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This Week in ACC Football: Championship Edition

Our run-down for this week’s #ACCFootball games

Graphic Courtesy: The ACC.com

This Week in ACC Football: Championship Edition

Clemson (12-0) vs. Pitt (7-5) Game Preview

The regular season is practically over as Championship Week is here (with a drizzle of regular season games still left to be played).  It should be an interesting match-up between the Panthers and Tigers for the ACC title.

Can Pitt do the unimaginable and dethrone the mighty Tigers?  Or will Clemson cruise through another game en route to the College Football Playoffs?

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney knows just how special this team is and all the amazing things they’ve accomplished this season.

“To be 12-0 is an amazing accomplishment. For us to be the first team to win four division championships, for us coming off our fifth state championship, great accomplishments. We’re excited about representing the Atlantic in the ACC with an opportunity to be the first team to win four championship games in a row.”

The stats that Clemson has put up easily remind us of the dominant season that FSU had in 2013 which resulted in the last BCS Championship.

It will be a tall order for Pitt to match-up against the speed, skill, and toughness that Clemson brings to the table.

Hopefully the Panthers are not in sheer awe of the experience of playing in the championship game.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is honored to be representing the Coastal division and playing such a legendary opponent.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to take Pittsburgh to the championship game and take on such a great football team and great coach in Dabo Swinney, the Clemson Tigers. We know it will be a heck of a football game. We know we’re playing one heck of a football team in Clemson.”

With Pitt finally making the ACCCG (ACC Championship Game) they now complete the trifecta of teams from the Big East making the title game as Miami finally broke through that wall last season.  Clemson beat them 38-3.

“It will be our first trip there. Clemson has obviously been there before. This will be nothing new to them. I think it’s going to be important for our football team to obviously stay focused and locked into why we’re there, what our job is.”

Hopefully they remember they still have a job to do and can make it a 60-minute contest instead of a game that is over before halftime.

Three Reasons Why You Should Watch The ACC Championship

1) It’s the forgotten about conference championship, but that could quickly change.The Big 12 Championship is setting the tone for the rest of the day, the SEC title game is the one everyone wants to see, and the Big Ten Championship is all about the performance art of whatever Ohio State will come up with. But this?

It’s by far the championship with the biggest spread, with it a foregone conclusion that Clemson is going to walk off the bus, with a fourth straight ACC title, and get ready for the Orange Bowl. But this Pitt team has just enough of a dangerous running game that it could come from out of nowhere to make this interesting.

2) Pitt being here might be even more stunning than Northwestern winning the Big Ten West.This team seemed like a big fat nothing-burger after a 3-4 start, but the running game kicked in, the Coastal Division became awful, and everything else fell into place. To be fair, the Panthers didn’t have to face Clemson or NC State from the Atlantic, but the did beat Syracuse.

A four-game winning streak got the job done, and now it’s here with absolutely nothing to lose. Every team likes to use the “nobody believes in us” line, but for Pitt, that’s absolutely true – and it’s just fine with them.

3) Last year’s game was awful.Clemson was sharp from the start, blowing the doors off of Miami with a 38-3 win. However, the three previous ACC Championships were entertaining – all were decided by eight points or fewer. Clemson has only played in two games this season decided by fewer than 20 points – the wins over Texas A&M and Syracuse. The last four Pitt games were decided by double-digits. Even with all of the negatives, watch anyway for at least a little while – the Big Ten Championship will be over fast.

Let’s jump into what it will take for each team to emerge victorious from Saturday night’s contest.

Why Clemson Will Win The ACC Championship

1) Michigan State leads the nation in run defense, allowing just 81.3 yards per game. Clemson is No. 2, allowing just 84.8 yards per game. If Pitt Gaines 84.8 rushing yards, it’s going to get absolutely annihilated.

The Alabama defensive front four is playing lights out, but the Clemson defensive line is still a wee bit better – but there’s no wrong answer. The Tigers haven’t allowed more than 175 yards on the ground all season long and have given up more than 100 five times, and that includes a win over Georgia Tech. Miami just held the Panthers to 69 yards in a 24-3 win.

2) Trevor Lawrence is no longer a freshman, or some sort of a cliché like that. He has a full regular season of experience now, and it showed with a razor sharp 393-yard, one-score day in the win over South Carolina last week. The Pitt pass defense isn’t anything special, allowing 200 yards or more in seven of its last nine games, allowing 195 against Syracuse in that run.

3) The Pitt offensive line allows too many plays in the backfield. It’s great for the ground game, and when it’s on, this front five opens up gaping holes. But the Clemson defensive front is dominating behind the line, just like you’d expect. Clelin Ferrell leads the way with 10.5 sacks, but it’s a group effort coming up with 43 sacks on the year, and it’s steady. The Tigers have come up with three sacks or more in ten of the 12 games.

Why Pitt Will Win The ACC Championship

1) Okay, Kenny Pickett, can you throw? He’s got the size, the arm, and the upside, but Pitt got here by running the ball. However, Clemson just got torched b South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, giving up 510 passing yards and five touchdowns in the 56-35 Tiger win.

Pickett turned it loose against Wake Forest, and he was on with 316 yards and three scores just two weeks ago. He’ll have to come up with the game of his life under pressure against the Clemson defensive front, but if he’s not on, then …

2) The running game needs to be amazing. The 1-2 rushing punch of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall combined for over 2,000 yards with 19 scores hitting home run after home run. It was a three-game stretch with 484 yards against Duke, 254 in the slop against Virginia, and 492 against Virginia Tech that changed the season and the program around. That’s the running game that needs to show up from the start.

3) Pitt’s not giving the ball away. To do this, the Panthers have to be nearly perfect, and that means winning the turnover battle. They lead the ACC with the fewest giveaways, turning it over just twice over the last six weeks with no interceptions during the span. Being a +2 didn’t lead to a win over Notre Dame, but it kept the game close.

You’ve Read This Far, So You Get Three Honest Thoughts On The ACC Championship

1) What if Clemson loses? We’ve all run through every possible scenario, but it’s been assumed that the Tigers are a lock and they’re first or second in the final College Football Playoff rankings. But if Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State all win, will Clemson have a strong enough resumé to be guaranteed a top four spot, like Alabama would be if it loses to Georgia? Considering how bad the ACC has been this season, Clemson had better win, just to make sure it’s in.

2) The Atlantic Division has won seven straight ACC Championships after losing four straight. But most impressively has been the star power in this game. It’s the fifth time in six seasons that Clemson or Florida State is in this game as the nation’s No. 1 or 2 team, and the one other time, the Tigers were third in 2016.

3) For this to be interesting, there has to be a schematic meltdown. Clemson can go through the motions and win this by 30 if the Pitt running game isn’t ripping off yards in bunches, so it’s going to take a Maryland vs. Ohio State-like performance with well over six yards per carry. Clemson is smart, tough, and can tackle. But Duke is smart, tough, and can tackle, too – albeit, not nearly as talented – and couldn’t handle the Panther attack.

Super. So Who’s Going To Win The ACC Championship?

It won’t be the total wipeout everyone seems to think it’ll be, and Pitt will have some early success. But the Tigers will adjust and start to pull away in the second half.

The Panthers are dead last in the ACC in yards per completion – the Tigers will take their chances that Kenny Pickett can’t consistently push the ball deep. The Clemson defensive front four will dominate most of the game, and the offensive balance will take care of the rest in the second half.

It’ll be a drama-free game after the first quarter, with the Tigers pulling away late on the way to a date with Notre Dame in Miami.

Our Fearless Prediction & Line

Clemson 44, Pitt 14
Line: Clemson -27.5, o/u: 52.5

Broadcast

Date: Saturday, December 1st
Game Time: 8:00 ET
Venue: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Network: ABC

Our final picks last week were definitely sub-par which lead to just barely being above 70% on the season.  This is the final weekend of picks for our “Pick ‘Em Challenge”.  We’ll announce our winner next week.  Be on the look out for our Bowl Mania Challenge as well.

Last Week’s Picks: 5-4

Final Record: 78-31 (71.56%)

Here’s to hoping for a great slate of games and we’ll check back in next week and hopefully not cringe at the results.

If you’ve signed up for our weekly ESPN College Pick ‘Em challenge then don’t forget to get your picks locked in.  Top entry at the end of the season will get a nominal cash prize!

Parts of this article were contributed from here.

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