MIAMI HURRICANES (10-1)
at CLEMSON TIGERS (11-1)
Bank of America Stadium – Charlotte, NC
Kickoff: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Clemson -9.5, Total: 46.5
Clemson shoots for its third straight ACC title—and third straight playoff appearance.
In retrospect, an at-the-time devastating loss to Pittsburgh in the 2016 season was a learning experience that propelled Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers to greater heights in their successful pursuit of a national title. This year's Tigers team is hoping it can say the same about a loss to Syracuse earlier this season, as Clemson has climbed its way back to No. 1 in the country and can secure a playoff berth with a win over Miami in the ACC Championship Game. This year, Pittsburgh's big upset win came over Miami the day after Thanksgiving, dropping the previously undefeated Canes to 10-1 and out of the prospective playoff picture. But after an Alabama loss, Miami, like Clemson, can play its way into the only postseason that really matters in college football. Over the last three seasons, Clemson is 9-1 ATS in non-home games against teams with positive scoring differentials of at least 10 points per game on the year. In his time as Miami head coach, Mark Richt is 2-13 Under the total when coming off of a conference game. Miami suffered a serious blow in the week leading up to this game when star WR Ahmmon Richards sustained a season-ending knee injury. He joins TE Christoper Herndon as recently injured receivers for the Canes.
While Richards has dealt with injuries all year, he had bounced back with touchdown receptions in each of Miami's last two games. Together, him and Herndon combined for 909 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season. For an offense that had already lost star RB Mark Walton to a season-ending injury a couple months ago, the effect is devastating. RB Travis Homer has largely been excellent in replacing him. He had three straight games of 95+ yards rushing until the day after Thanksgiving, when he mustered only 12 yards on seven carries. It was a miserable day for the entire offense against Pittsburgh, best exemplified by QB Malik Rosier's 15-of-34, 187-yard, two-touchdown passing performance. Rosier, who had been the team's sparkplug all season, played so poorly that he was benched for part of the fourth quarter. His running ability would figure to take an outsized role with Herndon and Richards out, but getting past Clemson's dominant defensive front will be a tall order. He still has WR Braxton Berrios, who has been his best and most consistent wideout all year—he leads the teams in receptions, receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns. He has caught touchdowns in four of the team's last five games, including a fourth quarter strike that briefly gave Miami fans hope of a comeback against Pittsburgh.
Despite having lost multiple star skill players to the NFL last spring, the Clemson offense remains potent largely thanks to an offensive line that features three first team All-ACC performers. Directing the action behind that line is QB Kelly Bryant, who has provided a poor man's version of Deshaun Watson's game this season—arguably a better runner, but a far inferior passer. He had his second biggest passing game of his season in a 34-10 destruction of rival South Carolina last week, though, completing 23 of 34 passes for two touchdowns and a pick. He's surrounded by depth and experience at both receiver and running back, something that makes the job easier for any first-year starter. WRs Deon Cain (620 yards) and Hunter Renfrow (526) are his favorite targets in the passing game. Last week Renfrow had his third career two-touchdown game, the other two coming in national title tilts against Alabama. WR Deon Cain is an occasional option in the short passing game, too, although he has not had a 50-yard receiving game since mid-September. RBs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster receive an essentially equal number of carries. Feaster has six rushing touchdowns while Etienne, a freshman, has 12.