Countdown to Kickoff: ACC Championship Game
CHARLOTTE — Second-ranked Clemson is going for a record fourth straight Atlantic Coast Conference Championship when it plays Coastal Division Champion Pittsburgh in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
No ACC team has won four straight outright conference titles and no team has won four straight ACC Championship Games. In fact, Clemson can become just the second Power 5 school to win four straight conference championship games since conference title games began in 1992.
Florida won four straight SEC crowns from 1993-’96.
However, it will not be easy for the Tigers. Pitt beat Clemson two years ago at Death Valley and the Panthers will come into Saturday’s game and give Clemson everything they have.
“Pitt is a tough, physical team. If you know anything about Pat, man, that’s kind of who he is,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “His team epitomizes everything that I think he stands for and really has in his whole coaching career. They’re going to challenge us in every regard.”
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Records: Clemson 12-0, 8-0 ACC; Pitt 7-5, 6-2 ACC
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Radio: 105.5 in the Upstate (Clemson Tigers Radio Network); Sirius XM Radio Ch. 94 and 193
Latest Line: Clemson (minus-27.5)
Series: Pitt leads the series 2-0
Streak: Pitt has won 2 straight
Last meeting: Nov.12, 2016: Pitt 43, Clemson 42
Three story lines
Pitt is playing in its first conference championship game, Clemson will be making its sixth appearance. The Tigers have won the last three ACC titles (2015-’17), advancing to the College Football Playoff following each of those triumphs. Clemson is 4-1 overall in ACC Championship games
A win on Saturday would give Clemson its fourth consecutive ACC title and make the Tigers the first team in the conference’s 66-season history to win four consecutive outright titles. Bobby Bowden’s Florida State squads earned at least a share of the ACC title in nine straight seasons across the 1992-2000 campaigns but never earned four outright titles in a row. Clemson would be the first Power Five team to win four consecutive conference title games since Florida rattled off four straight SEC Championship Game wins from 1993-96.
Pittsburgh is the last ACC team with an active winning streak against Clemson, having beaten the Tigers, 4342, in 2016. With a win over Pittsburgh, Clemson would end a two-game losing streak to Pitt and have an active winning streak of at least one game against all 13 other ACC institutions.
Pitt players to watch
Qadree Ollison, RB: Ollison’s rushing production as a senior ranks among the finest backs in the ACC and the nation. Through 12 games, Ollison has run for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns on 176 carries. Ollison joined an elite fraternity of Pitt running backs when he reached the 1,000-yard rushing milestone this season. He became just the sixth player in Pitt history to have two 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Darrin Hall, RB: Hall is enjoying the most productive season of his career as a senior. Hall has rushed for 935 yards and nine touchdowns on 123 carries (7.60 avg.). His yards per carry average ranks sixth nationally and second in the ACC. Hall had a season-high 229 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries (12.1 avg.) in the 23-13 win at Virginia (Nov. 2). He has seven 100-yard games for his career, including two 200-yard efforts.
Kenny Pickett, QB: He will be making the 14th start of his career. In his first season as Pitt’s full-time starting quarterback, the sophomore has completed 165-of-265 passes for 1,825 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Pitt scouting report
Under Coach Pat Narduzzi, Pitt is 2-0 against opponents ranked No. 2. In addition to a 24-14 win over No. 2 Miami to close last season (Nov. 24, 2017), Narduzzi’s Panthers knocked off No. 2 Clemson, 43-42, in Death Valley on Nov. 12, 2016. It would be the lone blemish of the season for the Tigers.
Pitt leads the ACC and ranks 18th nationally in fewest turnovers with 13. The Panthers have thrown five interceptions and lost eight fumbles on the year. For the season, Pitt is plus-five in turnover margin (18 gained, 13 lost). The Panthers’ 0.42 turnover margin per game ranks fourth in the ACC and 35th nationally.
Over its final seven games, Pitt averaged an impressive 262 rushing yards per outing. For the season, Pitt is churning out 232.7 yards per contest on the ground. That average ranks 18th nationally and third in the ACC. The Panthers are producing at their highest rate on the ground since the 2014 season when they averaged 249.5 rushing yards.
The Panthers also have a player among the national leaders in forced fumbles. Cornerback Dane Jackson has four forced fumbles in 11 games played this season. His average of 0.36 forced fumbles per contest ranks first in the ACC (tied with North Carolina linebacker Cole Holcomb) and fifth nationally.