Staff Predictions 2020: ACC Championship
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, December 18, 2020
Hayden Adams — Sports Editor
Cue the Paul Rudd “Look at us” video for this matchup. Who’d have thought back during the summer that little ol’ independent Notre Dame would find itself in an ACC Championship game with a rematch against Clemson after beating the Tigers six weeks earlier? Not me.
Things have changed since that last matchup. Clemson’s defensive front will be healthier and now fully loaded while Notre Dame’s offensive line — a Joe Moore Award finalist, mind you — lost its starting center for the year, and the backup has a high-ankle sprain. The Tigers also get presumptive No. 1 NFL Draft pick Trevor Lawrence back, while the Irish return Braden Lenzy … that seems like a fair trade (he said with heavy sarcasm and all due respect to Braden Lenzy).
More than anything, the Irish can’t get by with two offensive touchdowns in regulation. To that end, I don’t anticipate another Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah touchdown, nor an Ian Book fumble for a touchback. I predict another nail biter that will raise my blood pressure to unhealthy levels, and while my instincts tell me to call this a loss, my heart is overwhelming them with calls for Charlotte native Jonathan Doerer to hit a game-winning field goal as time expires. At least while I’m writing this (12:21 p.m. EST on Monday), my heart wins out.
FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 30, Clemson 27
Jimmy Ward — Associate Sports Editor
No, this will not be the blowout we saw in the Cotton Bowl a couple years ago. And I have a hard time believing it will be the offensive shootout we saw just a few weeks ago.
The difference maker in this matchup will obviously be Trevor Lawrence. The Tigers are coming into this game with their back against the wall and Dabo Swinney makes his living rallying his team for games exactly like this one. Though the the Tigers are nearly 11-point favorites, they are coming in with a chip on their shoulder after their double overtime loss in South Bend.
I think the Tigers squeak out a win here and make a legit case for a CFP bid. After watching what transpired in South Bend in November, I, like so many others, will be anxiously waiting kickoff for what will undoubtedly be another awesome game of football. If these two teams meet one more time, I don’t think many football fans would be complaining because this newfound rivalry that is brewing is proving to be one of the most thrilling in the world of sports. I’m hoping for just one more rematch this year after this historic ACC Championship.
FINAL SCORE: Clemson 24, Notre Dame 13
Charlotte Edmonds — Senior Sports Writer
To the senior writers who have come before me, I finally get it — the emotional investment of Notre Dame football that converts even the strongest pessimist in their final hours. Call me foolish, but I have a good feeling about the Irish. I could talk about the program’s newfound style and swag but the success of this season comes down to grit. Time and time again they’ve found a way to get it done, whether it was a suffocating defensive performance against Clemson in two overtimes or a 52-0 routing of South Florida, Notre Dame is a threat at all positions. But so is Clemson.
Clemson’s heading to Charlotte fully loaded with a presumptive No. 1 Draft pick in Trevor Lawrence and an arsenal of defensive weapons. While Clemson certainly has the edge in big-game experience, these teams are so evenly matched it could come down to who simply has the ball last. Expect Cornell Powell to draw out the Irish secondary, and Lawrence and Travis Etienne will no doubt put pressure on the Notre Dame defensive line. At the end of the day though, that same grit that’s guided the Irish through the regular season will earn them their first conference title.
FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 38, Clemson 32
Ellen Geyer — Senior Sports Writer
It seems like everyone, sometimes myself included, is having trouble admitting that Notre Dame is legitimate this year. Maybe it’s PTSD from the Cotton Bowl. Maybe it’s a lack of appreciation for what the defense has been able to do against the ground game. Maybe it’s refusal to acknowledge how much the offense has evolved, particularly in the back half of the season. But regardless, I think a little more credit is due to this Notre Dame team, especially when it comes to this rematch against Clemson. I was watching ESPN the other day and the announcers were talking like the Tigers had sent their scout team to play the Irish in South Bend in November. Trevor Lawrence and Tyler Davis are undoubtedly big pieces, but Notre Dame won a legitimate game against a legitimate Clemson team. It will be a battle, but I think the Irish can do it again.
This game will be a war of attrition. A battle in the trenches. Football like football should be played — fighting tooth-and-nail for every inch, the risk of a game-changing play on every single snap. It won’t be in perfect football weather (i.e. anything under 30 degrees with precipitation) but I suppose I can live with that.
If Notre Dame wants to come out on the right side of this one, they’ll have to listen to what my grandpa (a football, basketball and baseball coach himself) told my sisters and I before games for many years — “Don’t do dumb things.” In South Bend, the Irish were able to overcome a few mistakes that could have completely changed the tide of the game: think Ian Book’s fumble at the end of the third quarter and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s offside penalty to give the Tigers a first down instead of 4th-and-one just over halfway through the fourth quarter. Those mistakes were surmountable last time. This time they won’t be. Notre Dame doesn’t have to play an absolutely perfect game, but they’ll have to play one that’s damn near close.
In past years, I’d say the Irish wouldn’t be able to get it done. This year, I have trouble being so skeptical. Notre Dame looks as complete as they have in years, and that includes 2018 and 2013 both. In their first ACC season, I think they might just win it all. Irish by a million.
FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 38, Clemson 35
Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer
My heart says Irish by a million. But I can’t betray the loyal readers of The Observer by rolling only with my emotional tendencies in this prediction. There is no doubt that Clemson is healthier this time around, which means that the Irish will need to work a little harder to get the run game going. I wouldn’t bank on an early 65-yard TD run from Kyren Williams. However, Jake Venables is still out for Clemson, and I think that depletion of depth at linebacker will allow Ian Book to be mobile, and he will ultimately have a good game (with no fumbles at the goal line). That being said, as my column in this week’s Insider mentions, it will be harder to stop Travis Etienne with Trevor Lawrence’s added mobility under center, and the question marks remain regarding how Notre Dame’s cornerbacks can match-up with Clemson’s receivers. All-in-all, I see this game being a tight battle, which *should* be more than enough to put Notre Dame in the playoff, regardless of the result. The heart says Irish. The brain says Clemson.
FINAL SCORE: Clemson 34, Notre Dame 28