Nebraska, USC and Alabama have all successfully defended a national championship in the past 25 years and after Saturday night it appears Clemson will at least have a shot at adding their name to the list. The Tigers looked every bit the part of the No. 1 team in the country as they cruised to an easy 38-3 victory in the ACC Championship Game to spoil No. 7 Miami’s first trip to Charlotte in every way imaginable.
As you might expect in a game involving the Hurricanes’ famous ‘Turnover Chain,’ giveaways played a huge role in the outcome of this one — just not how Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wanted. While Miami did recover a muffed punt on the second series of the game, the team wound up turning it over three times on offense and giving away 14 points off them. Two in the third quarter loomed particularly large as a fumble at midfield and an interception off a tipped pass wound up slamming the door on any potential comeback and turned a three-score lead into a full on rout.
Of course, it helps to have a team that looks to be peaking at the right time to take advantage of another monster performance from the Clemson defense. Quarterback Kelly Bryant started the game off with 15 straight completions in another masterful outing behind center, finishing the game with 252 yards and a touchdown pass through the air while adding another score on the ground. He was so good that backups Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper played most of the fourth quarter in his place and made the somewhat lackluster ground game not matter as tailbacks Tavien Feaster, Travis Etienne and Adam Choice all were held under 25 yards rushing — but did manage to score a touchdown a piece.
The stellar effort by the defending ACC champs was not matched by Miami in their initial trip to the conference title game since joining the league. Quarterback Malik Rosier had another sub-par night throwing the ball and managed only 110 yards and tossed two interceptions. While the passing game was hampered by numerous injuries to the team’s best receivers, the defense on the other side also had a lot to do with things and kept the run game in check too (104 yards total).
The victory marked the third straight ACC title for Dabo Swinney and all but assuredly gave his team the No. 1 seed when the College Football Playoff rankings are announced on Sunday — which would result in a trip to the Sugar Bowl for just the second time in school history. Given that Saturday night’s game in Charlotte was a blowout almost from the opening kickoff, the debate has already begun in earnest to figure out who the Selection Committee will pick to face the Tigers.
Whether it’s a rematch with either Ohio State or Alabama (or a chance against undefeated Wisconsin) is a question for another day however, as Clemson won’t really care who lines up against them in a few weeks. The Tigers remain in the hunt to capture back-to-back national titles after another romp in Charlotte and look primed to do continue this remarkable run they’re on when they spend New Years in New Orleans next month.