On Saturday, the Atlantic Coast Conference will crown it’s champion for the 2017 college football season. Two of the ACC’s – and indeed the nation’s – best teams will square off for that conference title.
The Clemson Tigers and Miami Hurricanes have both had excellent seasons, but only one can be called the conference champion. And besides conference honors, a playoff berth and chance to contend for college football’s grandest prize is on the line in this matchup of the nation’s first and seventh ranked teams. Who will emerge victorious when the Tigers clash with the Hurricanes?
A Little History
Clemson and Miami have met on the football field just ten times in their program’s histories. Despite a relatively backlog of matchups, it is a rivalry that dates back to 1952, and has heated up in recent seasons. Their most recent matchup came in 2015, when the Tigers traveled to Miami and left with a 58-0 victory. It’s a margin of victory that remains shocking even now.
That 58-0 victory was a turning point for both programs. For the Tigers, it helped solidify their position as one of college football’s modern elite teams. They would play for the national championship later that season and win it the following year. As for the Hurricanes, such a startling loss was grounds for a total overhaul of the program. The day after the loss, Miami moved on from head coach Al Golden. Following the 2015 season, Miami hired Mark Richt as head coach. Richt’s leadership has turned the program into a powerhouse again in just two seasons. He’s led the Hurricanes to a 12-1 record this season, which was good enough to earn him ACC Coach of the Year honors. But despite Miami’s quick return to power, you can be sure that seeking revenge for the worst loss in school history will have the Hurricanes chomping at the bit to face-off with the defending national champions.
A Close Game?
If you’re expecting a blowout in this year’s contest, think again. Clemson and Miami are both very different teams now compared to their 2015 iterations. If anything, expect this game to be a defensive battle. The Tigers currently rank sixth in the nation in total defense and boast a number of very talented defenders at every level of the squad. Miami owns a top-50 defense of their own, and lead the nation in one very important stat: turnover margin. Anyone following college football this season has likely heard of Miami’s turnover chain. The reason for that is that there isn’t a team in college football better at generating turnovers than the Miami Hurricanes.
Defense Reigns Supreme
Both teams will have their work cut out for them trying to overcome the other’s intimidating defense. For the Tigers, staying disciplined will be key. Miami’s loss to Pittsburgh just last week revealed a some vulnerabilities in Miami’s defense. Of course, maintaining possession against a team whose biggest strength is taking it away will be key. The Tigers have been solid in that regard this season, with only 13 turnovers on the year. Also, expect the Tigers to employ a ground-based attack. Clemson’s rushing offense has been excellent this season, thanks to contributions from Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster, and Kelly Bryant, and Miami’s loss to Pitt showed that controlling the clock with the run is an effective strategy that plays to the Tigers offensive strength.
Clemson’s defense is not without it’s fair share of weaknesses for Miami to exploit. The Tigers have exhibited a weakness against teams that can balance a passing game that features plenty of spacing with a steady ground game. Their sole loss to Syracuse first revealed that tendency, and a myriad of nagging injuries in the defensive secondary have left the Tigers vulnerable down the stretch. With solid playmakers in running back Travis Homer and wide receiver Braxton Berrios, the Hurricanes have the tools to take advantage of Clemson’s weak points, but some may question quarterback Malik Rosier‘s ability to pull it off. Rosier has been excellent at times throughout the season, but also has multiple games in which he completed under 50 percent of his passes and was even benched for a time in the loss to Pitt. Miami will need Rosier more than anyone else to be at the top of his game come kickoff.
Regardless of the outcome, fans can enjoy the fact that this year’s ACC Championship features not only two of the conference’s best teams, but two of the best teams in all of college football. And if that doesn’t pique your interest, Clemson’s contention for a third straight conference title and playoff berth and the redemption and revenge of the Miami Hurricanes on the conference’s biggest stage are two highly engaging storylines to follow. The ACC Championship kicks off from Charlotte, NC this Saturday at 8 p.m.