Dabo Swinney for Clemson.
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Dabo Swinney's Hatred of the Transfer Portal Is Killing Clemson

Clemson's season-opening loss to Duke was more than just embarrassing. It was an example of Dabo Swinney's lack of being able to adapt.

You may not have noticed, but Week 1 of college football showed that there's a new way to build college football teams, thanks to Colorado and Texas State, unlike the more "traditional way" the Clemson Tigers have used.

Deion Sanders of Colorado and G.J. Kinne of Texas State had wild success with new head coaches in Week 1. The Buffaloes took down No. 17 TCU, and Texas State beat Baylor on their home turf.

The Buffaloes had 53 transfers, while Texas State had 45. Both were 20+ point underdogs to Big 12 schools and beat them outright.

Of course, this is just a one-game sampling. But we saw these programs transform, while schools such as Clemson a former powerhouse — seem to be withering away.

Clemson has been home to several of today's NFL stars including Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence, Mike Williams, Sammy Watkins and so many more, but the Dabo Swinney-led program might be set for the doldrums of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Going up against the Duke Blue Devils and their dynamic quarterback, Riley Leonard, the Tigers — whom Cade Klubnik quarterbacks — were 12.5-point favorites. Not only did they lose outright, they scored just seven points. 

The transfer portal rules in college football allow players to hop from one program to the next pretty quickly, according to a memo sent out earlier this year. 

"In all sports, four-year undergraduate student athletes who decide to transfer to a new NCAA school can generally be eligible to compete for the new school provided that they have not previously transferred and notify their current school by entering the NCAA Transfer Portal during their sport-specific transfer window," the document said.

That's why we've seen so much movement, and not only from Colorado and Texas State. Other schools have brought in talented players such as Florida State with wide receiver Keon Coleman and A.D. Mitchell heading to Texas. 

This system can be used to assemble a football team, but Swinney — who's coached the Tigers since 2009, long before these changes were enacted — is incredibly resistant. 

There have only ever been three transfers on the Tigers roster. And two of them were backup quarterbacks, including Paul Tyson, who came over from Arizona State as a graduate transfer and is third on the depth chart. 

Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers smiles after their game against the Boston College Eagles

Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

If you look over the past few drafts, the Tigers have sported some solid defensive talent. Last year, Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee were first-round picks, and Andrew Booth was a second-round pick in 2022. 

However, the offensive talent has been lacking. Yes, they had Lawrence go No. 1 overall in 2022, but he's one of the greatest quarterback prospects ever. Not every signal-caller they have is going to be a generational-type player. 

Since 2018, just two non-quarterback skill-position players have been drafted out of the program within the first two rounds of the NFL Draft: Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins. This was once a program that had three first-round wide receivers from 2013-2017, and that's a position that's been struggling ever since Higgins left. 

This year's transfer portal saw many excellent receivers come and go, including Coleman, Mitchell, Dont'e Thornton, Dorian Singer, Dominic Lovett and many more. Of course, there's no guarantee Clemson could get them, but why not at least try? 

In their Week 1 loss to Duke, Klubnik completed 27 of 43 passes for just 209 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Their leading receiver was Antonio Williams, who had seven catches for 56 yards. Running back Will Shipley was easily their most productive player, with 17 carries for 114 yards, six receptions for 29 yards and Klubnik's lone touchdown pass. 

For those who might say Klubnik is the issue, the transfer portal had quarterbacks like Sam Hartman, Devin Leary, Brennan Armstrong and others. Klubnik is only a sophomore, so he deserves more time. But the point is there's so much talent in the transfer portal that Swinney is resistant to using even though it's already in the rules of the game, and wanting to do things "traditionally" or "your way" is only harming the football team while others get better.

Thankfully, the Tigers have a couple of layup games ahead of them, against Charleston Southern and Florida Atlantic. But after that, they host the high-powered offense of Florida State — with, oh yeah, Coleman, a transfer from Michigan State. 

A top 10-ranked team heading into the season, the Tigers could be looking at two losses through four games.

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