ACC Championship Prediction: Tigers and Irish battle for Playoff berth


by - Senior Writer -
Clemson and Notre Dame kickoff at 4 p.m.
Clemson and Notre Dame kickoff at 4 p.m.

All eyes will be on ABC Saturday afternoon for the ACC Championship Game from Bank of America Stadium, as No. 3 Clemson and No. 2 Notre Dame face off at 4 p.m. ET for ACC supremacy in a rematch of their double-overtime thriller from November with CFP implications.

Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Maria Taylor will be on the call from Charlotte, while Sean Kelley and Barrett Jones are announcing ESPN Radio’s live broadcast of Tigers-Fighting Irish.

Clemson will attempt to earn a record sixth consecutive outright conference title.

NO. 4/3 CLEMSON (9-1, 8-1 ACC) vs. NO. 2/2 NOTRE DAME (10-0, 9-0 ACC)

WHEN: SATURDAY, DEC. 19, 4 P.M. ET
WHERE: BANK OF AMERICA STADIUM, CHARLOTTE, N.C.
TELEVISION: ABC (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Maria Taylor)
RADIO: Clemson Tigers Network (Don Munson, Tim Bourret, Reggie Merriweather)
RADIO: ESPN Radio (Sean Kelley, Barrett Jones)
SATELLITE RADIO: Sirius 84, XM 84, Internet 84

CLEMSON/NOTRE DAME SERIES HISTORY

OVERALL: Clemson leads series, 3-2
HOME: Series is tied, 1-1
ROAD: Series is tied, 1-1
NEUTRAL: Clemson leads series, 1-0
LAST MEETING: Nov. 7, 2020 (47-40 L, 2OT)
STREAK: Notre Dame, Won 1

NOTABLE

*In the 16 years of the ACC Championship Game era, this is the first contest with two top-five teams and only the third with two top-10 teams. Both previous top-10 matchups in Charlotte involved Clemson, with the No. 1 Tigers beating No. 7 Miami in 2017 and the Tigers, also then at No. 1 in the CFP rankings, beating No. 8 North Carolina in 2015.

*Clemson will attempt to become the first team in any active conference to win six consecutive titles outright (Note: Oklahoma can also accomplish the feat with a win in the Big 12 Championship Game at noon Saturday). Florida State earned at least a share of nine consecutive ACC titles from 1992-2000 but never earned more than three consecutive titles outright. The last team presently in the Power Five to win at least six straight outright titles was Oklahoma (12 from 1948-59) as part of the now-dissolved Big 8 Conference.

*With a win this week, Clemson would become only the third program in FBS history to produce a "double-double" — double-digit wins in a double-digit number of consecutive seasons. Clemson would join Florida State (14 from 1987-2000) and Alabama (13 from 2008-20) as the only programs ever to produce 10 straight 10-win seasons.

*Both teams will be led Saturday by their programs' respective winningest starting quarterbacks: Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (33-1) and Notre Dame's Ian Book (30- 3). Lawrence is 5-1 in his career in postseason play, including a 2-0 mark in ACC Championship Games. Though Book also helped Notre Dame to a 2017 bowl win in reserve, he is 1-1 as a starter in the postseason, with his lone loss coming against a freshman Lawrence in the 2018 Cotton Bowl.

*The 2020 season marks only the third time in Clemson history that the Tigers will face an opponent twice in one year. The first instance came in 2009, when the Tigers suffered a 30-27 regular season defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech prior to a 39-34 loss in to the Yellow Jackets in the 2011 ACC Championship Game. Clemson was on the other side of a two-game sweep in 2011, earning a 23-3 road win at No. 11 Virginia Tech in early October before securing the program's first ACC championship in 20 years by defeating the No. 5 Hokies by a score of 38-10 in Charlotte. This week, Clemson will seek its first two-game split of a season series in a rematch of a double-overtime defeat by Notre Dame on Nov. 7.

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL

Yes, Trevor Lawrence is back in this game and yes, he will make a difference. DJ Uiagalelei was outstanding in the first matchup between the two teams. He completed 29 of 44 passes (65.9 percent) for a single-game career-high 439 yards and two touchdowns, plus one rushing score. However, Clemson took just four deep shots against the Irish in the entire game, and Lawrence is throwing 17% of his passes deep down the field, an area where the Irish have been vulnerable this season.

Lawrence has compiled 598 passing yards and three touchdowns with one interception in two games since returning. He has 420 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in two previous ACC championship games. However, his presence might have more of an impact in the running game. Travis Etienne averaged just five feet – not five yards – in the first game. The Tigers had 33 rushing attempts for 34 yards in the first meeting. Uiagalelei was battling a bruised shoulder and the RPO game wasn’t effective and the Tigers didn’t use many designed quarterback runs. That will change this time around.

If Lawrence can keep the Irish honest with his legs, that will open up the run lanes for Etienne and that will in turn open the passing offense. I would love to see the middle of the field used this time around, a part of the field that has a tendency to disappear at times for this offense.

Notre Dame’s defensive line is veteran, big, and talented. Clemson’s offensive line will have to get a better push than they did in the first game.

ADVANTAGE: SLIGHT TO CLEMSON

WHEN NOTRE DAME HAS THE BALL

Ian Book made plays all over the field for Notre Dame in the first meeting in what was arguably the best game of his career. Can he have the type of impact this time around? The Tigers were without linebacker James Skalski, linebacker Mike Jones, and defensive tackle Tyler Davis in the first meeting and all three should be healthy this time around.

The presence of Davis in the middle is a big boost for Brent Venables. Davis takes on two blockers and will allow the Tigers to play more of a four-man front against the Irish running game. The Tigers didn’t get much push in South Bend as blitzers were constantly stopped by a veteran offensive line and running back Kyren Williams, who was excellent in pass protection.

The Irish will be without their starting center, and Clemson is healthier this time around. It will still be an all-out fistfight, but I like Skalski in a fistfight.

ADVANTAGE: SLIGHT TO CLEMSON

SPECIAL TEAMS

Both teams have been above average in the kicking game this season. Chris Tyree can be a difference-maker for the Irish at kickoff return, while Clemson has yet to really gain traction in that department. Both teams have dependable kickers and punters.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

I see the double-digit point spread and I don’t know that I am buying it. Ian Book is playing at a high level and the Irish are strong where it counts most, on the line of scrimmage. Book will see some defenses he didn’t see the first time around, and Notre Dame will have to respect the run with a healthy Lawrence. This one promises to be just a good old-fashioned slobber knocker, two great teams vying not only for the ACC Championship but a berth in the College Football Playoff. The last time they played, it took a healthy Notre Dame team two overtimes at home to beat a banged-up Clemson squad without some of its major leaders.

The difference is those guys are back for the Tigers, and they are used to winning.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 34, NOTRE DAME 30

More TigerNet picks
Mickey Plyler - 6-9 AM on WCCP 105.5FM - 31-27 Clemson
Nikki Hood - Staff writer - 35-20 Clemson
Brandon Rink - Staff writer - 34-23 Clemson
Pigskin Prophet - 41-27 Clemson
Tony Crumpton - Associate Editor - 42-7 Clemson*

(* Picking the same score all season)

Game Actual David Hood Mickey Plyler Nikki Hood Brandon Rink Pigskin Prophet Tony Crumpton
Wake Forest 37-13 CU 42-9 CU 49-10 CU 49-13 CU 47-10 CU 44-13 CU 42-7 CU
The Citadel 49-0 CU 52-7 CU 57-6 CU 59-7 CU 55-0 CU 62-6 CU 42-7 CU
Virginia 41-23 CU 38-12 CU 41-14 CU 52-17 CU 45-16 CU 41-13 CU 42-7 CU
Miami 42-17 CU 37-16 CU 38-23 CU 38-20 CU 37-20 CU 41-20 CU 42-7 CU
GT 73-7 CU 45-13 CU 51-13 CU 52-7 CU 55-10 CU 44-13 CU 42-7 CU
Syracuse 47-21 CU 62-9 CU 63-10 CU 70-3 CU 59-6 CU 63-3 CU 42-7 CU
BC 34-28 CU 37-17 CU 34-20 CU 35-7 CU 27-17 CU 44-20 CU 42-7 CU
Notre Dame 47-40 ND 2OT 30-20 CU 24-20 CU 28-14 CU 27-23 CU 30-13 CU 42-7 CU
Pitt 52-17 CU 44-14 CU 44-20 CU 49-17 CU 45-17 CU 41-17 CU 42-7 CU
VT 45-10 CU 47-16 CU 48-17 CU 48-7 CU 45-17 CU 45-20 CU 42-7 CU
ND ACCCG 34-10 CU 34-30 CU 31-27 CU 35-20 CU 34-23 CU 41-27 CU 42-7 CU
Points - 10 14 16 14 14 16

* Points: 3 pts for best correct prediction of the week (tiebreaker is Clemson score), 2 pts for picking score exactly, 1 pt for picking the correct winner

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