The most feared team in college football’s playoff foursome might not be the No. 1 or 2 seed.

Instead, sitting there — quietly or not, depending on Dabo Swinney’s mood — is Clemson. The defending national champion just finished a 13-0 season, has won 28 games in a row and made a statement with a 62-17 victory over Virginia in the ACC championship game. That win was its eighth in a row by at least 31 points and therein lies part of the reason it drew the No. 3 seed. But LSU, at No. 1, and Ohio State, at No. 2, also happen to be undefeated and played stronger schedules, so Clemson fell to third, something that Swinney happily admitted was “free fuel” as he looks for a psychological edge.

None of Clemson’s victories has come against a team that finished in the top 25 (the Tigers most likely assured Virginia of finishing outside the 25th spot). To hear Swinney tell it, Clemson is the Rodney Dangerfield of college football. “The story line always seems to be we don’t play anybody,” he lamented at the end of November, “and we’re 10-1 our last 11 against the SEC.”

Ah, those pesky “quality wins,” of which Clemson has only a handful. But it does have what may matter most now: a quarterback in Trevor Lawrence who knows how to win a national championship, talented receivers and a smart defense that managed to overcome the loss of three players who were first-round NFL draft picks.

Last year, Notre Dame and Alabama found out how tough Clemson was in the playoffs and no one is eager to face the Tigers, who are 71-3 in their last 74 games. Swinney is on the record complaining that Clemson is penalized for playing in a conference that isn’t loaded with powerhouses.

“We just want to have an opportunity to compete for the whole thing,” Swinney said Saturday. “I think we’ve done enough to get somewhere in that top four. Wherever they put us, we just want a chance to play and see if we can get to the top of the mountain.”

The first team standing between them a repeat national championship is Ohio State, a team they thrashed 31-0 (when Urban Meyer was the Buckeyes’ coach) in a semifinal in 2016. Clemson has won its last eight games by over 42 points a game and, as he addressed players for the first time after the seedings were announced, Swinney was already playing the disrespect card.

“[It’s] the first time since 1966 that a team started the season No. 1, went undefeated through the regular season and finished third,” Swinney said in a clip caught by ESPN. “So that’s history. First time that’s happened. So … congratulations on that.”

Afterward, he admitted that was already seeking an edge for 8 p.m. (Eastern) Fiesta Bowl game Dec. 28 in Arizona. “You’re always looking for little things along the way … free fuel,” Swinney added with a laugh. “When you’re going across the country, man, free fuel is good. It’s expensive. Gas costs a lot of money, so when you can get free fuel, it’s always good.”

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