The no. 3 Clemson Tigers have just one more obstacle in their way before returning to the College Football Playoff when they face the no. 23 Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC Championship Game. Game time is set for 7:30 EST on Saturday, December 7 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.
Early betting odds list the Tigers as 28.5-point favorites. The over/under for the game is set at 54 points. Click here to get a full list of the college football betting odds for all 10 conference championship games.
Even with their winning streak at 27 games, the Tigers have somehow flown under the radar this season. Head coach Dabo Swinney complained after Saturday’s win over South Carolina that Clemson had been disrespected by the CFP Committee. That might be true to some extent, but the fact is that Clemson’s schedule in the ACC hasn’t been strong enough for the Tigers to rise above the other undefeated teams in the country, despite their incredible winning streak. As has been the case all season, the Tigers need to continue to win out to get back to the CFP. With a win in the ACC Championship Game, there will be no keeping the Tigers out of the top-4. But a loss will do more than enough damage to knock Clemson out and end their hopes of a repeat.
Meanwhile, Virginia could almost be filed under the “just happy to be here” category. The Cavaliers began the season as favorites in the ACC Coastal Division and backed that up with a 4-0 start. However, doubt started to creep in with three losses in a span of four games. But the Cavs rallied late in the year and won four straight in November to get back on top in the Coastal. The most important win was last week’s 39-30 victory over Virginia Tech, a win that snapped a 15-game losing streak to their in-state rivals and sent them to the ACC Championship Game for the first time in program history. Bronco Mendenhall and company will now look to pull off the ultimate upset and take home Virginia’s first ACC title since 1995.
This will somehow be the first meeting between Clemson and Virginia since 2013. That’s six straight seasons in which the ACC has failed to schedule the Tigers and Cavs against one another. For what it’s worth, Clemson won that game in Charlottesville 59-10. The Tigers have won three in a row against Virginia, with the Cavaliers not beating Clemson since 2004.
There’s nothing I hate more than seeing a spread this big in a conference championship game. Well, except for laying down this many points in a conference championship game. However, Clemson hasn’t given me much choice. The Tigers have won eight in a row and 10 of their 12 games this season by over 30 points. As much as I respect the season Virginia has had, they’re not that much better than the other teams Clemson has blown out. The Tigers know that they can’t lose this game and Swinney will have them ready to play. That’s enough to convince me to lay down the points and take Clemson to cover.
Offensively, the Cavaliers are too reliant on quarterback Bryce Perkins. He’s the team’s leading rusher by over 250 yards and is responsible for nearly half of their rushing attempts. They can’t run the ball effectively without him. Of course, as a team, the Cavs are averaging just under four yards per carry on the season. That’s a strong indicator that the Virginia offensive line doesn’t get a huge push at the line of scrimmage. Instead, they rely on Perkins to use his athleticism to pick up yards on the ground.
In fairness, Perkins was outstanding in the win over Virginia Tech. He broke off two long touchdown runs in the first quarter and made some big throws in the second half to close out the game. He finished the game with 164 yards rushing and over 300 yards passing. However, I don’t think Perkins will be able to replicate that kind of performance against Clemson.
The Tigers have the speed and athleticism in the front-7 to keep Perkins bottled up. It was a similar case during Virginia’s loss to Notre Dame. Perkins finished that game with 16 carries for -29 yards. He was sacked eight times in that game and lost three fumbles. Virginia can’t afford to have Perkins to have another game like that. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced Perkins can outrun Clemson’s defense. If he struggles to get loose, the Virginia offense doesn’t have much of a Plan B.
On the other side of the ball, I’m not sure Virginia is good enough defensively to hold Clemson’s offense to a reasonable total. Despite their four-game winning streak, the Cavs have allowed at least 27 points in five straight games, including games against Liberty and Georgia Tech. To me, that doesn’t translate to much success against a team averaging 45 points per game and possesses elite talent at nearly every position.
Think about this, Clemson is on the verge of winning their fifth straight ACC title. Over those five seasons, they’ve lost a total of four games, and only two of those were against conference opponents. The Tigers have utterly dominated the conference for half a decade, and nothing that’s happened this season makes me think that they won’t have their way against Virginia. Again, this is a big spread to cover in a conference title game, but Clemson is at least 30 points better than Virginia and I’d be going against the grain to think that the Tigers can’t cover.