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ACC Championship Game Preview and Prediction

Hokies took care of business in a big way against UVA. There were some who had serious discussions last year about which school had the better hire. I think the early returns are pretty lopsided. At this point it seems like both programs are going in very different directions.

The Hokies are back to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2011. That’s a big deal in Justin Fuente’s first season as head coach. The Hokies are “ahead of schedule” as the experts like to say. I expected a 6-6 season this year because it’s difficult to go through a coaching change. I guess when it’s as smooth as Virginia Tech’s was, it’s not so difficult after all.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 27th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 58th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 16th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 50th

Clemson

Overall S&P+ ranking: 4th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 77th

Clemson is a beast. They deserve their #3 College Football Playoff ranking. This team is loaded on both sides of the ball. They don’t have many weaknesses. The Hokies are good but the Tigers are great. It’ll take the Hokies A+ game to knock off the Tigers.

Clemson has NFL talent all over the field. Everyone on the offensive side of the ball stands a good chance of being drafted in the next couple of years. Same with the defense except for maybe one or two players. Remember a lot of the names from the Clemson roster, because you’ll be hearing those names in the NFL in the coming years.

Are you tired of me fawning over Clemson yet? Me too. Where are Clemson’s weaknesses? Their turnover margin is not particularly good. When Deshaun Watson does throw the ball, he’s been known to throw interceptions. He has 14 on the year. Bud Foster is a master at forcing quarterbacks into mistakes. If the Hokies can make the Tigers one-dimensional by slowing down the run, they may be able to force some mistakes. Remember that Deshaun Watson is a dual-threat quarterback. He could give the Hokies a lot of trouble on the ground, if they call designed runs for him. In a championship game, I’d expect Clemson to take more chances with Watson on the ground.

Clemson’s special teams are only so-so. The Hokies would be wise to make some plays on special teams in this game. Either in the return game or on a blocked kick. This is an area that the Hokies can look to exploit and possibly change the trajectory of the game.

The reality here is that Clemson is just a better team. Maybe after a few good years under Fuente and some good recruiting classes, the Hokies can be on that level. But they just aren’t right now. There is a big-time talent and depth advantage for Clemson. Can the Hokies win? Sure. Pitt beat Clemson this year. But it’ll take a great effort from the Hokies and some fortunate plays/bounces/calls. I think this game will be like the 2011 ACC Championship game. Close in the first half but Clemson runs away with it in the 2nd half.

Prediction: Clemson 34, Virginia Tech 20