ACC Championship Game 2018: Clemson vs. Pittsburgh Preview, Predictions

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2018

Trevor Lawrence is one game away from leading Clemson to the College Football Playoff.
Trevor Lawrence is one game away from leading Clemson to the College Football Playoff.Richard Shiro/Associated Press

The Clemson Tigers are clearly recognized as one of the elite teams in college football.

Perhaps that does not paint a clear enough picture of how powerful head coach Dabo Swinney's team has become in the sport. While Alabama is clearly the dominant program in college football, the Tigers are basically the only team in the nation that can look the Crimson Tide in the eye and not blink.

The Tigers have had another brilliant season, as they closed out a perfect 12-0 record with a 56-35 victory over archrival South Carolina. The Tigers ran up 744 yards of total offense against the Gamecocks.

Clemson, the No. 2 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, has its sights set on winning another national championship, but before the Tigers gain a formal invitation to the playoff, they will meet Pittsburgh in the ACC title game Saturday.

The Panthers (7-5) earned their spot by winning the Coastal Division of the ACC with a 6-2 record. The Panthers were on a roll late in the season with four straight wins before they played a disinterested game against Miami and dropped a 24-3 decision.

The Tigers have been the stronger and more powerful team throughout the season, but they would be making a mistake if they took the Panthers lightly. Pittsburgh pushed Notre Dame to the limit earlier this year before dropping a 19-14 decision.

If Pittsburgh can play the Fighting Irish that close on the road, they should not be intimidated when they face the Atlantic Division champion Tigers in the ACC title game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Panthers have a balanced attack that features the passing of Kenny Pickett and the running of Qadree Ollison.

Pickett has completed 165 of 265 passes for 1,825 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, and Ollison has rushed for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

The Tigers have their own one-two punch with quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, and both of those players are capable of taking over a game at any time.

Clemson's defense has performed much better than the Pittsburgh defense. Clemson allows 283 yards per game, while the Panthers have been quite vulnerable in allowing 400 yards per game. The Tigers gave up 600 yards in their regular-season closer against South Carolina, but that does not seem to be a number that the Panthers could reach.



The Panthers are clearly capable of going into Bank of America Stadium and stealing the ACC title game away from the Tigers.

That potential outcome could happen if Clemson takes Pittsburgh lightly. There is nothing in Swinney's history to suggest that will happen with so much on the line for the Tigers.

This is a team that won the national championship two years ago and played in the national semifinals last year. There is nothing Clemson wants more than to get back to the College Football Playoff, and the Tigers will not take their opportunity lightly.

Look for Clemson's defense to limit Pickett's opportunities, and Lawrence should be able to have a big game.

If Pittsburgh is at its best, the Panthers can stay in this game for 30 minutes. However, Clemson is too strong and will take control of the ACC title game in the third quarter and remain undefeated.