Championship Saturday in college football is finally upon us, and one of the primetime matchups to watch is the ACC title game between the no. 2 Clemson Tigers and the Pittsburgh Panthers. Despite it being a championship game, the Tigers are favored by an astounding 27.5 points with an over/under of 53 points.
Two seasons ago, Clemson lost to Pittsburgh during the regular season, although it did not stop them from reaching the College Football Playoff and ultimately winning the national championship. This time around, they won’t have that luxury. If the Tigers win, they’ll be in the CFP, but a loss will cost them a fourth straight ACC title and their spot in the top-4.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has almost no pressure on them in this game. Few predicted the Panthers to be anywhere near the ACC Championship Game when the season began, but they went 6-2 in conference play despite some tough losses outside of the league. However, the Panthers also lost to Miami last week 24-3, perhaps already looking ahead to their showdown with Clemson.
Know Thy Self
Part of Pitt’s success this year stems from understanding their identity, which is that of a running team. The Panthers have a dynamic backfield of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, who combined for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns this season, split almost evenly. Even against a Clemson defensive front with four players who could probably be playing in the NFL right now, the Panthers are going to lean on their running game and see how far Ollison and Hall and carry them.
Pitt’s problem is that they don’t have much of a Plan B. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett has been inconsistent at best and has only thrown for more than 200 yards once this season. If Clemson has a weakness on defense, it’s probably in their secondary. Unfortunately, Pickett and the Pitt passing attack may not be equipped to exploit that weakness.
Meanwhile, the Tigers know that if they play anywhere close to their best they will beat Pittsburgh with ease. True freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence has matched his incredible talent with great maturity for a player his age. He’s continued to get better as the season has progressed, arguably playing his best game of the season last week, throwing for nearly 400 yards in a rivalry game against South Carolina.
Given the skill players around Lawrence, the Pittsburgh defense will have their hands full. The Panthers have conceded over 35 points on five different occasions this year, so they have struggled against quality offensive teams. To be fair, they won two of those games, but they need to play the game of their lives to keep the Clemson offense contained.
Off and Running
Pittsburgh deserves a lot of credit for going 6-2 in conference play and winning an admittedly mediocre ACC Coastal division. They also gave undefeated Notre Dame one of their closest games of the season. But the Panthers have also been blown out when facing elite teams this season. There’s a serious talent gap between these two teams, and over four quarters, that will show. Bet on Clemson covering the 27.5-point spread against Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship Game.