The ACC Championship Game looks different in its 2015 version, with Clemson, the number one team in the country, making a rare appearance, while North Carolina, number 10 in the rankings, taking a shot at winning their first conference title in 35 years.
Both teams can make the playoffs. Clemson, obviously, with a win, will remain number one in the land. North Carolina probably need Alabama and Stanford to lose as well in order to get in, but it’s still possible for them. The door is open, and it’ll probably take the best of Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood to put on an impressive enough offensive performance to both keep the Clemson defense on the ropes while trying to keep up with Deshaun Watson.
Watson looks like a Heisman Trophy winner this season. He’s completing 70.4% of his passes, throwing for 27 touchdowns (and 10 interceptions) on his sophomore year. Most importantly, he’s making things happen and points on the board. After just one rushing touchdown in the first five games, he has scored eight in the next seven, including three as Clemson routed South Carolina to pick up their 15th consecutive win, the longest streak in the FBS and longest in school history.
North Carolina are also on a streak, winning 11 in a row since losing the season opener to South Carolina. Does this mean Clemson are going to wipe the floor with them after themselves beating the Gamecocks? Not so sure. Their defense held teams to under 15 points per game in the first seven of the season, but have given up 25.2 per outing in the last five, including 33.3 in their last three games away from home, which might make things ni Charlotte difficult, although Clemson have no problem putting points on the board. Not just Watson. Wayne Gallman has rushed for nine touchdowns this season.
North Carolina lead the ACC in offense with 41.3 points per game, 11th in the FBS. The offense is averaging 7.46 yards per play, second only to Baylor, currently getting crushed by Texas in their Big 12 finale. Maybe the key to the entire offense is that they’ve allowed just 12 sacks this season and averaging more than four yards of rushing before contact. If they manage to do the same against Clemson, they have a shot at the massive upset.
Prediction: Clemson have already beaten two 10-win teams this season, so what’s the big deal about another one? They’ve struggled against both Syracuse and South Carolina to suggest it might be difficult for them to be as dominant as they were earlier this season, although Charlotte won’t be too much of an away game for them. Unless Williams gets perfect protection from his O-line and Hood runs wild, it’s hard seeing Clemson dropping the ball on such a great season.