.
While ACC Network analyst and former Clemson offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain has begun doing his part by becoming the most prominent voice advocating for the league on the air and social media, he can’t be the only one.
The ACC needs more voices. Louder voices. Voices that can be heard and believed by a wide audience.
In the meantime, the ACC’s coaches and players can do their part this weekend by taking care of business on the field in head-to-head matchups against SEC opponents.
Of the 4 traditional rivalry games on the schedule, Clemson’s Palmetto Bowl showdown against South Carolina is clearly the most important.
For obvious reasons.
The Playoff conversation becomes a moot point if the Tigers don’t extend their winning streak against the Gamecocks to 8 straight.
Swinney’s 8th-ranked team doesn’t always pass the eye test and quarterback DJ Uiagalelei does have a penchant for turning the ball over. But with the exception of that 1 blemish at Notre Dame, it has built a much stronger résumé than anyone outside the league would like you to believe.
Three of Clemson’s 10 wins have come against teams that were in the Top 25 at the time they played. South Carolina has also been ranked and is coming off an upset of then-No. 5 Tennessee in which it put 63 points on the board.
The Tigers have also beaten Florida State, which is currently No. 16.
The Seminoles have already claimed 1 SEC victim this season. A big one, as Swinney noted. They took down West Division champion LSU over Labor Day weekend and are currently playing their best football of the season, having won 4 straight by an average of 33.5 points as they prepare to take on Florida in Tallahassee on Friday.
A win against the Gators, along with a Louisville victory at Kentucky on Saturday would make a positive statement about the depth of the Atlantic Division, if not the entire league.
The ACC team is the favorite in all 3 games. As for the other one, it’s too much to ask 35-point underdog Georgia Tech to upset No. 1 Georgia, the defending national champion. But it can at the very least give the critics 1 less thing to latch onto by giving a better showing than the 45-0 embarrassment it absorbed a year ago.
Any little bit helps. Because in order to spread a message to the masses and have them buy it, you must first have a message to spread.