Well this entry was initially going to include our run down between Miami and Georgia Tech as well as Wake Forest and Florida State but both of those contests have been cancelled.
So we press on by simply touching on the only ACC contest going on this weekend.
The 2020 ACC Football Championship Game between the Clemson Tigers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Time to dive in.
#2 Notre Dame (10-0) vs #3 Clemson (9-1) Preview
Two spots in the College Football Playoff are almost certainly going to be taken up by the Tide and the Buckeyes, and a third will be taken up by the ACC Champion no matter what.
It’s going to come down to this: who loses this game and by how much?
If Clemson wins and Notre Dame looks okay, it’s a done deal. It’s not locked in, but the obviously projection is that in the scenario, Clemson is the 2 or 3 – it doesn’t matter – to the Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State, and Notre Dame will play Alabama in the Sugar. And other scenario makes things weird.
If Clemson gets blown out, then Notre Dame is the 2, and then there’s a massive fight between the Texas A&M crowd – assuming the Aggies take care of Tennessee – and those who still might thing a second ACC team deserves to be in. If Clemson loses in a close battle, there’s still going to be a fight since no two-loss team has ever made it into the CFP.
If Notre Dame gets rim-rocked, then that’s a different fight. There isn’t an obvious other option – the idea of a rematch of the Alabama 52-24 win over Texas A&M is hardly appealing – and the Irish still might make it in considering it would be 1-1 against the Tigers.
It’s comparing apples to a different, weirder type of apples, but the precedent might be Oklahoma vs. Kansas State 2003. OU got destroyed by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 Championship and still made it into the BCS Championship, anyway.
Now we get to see Trevor Lawrence be Trevor Lawrence
No, Clemson didn’t lose in the first meeting with Notre Dame – the best game of the season, a 47-40 overtime win for the Irish – because Lawrence didn’t play. DJ Uiagalelei went off for 439 yards and two touchdowns with no picks and a rushing score.
However, Lawrence is Lawrence, he has thrown six touchdown passes and no interceptions in two ACC Championships, he’s the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and now the team’s main man gets a shot at the Irish.
Does Ian Book have any shot at the Heisman?
No, but if he’s amazing and ends up beating Clemson a second time, he’ll be on several ballots. There’s no Kyle Trask flash, and he doesn’t have the explosive weapons around him like Mac Jones enjoys, but he’s a chain-moving machine, he has been close to flawless this year, and he’s more than good enough to hit Clemson for a second straight 300-yard game – he threw for 310 with a touchdown in the first meeting.
Why Notre Dame Will Win
Infrastructure isn’t sexy, but it’s necessary. Notre Dame’s offensive line has been terrific all season. It doesn’t give up too many plays in the backfield, it’s been solid against the run, and it held its own in the first meeting.
The defensive line has been even better. It’s good enough at getting into the backfield, the tackles for loss come from all sides, and …
The run defense is a brick wall
Allowing fewer than 100 yards per arm. Syracuse was able to rip off 229 yards last week in what we’ll call an unfocused effort by the Fighting Irish. Before that, Notre Dame didn’t allow 100 yards on the ground over a six-game span, and that included the win over Clemson. Travis Etienne caught eight passes for 57 yards, but he only ran for 28 yards and a score.
Grind, grind, grind
The Irish have a good enough pass defense to not get roasted too often by Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson passing game, and this time around they have to do a better job of controlling the clock. They lead the ACC in time of possession – keeping it for over 34 minutes per game – but it was almost dead even in the first meeting. The Irish have to make Clemson play at their pace.
Why Clemson Will Win
Clemson was banged up in the first meeting
Yeah, yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses, and DJ Uiagalelei really was magnificent, and Clemson really did almost pull it off until late, but it was a dinged up defensive line the Irish went against, and Trevor Lawrence is the veteran who has been though enough wars to have possibly been able to navigate through that.
Notre Dame won – again, no excuses whatsoever. However, it took a slew of injuries, the home field, a big enough crowd to make running onto the field at the end a thing, and a nearly flawless performance by the Irish. That means …
Don’t expect Notre Dame to connect on 10-of-19 third down tries again
That was it. That, along with being +2 in turnover margin, was everything.
Clemson is No. 2 in the ACC in third down defense, and while converting third downs is what the Irish do, that was the only time all year the Tigers allowed anyone to convert more than 40% of the time.
It was also only the third game all year that Clemson lost the turnover battle, it was only the second time it turned it over more than once, and it was the only time it turned it over three times. That’s a big deal because …
Notre Dame doesn’t really pick off passes, and Clemson doesn’t really fumble
The Irish picked off three passes against Boston College and two against Florida State. They intercepted just three passes against everyone else, and the Clemson quarterbacks don’t throw enough picks to matter.
The three lost fumbles against the Irish were a total aberration. Clemson spread out five in the rest of the games. It was the only time in the last 18 games the program lost more than one fumble.
What’s Going To Happen
Five in a row and six times since 2011. Clemson doesn’t just win ACC Championships, but it does it brutal fashion.
The 2015 45-37 win over North Carolina was a ton of fun, and the 42-35 win over Virginia Tech in 2016 was a fight, but it won the last three by a combined score of 142-30, or an averaged of 47-10.
It won’t be that bad.
Notre Dame really is that good. The style, the lines, the experience, the – sorry, I despise this word, but – physicality, and the chip on the shoulder will matter. This isn’t 2019 Virginia, 2018 Pitt, or 2017 Miami – the 2020 Irish could absolutely win this.
This will be a fight through the first half, there will be points when it looks like Notre Dame really will win, and then Trevor Lawrence will be Trevor Lawrence.
Clemson still won’t be able to run the ball, but the defensive front will have a stronger game than the first time around. Notre Dame toughed its way to over 200 yards on the ground – it was the only time all year the Tigers allowed more than 150.
The Clemson defensive front will show up, especially on a few late drives to close it out and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff. Forget the final score – the Irish will look good enough to get the No. 4 spot.
Free Sports Press Bold Prediction: Clemson 31, Notre Dame 27
Last Week’s Picks: 3-2
Year-to-Date Record: 63-21 (75.00%)
We’re keeping our fingers crossed for a great slate of games and we’ll check back in next week and hopefully not cringe at the results.
And if you missed it, check out our latest episode of the “Laces Out” series here.
Information for this post was obtained from College Football News.