The ACC Championship is on the line Saturday as the 9-1 Clemson Tigers battle the 10-0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish inside Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. Kickoff is set for 4 pm EST.
The two programs squared off on Nov. 7, when the Irish prevailed in a double-overtime thriller, 47-40. Of course, the storyline that day was the absence of Trevor Lawrence, who was missing his second consecutive game after a positive COVID-19 test.
Lawrence returned two weeks later and will be under center for the ACC Championship.
Clemson Tigers Outlook
Lawrence was the Heisman favorite at the beginning of the season, but missing two games likely cost him the trophy as he has slipped to a distant fourth behind Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith of Alabama, and Kyle Trask of Florida. Clemson is clearly a different team without its star junior quarterback, going 1-1 with freshman D.J. Uiagalelei under center and only knocking off Boston College by six.
With Lawrence calling the signals, the Tigers won eight games by an average of just under 35 points per game.
Clemson enters this title game ranked third in the country in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. A win over Notre Dame secures its sixth straight appearance in the CFP.
A second loss to the Irish likely knocks the Tigers out of the top four, perhaps allowing Texas A&M to sneak in despite not playing in a conference championship game.
Keep an eye on senior tailback Travis Etienne, who led the Tigers in rushing but has failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark since Oct. 10 against Miami. A preseason Heisman candidate in his own right, Etienne only rushed for 28 yards on 18 carries in the first meeting with Notre Dame.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Outlook
The Irish have not lost since Oct. 26 of last year, falling to rival Michigan in Ann Arbor, 45-14. Since then, Notre Dame has reeled off 16 straight victories, the longest streak in all of college football.
The win over the Tigers in November was highlighted by running back Kyren Williams, who rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns. Williams opened the scoring with a 65-yard scamper on the team’s first possession and closed out the game with a three-yard run in the second overtime.
He’s the fourth-leading rusher in the ACC this season, but his blocking and blitz pickup might be his greatest strength.
This would have been Notre Dame’s second trip to Charlotte this season, as their game with Wake Forest was originally scheduled for Bank of America Stadium. However, it was moved to Truist Field due to safety concerns and later canceled altogether.
Betting Line and Pick
Without Lawrence, Clemson was favored by 4.5 points in the first meeting. Now, with Lawrence under center, oddsmakers have made the Tigers 10.5-point favorites with an over/under of 60. As noted, the two teams combined to score 87 the first time around, 66 of which came in regulation.
The Fighting Irish defense is worth monitoring, as defensive coordinator Clark Lea was recently named the new head coach of Vanderbilt. Lea will be introduced formally next week but is staying on at least through the ACC title game to coach the Notre Dame defense.
Lawrence will be a major difference in the rematch, but not enough to cover double-digits.
Pick: Notre Dame +10.5