ACC Championship Preview: No. 2 Clemson vs. Pitt
The Clemson Tigers will be looking to win their fourth straight ACC Championship when they take on the Pittsburgh Panthers in the ACC Championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Clemson comes into this game at No. 2 in the CFP committee rankings and is also likely secure their fourth straight college football playoff berth. The Tigers are 12-0 on the season with wins against teams like Texas A&M, Syracuse and Boston College.
The Tigers have weapons all over the place on both sides of the ball. On offense, they are led by true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who coach Dabo Swinney named the full-time starter in week five after splitting reps with Kelly Bryant the first four games. This season, he has completed 66 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and four interceptions for an offense that is averaging 45.4 points per game.
Clemson also has a dynamic running back in Travis Etienne, who has a shot at being a Heisman Trophy finalist. Etienne has 1,307 yards this season with 19 rushing touchdowns while also averaging eight yards per carry.
Lawrence’s favorite target is sophomore Tee Higgins, who leads the team with 49 receptions for 766 yards and eight touchdowns. Also watch out for reliable senior Hunter Renfrow, who has battled injuries this season, but has been a major factor in the past from the slot receiver position.
For as dominant as Clemson’s offense has been, its defense might be more dominant. The Tigers only give up 14 points per game, and are led by one of the most dominant defensive lines in college football.
Austin Bryant, Clein Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins will all be suiting up on Sundays next year. The foursome has 22 sacks and 44 tackles for loss combined and prey on opposing quarterbacks every week.
Pittsburgh comes into this game as the Coastal Division champions with a 7-5 overall record, but a 6-2 conference record. Three of their losses have been to top-12 teams in Penn State, UCF and Notre Dame.
The Panthers are a run-heavy offense that likes to run a lot of motion and sweeps. Senior Qadree Ollison, who has 1,134 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on the season, has been their most productive and explosive offensive weapon.
Pitt dual threat quarterback Kenny Pickett has improved as the season has gone along. He has totaled 1,825 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions this season after going through some early season growing pains.
Pickett’s favorite target has been sophomore Taysir Mack, who leads the team with 489 receiving yards.
The Panthers have a rare distinction in that their offense averages 27.8 points per game, and their defense yields an average of 27.8 points per game.
Clemson comes into this game as 26-point favorites and a 96 percent chance to win the game according to the ESPN FPI. However, Pat Narduzzi’s Panthers have been down this road before.
In their last meeting in 2016, Pitt upset the No. 2 Tigers in Death Valley on a field goal as time expired. This time, they’ll be looking to do the same only with a conference championship on the line.
Kevin McConlogue is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in political science. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.