ACC Championship Game – Clemson vs Miami: The last time Clemson and Miami got together for a football game, there was a lot of negativity in the air.
On Oct. 24, 2015 – the seventh game of Clemson’s season – a biplane trailing a banner reading “Fire Al Golden” circled Miami’s Sun Life Stadium repeatedly.
Then the Hurricanes crash landed.
There was fallout aplenty from that 58-0 Clemson victory, not the least of which was the “Fire Al Golden” proposal coming to fruition just one day later as Miami fired their head coach.
At season’s end, Miami parted then ways with interim coach Larry Scott and hired Mark Richt, who had spent the previous 15 seasons at Georgia. The Hurricanes are 19-5 and rumor has it that Miami fans are still waving banners and posters offering gratitude to Swinney – a thanking for the spanking, if you will.
Swinney says that the worst loss in Miami history has no bearing on tonight’s Atlantic Coast Conference Football Championship Game, but rest assured some of the Hurricanes remember.
“I imagine the guys who were here during that time frame haven’t forgotten how that felt,” Richt said. “And if they want to use that as incentive, that’s fine. I’m all for whatever gets a guy excited about preparing.”
Truth be told, Miami may not need extra juice. The Hurricanes are a somewhat different team this time around.
“Night and day,” Swinney said.
It’s difficult to believe that it took 13 seasons for Miami to punch its first ticket to an ACC championship game, but it’s obvious that the Hurricanes are certain it won’t be long before they’re back again.
ACC Championship Game
No. 1 Clemson (11-1, 7-1) vs. No. 7 Miami (11-1, 7-1)
Dec. 2, 8 p.m. ET, Charlotte
HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE:
Clemson: Going off the most recent rankings, the Tigers have the best win of anyone in the top 10 after beating Auburn in Week 2. But that game didn’t matter for the purposes of the ACC since the Auburn Tigers are in the SEC. So let’s cut to the chase.
Clemson lost on the road to Syracuse but that defeat hasn’t mattered because the Tigers handled business against Louisville and NC State. And also against Florida State, a preseason top-five team that fell flat on its face this season and will have a new coach in 2018.
Thanks to losses by Alabama and Miami in the final week of the regular season the Tigers ascended to No. 1 in the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings.
Miami: Miami was going to be ahead of Clemson if it wasn’t for pesky Pitt. The Hurricanes entered the final week of the regular season with a berth in the ACC Championship Game already ensured and at No. 2 in the CFP rankings.
Then Pitt happened. Miami’s offense was impotent most of the day and Pitt sealed the upset in the second half. Miami had gone 7-0 in the ACC before that Pitt game, which came almost exactly 10 years after a 5-7 Pitt team upset No. 2 West Virginia to throw the BCS into chaos.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Travis Etienne, Clemson: If Clemson needs a big play in the run game, it typically comes from Etienne. He’s the team’s leading rusher with 720 rushing yards and has 12 touchdowns, also the most on the team. The combination of Etienne and Tavien Feaster is a nice 1-2 combination for a team that heavily relied on Wayne Gallman the past two seasons.
Etienne’s 12 touchdowns have been spread nicely throughout the season as well. He’s scored in nine of the 11 games he’s played in — and has broken a 20-yard or longer run in seven of those 11 games.
QB Malik Rosier, Miami: Here’s where we’re going to talk about the headline. Miami entered the week already without star running back Mark Walton, who has been sidelined because of a severe ankle injury.
Running back Travis Homer has done fine in Walton’s place. But there’s going to be a lot more focus on the run game thanks to two injuries that happened in the run up to the title game. Both tight end Christopher Herndon and wide receiver Ahmmon Richards will miss the rest of the season thanks to knee injuries. Herndon is the team’s second-leading receiver while Richards is No. 3 in both yards and receptions.
Their absences put more pressure on Rosier to find secondary targets outside of WR Braxton Berrios. Rosier didn’t play well against Pitt and even got briefly benched. He needs a star turn Saturday night.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: With the Big Ten title game (and the Mountain West championship) on at the same time, many college football fans will be frantically flipping back and forth Saturday night. Those wearing out the previous channel buttons on their remote should stay to watch Miami’s defense try to contain Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant and keep the game close. This is a Miami team that’s thrived on turnovers this season. Without forcing two or three on Saturday, the Hurricanes don’t have much of a chance.