ACC Dominance on the Line: Clemson vs. Pitt prediction


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Clemson and Pitt kick off at 8 pm on ABC
Clemson and Pitt kick off at 8 pm on ABC

Beat Pitt.

The most important game on the schedule. Next. Orange pants. There are several ways to describe this weekend’s ACC Championship Game against Pitt, but it all comes down to this: Win and the Tigers earn not only a fourth consecutive ACC Championship but secure a spot in the College Football Playoff for a fourth consecutive year.

Heady times we’re living in.

No. 2 Clemson (12-0) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5) in the ACC Championship

When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. (75,525)
TV: ABC: Spectrum (13, 713 HD), DirecTV (13), Dish (8180)
Radio: WCCP 105.5 FM, ESPN Upstate 97.7 FM, Sirius 94, XM 193, Internet 955
Records: Clemson 12-0, Pittsburgh 7-5
Spread: Clemson by 27 1/2

A win on Saturday would give Clemson its fourth consecutive ACC title and make the Tigers the first team in the conference’s 66-season history to win four consecutive outright titles. Bobby Bowden’s Florida State squads earned at least a share of the ACC title in nine straight seasons across the 1992-2000 campaigns but never earned four outright titles in a row. Clemson would be the first Power Five team to win four consecutive conference title games since Florida rattled off four straight SEC Championship Game wins from 1993-96.

With a win over Pittsburgh, Clemson would end a two-game losing streak to Pitt and have an active winning streak of at least one game against all 13 other ACC institutions.

The game will be played on the 10th anniversary of Dabo Swinney being named as Clemson’s full-time head coach on Dec. 1, 2008. Clemson is 113-30 under Swinney, including a 109-27 mark in his 10 full seasons.

NOTABLE

*Pitt will make its first appearance in the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game. The Panthers closed the regular season with five wins in their final seven contests en route to Charlotte.

*Pitt and Clemson have played on two prior occasions with the Panthers winning each time. In 2016, Pitt defeated Clemson in Death Valley, 43-42, handing the eventual national champion Tigers their only loss during a 14-1 campaign. The teams also met in the 1977 Gator Bowl, a 34-3 Pitt victory in Jacksonville, Fla.

*Clemson has 17 ACC championships in school history, the most in the history of the conference. Florida State ranks second with 15. The Tigers have won each of the last three titles and will attempt to make it four in a row for the first time in school history, passing three-year streaks from 1965-67 and 1986-88.

*If Clemson wins Saturday night, the Tigers would be the first ACC program to win four consecutive ACC titles outright. Florida State had a streak of nine straight ACC titles, but that streak included two co-championships that prevented Bobby Bowden's Seminoles from ever winning four straight titles outright.

*Clemson has 23 conference championships overall, also the most of any current ACC school. Duke ranks second among the ACC's current membership with 18 overall conference titles, including 11 Southern Conference titles and seven ACC titles.

*Clemson has 11 players who have played in each of the last three ACC Championship games. Those players include Austin Bryant, J.D. Davis, Judah Davis, Mitch Hyatt, Kendall Joseph, Hunter Renfrow, Milan Richard, Cannon Smith, Trevion Thompson, Christian Wilkins and Jalen Williams. Hyatt, Joseph and Renfrow are the only players to start three ACC Championship games.

When it comes to participation, six active Tigers have played at least 100 snaps in ACC Championship Games. Hyatt leads the way with 231, Joseph has played 183 snaps, Renfrow 180, Wilkins 123. Juniors Clelin Ferrell and Sean Pollard have played 104 and 103, respectively.

Fifty-two players on the current Clemson roster have participated in at least one ACC Championship Game, including 25 who have played in at least two games.

WHEN PITT HAS THE BALL

Pitt ran over and through Clemson’s defense in 2016 and used the shovel pass to the fullback and tight end to devastating effect. However…….that offense was coached by Matt Canada (now at Maryland) and had better talent than the 2018 squad. This year’s Pitt team wans to run the football and use the run to set up the play-action pass game. In other words, a bit of a matchup advantage for the Tigers.

The Panthers coming off an ugly 24-3 loss to Miami, a game in which the Pitt offense generated just 200 yards on the day. The Hurricanes and Clemson have a dominant defensive line in common, so the Panthers have work to do if they want to move the football.

Pitt has two dominant running backs - Qadree Ollison is already at 1,134 yards on the season and Darrin Hall has 935 yards. Miami held Pittsburgh to just 69 yards on 38 carries last week, and the Panthers struggle with the passing game, ranking 120th nationally in passing offense (sandwiched between UTSA and Maryland) and sitting just a hair ahead of the option teams.

A bad matchup for Clemson would be a spread team that runs tempo and the air raid. That is not Pitt.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

The Panthers rank 69th nationally in total defense, ranking 61st against the pass and 80th against the run. Head coach Pat Narduzzi loves to bring pressure and leave his corners in 1-on-1 coverage – against most Coastal teams that works, but against Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross and Hunter Renfrow and Amari Rodgers, that is a disaster waiting to happen.

The Panthers will take a page out of everybody’s playbook – stack the box to shut down Travis Etienne and the run game and make the receivers and freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence make plays on the outside.

When Lawrence was getting started, that plan worked, but now the kid is coming into his own and it showed last week against an outmanned South Carolina team. Lawrence completed 27 of 36 pass attempts for 393 yards and completed at least three passes to five different receivers. Higgins had perhaps the best game of his career, catching six passes for 142 yards and a touchdown.

The Panther defense is catching the Clemson offense at a bad time.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

SPECIAL TEAMS

On special teams, the Tigers run into an old friend in Andre Powell, who holds the same title at Pitt (special teams/running backs) that he held at Clemson under Swinney from 2007-2010. Alex Keesman has hit 38 touchbacks in 66 attempts and he’s made 10-of-13 field goals. Punter Kirk Christodoulou is above average at 41.53 yards per punt. Maurice French has returned two kickoffs for scores and is averaging 29 yards per return.

Clemson’s coverage teams have been better the last few weeks, and have improved overall.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Pitt believes they can win, and that makes them dangerous. The Panthers are playing the underdog role to the hilt, and their head coach has them believing after they waltzed into Death Valley two years ago and pulled the upset. That also means Clemson won’t be overlooking the Panthers, and with a berth in the College Football Playoff on the line, the Tigers will bring their best effort.

Expect the game to get off to a slow start – weather might play a factor – but also expect Brent Venables’ defense to have a better showing than last week. This is, to me, a lower-scoring affair than some might think. The Tigers’ athleticism and depth show up in a big way starting in the second quarter.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 41, PITT 10

Mickey Plyler - 6-9 AM on WCCP 105.5FM - 48-17 Clemson
Tony Crumpton - Associate Editor - 49-21 Clemson
Nikki Hood - Staff writer - 38-17 Clemson
Brandon Rink - Staff writer - 41-13 Clemson
Hannah Rogerson - TigerNet Intern - 38-14 Clemson
Pigskin Prophet - 50-7 Clemson

GameActualDavid HoodMickey PlylerTony CrumptonNikki HoodBrandon RinkHannah RogersonPigskin Prophet
Furman48-7 CU54-9 CU55-10 CU52-7 CU49-7 CU55-3 CU28-7 CU52-3 CU
Texas A&M28-26 CU27-13 CU34-17 CU31-17 CU28-13 CU34-16 CU31-20 CU31-16 CU
GA Sou38-7 CU47-10 CU42-10 CU51-13 CU38-7 CU45-10 CU32-10 CU48-9 CU
GT49-21 CU31-14 CU37-17 CU31-14 CU38-21 CU38-14 CU32-10 CU38-13 CU
Syracuse27-23 CU45-17 CU51-21 CU48-21 CU42-17 CU48-20 CU42-10 CU45-20 CU
Wake63-3 CU38-17 CU41-21 CU31-16 CU34-17 CU45-17 CU42-14 CU38-16 CU
NCSU41-7 CU41-17 CU41-20 CU35-20 CU35-17 CU38-20 CU31-28 CU38-14 CU
FSU59-10 CU38-13 CU37-17 CU38-17 CU35-17 CU34-20 CU34-12 CU45-10 CU
Louisville77-16 CU52-6 CU48-7 CU55-7 CU63-10 CU62-16 CU51-7 CU63-3 CU
BC27-7 CU37-20 CU34-17 CU35-13 CU42-13 CU38-13 CU42-17 CU37-16 CU
Duke35-6 CU50-10 CU47-17 CU44-13 CU56-21 CU45-17 CU55-7 CU40-13 CU
SC56-35 CU47-17 CU63-17 CU41-14 CU55-10 CU48-14 CU48-10 CU63-7 CU
Points - 14141421161416

* Points: 3 pts for best 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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