Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game
No. 10 North Carolina (11-1, 8-0) vs. No. 1 Clemson (12-0, 8-0)
The 2015 regular season is in the books and we’ve gotten the match up we all wanted to see as the season progressed featuring two dynamic offenses and defenses that will give you fits. Clemson enters as the top team in the land while North Carolina hopes to get into the College Football Playoff picture with an upset and some help. In terms of stakes, this is the most important ACC Championship Game for football since the contest began in 2005.
Clemson will be playing in its third title game, losing its first try to Georgia Tech in 2009 and beating Virginia Tech in 2011. This will be North Carolina’s first appearance in the championship, though the Tar Heels did tie for a win in the Coastal Division in 2012 but were ineligible. UNC hasn’t won an ACC title since 1980.
Both teams enter as hot as can be with Clemson riding a 15-game winning streak that dates back to last season. The 12-0 record matches the school’s single-season record for wins and the 15-game streak is equal to a run by the Tigers from 1947-49.
North Carolina enters on a school-record 11-game run of wins after dropping the season-opener 17-13 to South Carolina at the same stadium they’ll take the field in Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C.
Carolina’s offense has been impressive this season ranking 16th in the country in total offense, largely behind the arm and legs of Marquise Williams. He’s completed 64.6% of his passes for 2,605 yards, 18 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. On the ground, Williams has put together 786 yards and 10 touchdowns. Running back Elijah Hood has also impressed as a sophomore, picking up 1,280 yards and 16 touchdowns making him Carolina’s first back to break the 1000-yard mark since 2012.
Williams has no shortage of targets to throw the ball to either. In fact, nine players on UNC’s roster have at least 100 yards receiving this season, while 10 averaged double-digits in yards per catch. Mack Hollins leads the team in yardage (670) and touchdowns (8), but Ryan Switzer, Quinshad Davis, and Bug Howard are all big-play threats in the passing game.
The Tar Heel defense has been much improved as well under first-year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. The secondary has been tremendous allowing just 186.7 passing yards per game, good for 18th nationally. However, the run defense has been a major problem all season, coming in 100th in yards allowed. The group will still be able to challenge Clemson overall, but there is plenty for the Tigers to exploit when running the ball.
Best is the standard — Deshaun Watson named ACC Player of the Year! 4?? #ALLIN
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) December 2, 2015
You may have heard by now that DeShaun Watson had a very good year. He’s done just about everything you can to win the Heisman short of cast the bronze statue himself. If he wins on Saturday, he’ll make his case even stronger. He’s a dynamic talent and has an innate ability to make plays without seeming to try very hard. He rarely looks panicked, and can beat you in a number of ways.
Watson will run plenty, but another guy you can expect to get a lot of touches as Clemson looks to grind is Wayne Gallman who ran for 1,145 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Much like Marquise Williams, Watson has no shortage of reliable targets when throwing with seven receivers finishing the regular season with at least 200 yards and a touchdown.
What may surprise people a bit is just how dominant Clemson has been defensively. The Tigers enter 6th in the nation in total defense. They’re 4th best when it comes to defending the pass and 24th against the run while being tied for 10th in the land in total sacks. The defensive line is the strength of the unit and can create pressure and confusion, but the back end is strong too. The only area where Carolina’s defense is a bit more effective is in the red zone where the Tar Heels rank 41st in red zone defense versus 59th for the Tigers.
The similarities between these two teams makes it incredibly difficult to favor one side over the other. I won’t be too surprised regardless of which team pulls out the victory, and the repercussions will be far-reaching with either outcome.
My gut says to favor Clemson just slightly as they have a bit more depth and they’ve played with impressive focus this season. They also got a good scare last week from that same South Carolina team that beat UNC in what feels like another season. Both teams should be prepared and ready for a great game that will come down to the fourth quarter. I pick Clemson by a field goal.
North Carolina 31