Dec 5

ACC Championship Game Preview

Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC  Tags:

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Georgia Tech vs. Clemson - ACC Championship Game, Tampa, Florida, 8:00 - ESPN. Mention the name "Ken Hatfield" to a Clemson fan, and you are bound to get an evil look. After all, the Clemson faithful never took a liking to the man that succeeded Danny Ford, and was fired after just four seasons. But 16 years and three Clemson football coaches later, the Tigers are still trying to get back to winning the ACC - a feat Hatfield accomplished in 1991 (before being canned in 1993).
A lot has changed in the ACC since the Tigers last won the league crown under Hatfield. For starters, CU has never won or tied for the crown with Florida State as a member of the league (joined in 1992). Nor have the Tigers challenged for the crown since the league was divided into two divisions in 2005 (when BC arrived as team 12). And in 1991, the league champion did not automatically earn the right to play in the BCS - which wasn't even a bad idea in the making yet.
About the only thing about the ACC that was the same back in 1991 was that Georgia Tech, then, too, was a national factor. In 1990, the Jackets won the ACC Championship, and then split the national championship with Colorado, with record-setting quarterback Shawn Jones leading the way. They were under the leadership of Bobby Ross, who (in my opinion) was one of the best college coaches of his day. Ralph Friedgen was the Tech OC, and George O'Leary was the Tech DC.
But since Tech and Clemson won the league back-to-back in 1990 and 1991, neither of the two teams have yet to again hoist the ACC Championship trophy - which is what makes tonite's game a battle that will surely be one for the ages. Everybody knows that when Clemson and GT get together the games are almost always nail-biters. The only big wins in the last 11 meetings have been by Clemson (2003 and 2006), while every single other game was decided by five points or less (ok, 10 points in 2007). GT has the edge since 1999, 7-4, as they have won the last three meetings.

So that brings us to tonite's game. Tech won in Atlanta in week two, in what was once again an instant-classic type game. The Tigers trailed the game 24-0 in the second quarter, but then reeled off 27 straight points to take the lead 27-24 with a Richard Jackson field goal with 11 minutes to go. But Tech - aided by a questionable hold call aginst Clemson in the final minutes - was able to do what it took to win the game, 30-27.

Since then, both teams have had fairly decent seasons. The Jackets have gone on to win eight of their next ten games, losing only to Miami and Georgia. Clemson meanwhile, lost to a very good TCU team at home and then lost to Maryland away. They won six straight before a defeat on the road at South Carolina to end their regular season. A combined 18-6 on the year, this should be a fun game to watch.

So what will happen? At 73 percent on the year in our pick'em contest - and not far off the lead - I like to think I have a pretty good idea of who will win most of the time. But in this game, it is just too close to call. I see both teams good enough to win. I also see both teams with some issues that need addressing, perhaps letting the other team gain an advantage.

This will sound incredibly boring and cliche, but the team that does not turn the ball over will win. Clemson checks in at number 22 nationally in turnover margin, with 30 gains and 22 losses. The Tigers are 2nd nationally in interceptions. The Yellow Jackets are number 31 nationally in turnover margin, with 22 gains, and 17 losses. In the Tigers losses to Maryland and South Carolina, turnovers at costly times cost the Tigers big-time. In the first meeting of the two teams this season, both squads threw two interceptions, but no fumbles were lost.

I really see this setting up to be another game that will go all the way down to the end. I think both teams are beat up and tired and have some bruised egos following losses to rivals last weekend. But with that said, and despite a soggy forecast, I feel both teams will come out as fired up as ever, not allowing the other to gain much of an advantage at any point. I see it going back and forth, as well, not one team streaking at a time like in September's meeting.

There is no reason to talk about names and statistics right now. Both teams will be playing as teams in this one - forget the talk about CJ Spiller and Josh Nesbitt and Dabo Swinney and Paul Johnson. This game will be one that has the team playing together best winning in the end. Tech's offense is a tough scheme, and the entire Tiger D must be ready for assignment play. The same with GT. That offense is a total team, system effort.

In the end, as you all probably expected, I will go with Clemson. In a game that I feel from the bottom of my heart is an absolute toss-up, how could I watch this game and not be pulling 110 percent for my Tigers and believing 110 percent in them? History is on my side, as well. Tech has won three straight, and in a series as close as this one has been over the last twenty years, something is going to change soon in that regard. It won't be without stress, and it will be difficult, but Clemson makes its first BCS appearance with a close win.

Clemson, 32-26.

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