No. 3 Clemson will roll into the College Football Playoff field after defeating No. 23 Virginia 62-17 in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday.
Clemson scored 24 unanswered points in the first half to turn a 7-7 tie into a 31-7 halftime lead. Tee Higgins caught two of his three touchdowns before halftime, and Travis Etienne and Justyn Ross each scored once.
The 31 first-half points set a new ACC Championship Game record:
UVA opened the second half with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Perkins to Terrell Jana, but Clemson immediately responded with Higgins' third score and never looked back en route to the 45-point win.
The Tigers outgained the Cavaliers 619-387, with Higgins catching nine passes for 182 yards. He also found himself in great company following the third TD, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Etienne enjoyed an efficient night with 14 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown.
Hasise Dubois paced the UVA offense with 10 receptions and 130 yards.
The Tigers have won 28 straight games dating to Week 1 of the 2018 season. The defending national champions will head to the CFP for the fifth straight year following the win at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Clemson is also the ACC champion for the fifth straight season and a conference-record 19th time overall.
UVA will enter bowl season with a 9-4 record. The Cavaliers had won four straight.
UVA QB Bryce Perkins: 27-of-43, 266 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT; 17 carries, 58 yards
UVA WR Hasise Dubois: 10 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD
UVA WR Terrell Jana: 6 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence: 16-of-22, 302 passing yards, 4 TD
Clemson RB Travis Etienne: 14 carries, 114 yards, 1 TD
Clemson WR Tee Higgins: 9 catches, 182 yards, 3 TD
Clemson Ready to Take on CFP Challenge
After Clemson closed the regular season with a 38-3 win over South Carolina, Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney went on an impassioned rant about a variety of things, namely a perceived bias against his team due to playing in the weak ACC.
"We've got to go 30-0," Swinney said facetiously, per ESPN's Chris Low. "We ain't got no choice because we don't play nobody."
The sentiments continued into ACC Championship week in a Saturday press conference.
"People should spend more on who we are and not on who we so-call play," Swinney added. "I could understand if we were a new kid on the block, but we've been around here for a long time."
Swinney may have an argument after another easy win.
Clemson has won all but two of its games by 31 or more points. The Tigers have outscored their opponents by an average of 35.9 points.
After a close 21-20 win over North Carolina, Clemson has outscored its rivals 415-82. The Tigers ranked fourth in points per game and first in scoring defense entering Saturday.
Yes, the ACC is the weakest Power Five conference, and it isn't really close. No ACC team was ever higher than 19th in the Associated Press poll all year outside Clemson.
But Clemson's sheer dominance over its opponents has to be taken into account.
It happened once again Saturday, with the Tigers essentially putting this one away in the second quarter.
Etienne could not be stopped en route to another 100-yard day.
The Lawrence-Higgins connection felt like an easy pitch-and-catch. It helps when a wideout can literally go horizontal and make tiptoe sideline catches all at once:
The defense wasn't invincible with the Perkins-Dubois connection doing damage, but Clemson largely held the UVA attack at bay otherwise.
When it was over, Clemson crushed the 29-point spread set by Caesars Sportsbook.
The Tigers have won 13 games this year despite losing three defensive linemen (Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence) who were picked in the top 17 of this year's NFL draft. And they've done so in dominant fashion outside one blip on the radar in North Carolina.
Clemson's strength of schedule may be weak, but every game hasn't been a carbon copy of the UNC contest. Rather, the matchups mostly resemble the ACC title game, where the Clemson ground and aerial attacks leave no doubt about the result by the end of the third quarter.
The Tigers are headed to the College Football Playoff, where their next opponent is guaranteed to be the best they face all year. We'll find out on the field whether Clemson is on par with the rest of the country's best.
But the safer bet is believing in Clemson despite its opponents. Many of the players who were on the 2018 team that steamrolled its way to a 15-0 mark and an emphatic national title win over Alabama are still around.
"All I can tell you is that we're 10-1 against the SEC in our last 11," Swinney said last Saturday. "We've won 115 games this decade. So had Ohio State. So had Alabama. We've played both of them [and won the last time they played Alabama and the last time they played Ohio State]. Our program is what people don't focus on. Virginia...they would be 9-3 in any league."
In sum, Clemson looks ready for the challenge of winning its second straight title and third in four years.
Clemson will find out its CFP semifinal opponent at noon ET Sunday, when ESPN reveals the four-team field. Virginia will find out its bowl destination and opponent Sunday as well.