CHARLOTTE — Though his team is playing second-ranked Clemson in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was not holding back for his team when he addressed the media in Friday’s coaches’ press conference at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
When asked was there a gap between Clemson and the rest of the league, the Panthers’ head coach did not hesitate to give an honest opinion.
“I think there is a gap,” he said. “They’re the benchmark of ACC football. I think there’s a lot of great teams in the ACC. Dabo (Swinney) has done an incredible job. I have a lot of respect for him, what he’s done, how he’s done it. He’s done it the right way. I think he’s a standup guy.”
Clemson (12-0, 8-0) rolled through the ACC this season, outscoring its opponents by an average margin of 35.6 points per game. Since opening the conference season with a four-point win over Syracuse, the Tigers downed their last seven ACC foes by at least 20 points in every game, including wins of 61 and 60 points over Louisville and Wake Forest.
“I think if you look at most conferences, it’s the same way. There are always one or two teams that are really controlling the conference,” Narduzzi said. “Look at Alabama, look at Clemson, really Ohio State, Michigan State the last of couple years. You would think they’ve been there.”
The Tigers are 33-2 in their last 35 ACC games, including wins in the last three ACC Championship Games.
“But there’s always that case. That’s kind of what you work for,” Narduzzi said. “That’s where we want to be. The only way you do that is go out and beat them, things start to build that way. They’re a great football team. Got a lot of respect about how they’ve done it.”
While it has come easy for the Tigers this year, things have not come so easy for Pitt.
The Panthers (7-5) struggled in games outside the ACC, losing to Notre Dame and UCF. They went 6-2 in the ACC Coastal Division, but lost, 24-3, to Miami in the regular-season finale.
However, Swinney says they will get the Panthers’ best effort at 8 p.m., on Saturday and he expects it to be another game like two years ago when they came into Death Valley and stunned the Tigers with a last-second victory.
“I don’t think there’s a game that we’ve played that we haven’t been a heavy favorite in. Same things that we did all the way back against Furman, same things. We just make it about us,” Swinney said. “We prepare every week. We respect every opponent. We know anybody can beat us. This very team has beaten us. I’m sure they’ve had that running on a loop all week.
“A lot of those guys that beat us are still there. This senior class, this is their only ACC team they hadn’t beaten, that they’ve got a losing record to. I think it’s ironic, their last conference game ever comes down to having a chance to play Pitt, a team our guys have respect for.”