ACC Championship Game: Clemson vs. UNC Prediction, Preview

    ACC Championship Game: Clemson vs. UNC prediction and full game preview for the highly-anticipated matchup between the Tigers and Tar Heels.

    December 1, 2015

    The top-ranked Clemson Tigers (12-0) have one final hurdle to a playoff berth and a likely No. 1 seed: the streaking UNC Tar Heels (11-1) in Charlotte. Check out the ACC Championship Game prediction and game preview.

    ACC Championship Game Preview


    Date: Saturday, December 5
    Game Time: 8:00 ET
    Venue: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)
    Network: ABC

    Follow and/or Contact @Rich Cirminiello

    Why You Need To Care

    Carolina hasn’t lost since opening night, winning 11 straight to capture the Coastal Division. But until the Heels beat someone, really beat someone, they won’t get the respect they believe they deserve.

    Larry Fedora has traveled from hot seat to hot commodity in his fourth year in Chapel Hill. After falling to South Carolina, in Charlotte ironically, the Tar Heels have been unbeatable to earn a return engagement to Bank of America Stadium. But as hot as the team has been, its resume is absent of a true signature win. No Florida State and no Clemson in crossover games with the Atlantic Division … until now. Take down one of the nation’s last two remaining undefeated teams and the Heels will not only win their first ACC crown since 1980, but they might also rise all the way into playoff contention.

    After three straight seasons of looking up at Florida State, Clemson is once again the king of the Atlantic Division … and possibly the country with three more victories. Dabo Swinney has built the Tigers into a perennial powerhouse, winning at least 10 in each of the last five seasons. Getting to a new level, though, is going to require championships. And after spending almost a month atop the polls, simply reigning atop the ACC won’t be enough in 2015. Clemson is determined to ride this wave all the way to a national championship, but it must first stop Carolina’s streak.

    Why Clemson Will Win

    The Tigers have been tested, beating Notre Dame and Florida State, and lived to tell about it. The Tar Heels have not, and this is the week it costs them.

    After swatting aside a steady diet of mediocre Coastal Division teams, Carolina will have a difficult time matching the pedigree and athleticism of Clemson, which is loaded on both sides of the ball. Okay, so the offenses are close, right down to the quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and Marquise Williams. However, the Tigers are superior on D, even though the Heels have taken a quantum leap in 2015 under new coordinator Gene Chizik. Carolina won’t generate nearly as much pressure off the edge as Clemson and its bookend of Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd. Plus, the Tigers are dynamite against the pass, ranking No. 1 nationally in opponent’s completion percentage and third-down efficiency.

    Why UNC Will Win

    Confidence and momentum can carry a team a very long way.

    This is a completely different squad than the one that caved on opening night. The defense has continued to improve under Chizik, limiting opponents to 21 points per game, despite often using backups in the second half of blowouts. And the offense can match Clemson, with Williams being surrounded by physical RB Elijah Hood, a deep corps of receivers and one of the league’s top offensive lines. Then, there’s the issue of takeaways, always so crucial in games of this magnitude. Carolina, led by four M.J. Stewart picks and three Shakeel Rashad forced fumbles, is tied for second in ACC takeaways. Clemson? Tied for second to last in league giveaways, including 10 in the last three games.

    Player Who Matters

    This is a huge opportunity for Williams, who’ll have to outplay the more heralded Watson for the Tar Heels to win.

    The last time Williams was in Charlotte, he threw two costly picks in the end zone in the loss to the Gamecocks. His season has since come full circle, but that game still haunts him. And this week’s challenge will be far tougher, with distinctly higher stakes. Only Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer threw for more than 300 yards on a next-level defensive backfield comprised of corners Mackensie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley and safeties Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green. It’ll be up to Williams’ receivers, namely Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer, Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard, to get separation and use their size as a weapon. Williams is going to need help on Saturday night.

    What’s Going To Happen?

    Sure, Clemson has teetered and struggled at times, including last week at South Carolina. But the Tigers will be in championship mode on Saturday night.

    North Carolina is a terrific team, flush in talent, experience and momentum. The Heels are legit top 10 or so timber. Clemson, though, is a cut above, just a little crisper with the ball and a full rung better on defense. After a first-half tussle, the Tigers will build some daylight behind Watson and Brent Venables’ top-tier defense, completing a perfect regular season.

    ACC Championship Game Prediction

    Final Score: Clemson 35, UNC 27, Line: Clemson -5, o/u: 67
    Must See Rating: 5: The Big Short – 1: CMA Country Christmas … 5

    MORE: College Football Bowl Projections After Week 13


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