When No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson meet for the second time Saturday in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina, it will be a rematch of their classic matchup from earlier in the year, just with much higher stakes. Not only is this a fantastic on-field matchup between two top-four teams who met in a double-overtime thriller earlier this year, but it sets up as one of the biggest games in ACC football history.
It’s the first-ever top-five matchup in the ACC Championship Game, provides the stage for Notre Dame to play for a conference championship for the first time ever and includes two teams that could both end up in the College Football Playoff, which would make the ACC just the second conference to get two teams in the same four-team playoff.
But none of that off-field history stuff matters to players like Trevor Lawrence and Ian Book, who rank as the winningest quarterback in school history at their respective programs. Clemson didn’t have Lawrence in the loss at Notre Dame and hopes his return, along with multiple defensive starters, brings a reversal of fortune against the Fighting Irish.
Event: ACC Championship Game
Date: Saturday, Dec. 19 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium — Charlotte, North Carolina
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish defense has been elite under Clark Lea, and now we’ve hit the end of his time in South Bend with Vanderbilt introducing the defensive coordinator as its next head coach. Under Lea, Notre Dame has held 33-of-36 opponents under 30 points, including LSU, Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Clemson, Georgia, Virginia, Navy and North Carolina when they were ranked in the top 25. This year, Notre Dame’s 17.6 points per game allowed ranks fifth among all Power Five teams and the group is loaded with depth and experience in a way that can wear down opponents throughout the game. The Fighting Irish have won high-scoring games and low-scoring games on its path to 10-0 here in 2020, but one consistent thread has been how infrequently they are trailing in a game.
In 600 minutes of regulation action, Notre Dame has trailed for just 44:47, a testament to how the Fighting Irish defense can take control of a game and keep the opponent from establishing any kind of advantage. There is no expectation that Clemson will be limited to less than 20 points or even held under 30, but keeping Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne in check is a big piece of how Notre Dame can complete the two-game sweep of the Tigers and claim its first ever conference championship.
Clemson: Travis Etienne has the career ACC rushing touchdown record, the ACC career touchdown record and is 10 points away from passing Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins as the ACC’s career scoring leader. But he’s had six straight games with less than 100 rushing yards and the Tigers’ rushing offense has not been humming at the same clip as what we saw in 2018 and 2019. This is particularly important to note heading into the matchup with the Fighting Irish, since Etienne was limited to just 28 rushing yards on 18 attempts in the first meeting this year. Being the all-purpose star that he is, Etienne still found ways to have an impact in the passing game with 57 receiving yards but establishing a consistent ground attack against one of the best run defenses in the country is perhaps the most clear path to victory for Clemson.
Trevor Lawrence is enough of a difference-maker with his addition to the equation that Clemson certainly can beat Notre Dame without having Etienne rush for 100 yards but getting him going and avoiding tons of third-and-long scenarios for Lawrence would make things a lot easier on the offense.
Notre Dame vs. Clemson prediction
This line is just rude to Notre Dame, a team that has been playing at a high level on a week-in, week-out basis for nearly the entire season. The Fighting Irish were 5.5-point underdogs when they won in South Bend earlier this year and now find themselves as double-digit dogs in the rematch? Red zone defense is a great way to cover spreads, so while I do think Clemson wins it won’t be by more than a touchdown. Pick: Notre Dame +10.5