CHARLOTTE — Clemson is attempting to something that has never been done before in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. With a win against No. 23 Virginia today, the Tigers can become the first team in the league to win five consecutive outright ACC Championships.
Clemson (12-0, 8-0 ACC) can also become the first team in college football, since the conference championship format was created in 1992, to win five consecutive conference championship games. Of course, to do all of that, the Tigers must first get past the Cavaliers in the ACC Championship Game (7:30 p.m.) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
With a win, Clemson can also secure a fifth straight berth in the College Football Playoff.
Who has the edge?
Virginia’s Bryce Perkins vs. Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons: This is the matchup to watch. Perkins singlehandedly led the Cavaliers to the title game with both his arm and his legs. He is one of three players in the nation, joining Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and ULM’s Caleb Evans, to pass for 2,900 yards and rush for 600 yards so far this season. Perkins is No. 1 in the ACC and No. 13 in the nation with 3,636 yards of total offense, which has already broke his own single-season UVA record from 2018 (3,603). Perkins led UVA to its first 4-0 November since 1951. During the month of November, Perkins was the only player in the nation with 1,000 passing yards (1,146) and 400 rushing yards (412). Since the start of 2018 he is the only FBS player with 5,200 passing yards and 1,600 rushing yards. Simmons leads the Tigers with 84 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He also has a team-best 13 quarterback pressures to go with a team-best six passes broken up. Simmons is one of the more versatile players in college football and arguably is the best defensive player given his ability to play at all three levels of the game. Simmons will be the spy for Clemson when it comes to Perkins. The Tigers want to keep Perkins in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm. Look for defensive coordinator Brent Venables to try and disguise his coverages and bring some exotic blitzes in hopes to confuse the Virginia quarterback. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence vs. Virginia’s secondary: Virginia lost All-American defensive back Bryce Hall back in Week 7 of the season and never has fully recovered. Before the injury, the Cavaliers ranked second in the ACC in yards allowed per attempt, but now sit 11th in the ACC at 7.5. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has devised a creative scheme to work around the absence of Hall on the back end. It worked well in the last month of the season and even better against Virginia Tech quarterback Hidden Hooker. However, the Hokies still threw for a lot of yards and Hooker is not quite the caliber of quarterback they will see in Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence leads the ACC with an 87 QBR. He has gone his last 147 passes without an interception. He has also thrown 19 of his 30 touchdowns in the last six games of the season. No quarterback has been hotter in the second half of the year. For the season, the ACC’s most efficient and prolific quarterback has completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 2,870 yards. He has just 8 interceptions. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s offensive line vs. Virginia’ D-Line: This is strength against strength, and let’s be honest, this is the matchup that means the most because it involves the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins this battle will have an inside track to win the game. Virginia is second in the ACC with 43 sacks and is fifth in the league in tackles for loss with 87. The Cavaliers are allowing 3.5 yards per rush. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers lead the ACC in the number of sacks allowed with just 11. They also lead the ACC in the fewest tackles for loss allowed with 52, while they average a league-high 6.5 yards per carry. Advantage: Clemson.
Bottom line: Bronco Mendenhall’s teams are always well disciplined and well coached. The Cavaliers will give Clemson a better game than what many expect, but in the end the Tigers’ just have too much talent and speed for Virginia to hang for four quarters.
Score prediction: Clemson 35, Virginia 10
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