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ACC Championship Game Preview: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech

These two teams met on the field on October 1st in Blacksburg, Virginia. Clemson came away the victory in that game by the score of 23-3. If you just look at that game then you would pencil in Clemson for the victory in this one. So why is Virginia Tech the popular pick in this game? For Clemson, it's been the tale of two seasons.  

Clemson's "first season" was characterized by a high octane offense led by Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins and a defense that did just enough to win. Some even made comparisons to the Auburn team from last year that went on to win the National Championship. The wins at Maryland and UNC signified that the wheels might be starting to come off but Clemson was still winning games at the astonishment of many. The Georgia Tech game was the beginning of Clemson's "second season" as the Yellow Jackets won 31-17. Since then the Tigers have lost two out of three including back-to-back beatdowns at the hands of the Wolfpack and Gamecocks. Clemson comes into this game at it's low point of the season.

On the other hand, Virginia Tech is coming off of their best game of the season as they throttled Virginia 38-0 to clinch their berth in the ACC Championship Game. Despite winning the previous three games by an average of just 6 points per game, they put it all together in the win over the Cavaliers.

Looking at the direction both teams are heading it's easy to ignore their first outing and think Virginia Tech has a clear advantage in this one. So we give Virginia Tech the "thinking logically" advantage. Now let's take a look at the "thinking statistically" advantage. We know that stats lie and they aren't always an indicator of what happens on the field but I thought it would be fun to take a look at how both teams performed against common opponents (they had four- Wake Forest, Boston College, Georgia Tech and UNC) and also how each team performed in their last four games of the season.

Common OppClemsonVTAdvantageScoring Offense35.7532.35ClemsonScoring Defense27.7519.5VTScoring Margin812.85VTTotal Offense467.75442.75ClemsonTotal Defense359322.5VTTO Margin0.50.5Even3rd Down Off44.20%52.30%VT3rd Down Def40.70%31.30%VTOpp W/L %52.08%52.08% 

Last 4 GamesClemsonVTAdvantageScoring Off18.528.25VTScoring Def32.514.25VTScoring Margin-1414VTTotal Off352.75414.75VTTotal Def394.5316.25VTTO Margin-2.51.25VT3rd Down Off36.60%50.80%VT3rd Down Def44.40%31.30%VTOpp W/L %64.50%54.10% 

Looking at the "statistics" confirms what we were thinking. Virginia Tech is clearly playing the better football right now and also against "common opponents". So now all we have to wonder is if Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers have that one game of magic left in them. Can they beat the Hokies twice this year or can the Hokies revenge their only loss of the season?

Here's our predictions:

Jay: I am sorely tempted to buck the conventional wisdom and take Clemson.  Despite their recent troubles, the Tigers' early season win over Virginia Tech was so resounding, it makes me wonder if maybe Clemson's coaching staff just has the book on this Hokie team.  But that game will have been 2 months ago, come Saturday, and in the interim it seems like the VT offensive brain trust has finally figured out what it can really do with Logan Thomas.  Not good news for a Clemson team that's suddenly struggling on offense and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard on VT the first time around.  I got Virginia Tech.

Kevin: With everything I've talked about above I don't know how I can go against the Hokies. Stranger things have happened but Virginia Tech is coming off of their best game of the season and Clemson is coming off of their worst. If you are Clemson and you can't get up for a rival like South Carolina I don't think you can come back the next week and beat a team that's playing like Virginia Tech. I've got Virginia Tech 31-17.

Pete: Clemson defeated Virginia Tech 23-3 Oct. 1 in Blacksburg. At the time, the Tigers were soaring. With three losses in its last four games though, Clemson is headed in a different direction. Virginia Tech on the other hand had an inspirational shutout victory over instate rival Virginia last week that has propelled the Hokies to their highest ranking of the season. The two teams meet in Charlotte this Saturday. I was slow to get aboard the Clemson bandwagon this season, and probably too late to jump off. That said, despite its 11-1 record, until last week, Frank Beamer’s team has been uninspiring. The Hokies have a lot to play for and to prove in this game. Clemson has no hope of redeeming its season. Virginia Tech wins going away 33-21.

Ross: Like the Big Ten showdown, this game is also a rematch of a regular season game.  The Hokies have rattled off seven straight wins and while they haven't all been pretty (three were by a score or less), they've displayed the sort of toughness that it takes to win at this time of the season.  Clemson, on the other hand, has lost three of their seven games since then, including three of their last four games, period.  Tellingly, none of those losses has been close, either -- they've all been by at least two touchdowns.  We spent the entire first half of the season waiting for Clemson to start Clemsoning themselves and they've been doing it in spades over the back half of the season.  This team has looked like an utter mess in their last two weeks (both losses) against North Carolina State and South Carolina.  It's impossible to side with them against a Hokie team that appears to have figured itself out, especially on offense.  Tech QB Logan Thomas could have a field day against Clemson's porous defense. THE PICK: Virginia Tech 31, Clemson 17


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