SQ ACC Championship Preview

On Saturday, the No. 1 Clemson Tigers (12-0, Atlantic) and the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels (11-1, Coastal) will face off to decide which team is the king of the Atlantic Coastal Conference. For the first time in history, the ACC championship game will be featuring two teams that finished the regular season undefeated in conference play (UNC's only loss came to non-conference foe South Carolina at the beginning of the season), and it will be the first time in four years the ACC championship will not be featuring the Florida State Seminoles. The two teams, both featuring a bevy of offensive and defensive talent, will do battle in Charlotte, North Carolina, at Bank of America Stadium at 8 p.m. 

Storylines


Deshaun Watson Makes His Case for the Heisman: 

Watson's strong play this season has earned him strong consideration for this year's Heisman trophy. Depending on how he plays this weekend, the ACC championship will either solidify himself as a Heisman finalist or eliminate him from consideration. He'll have to contend with a stingy UNC pass defense (ranked 18th nationally). However, UNC's rushing defense has struggled this year (ranked 101st nationally). Watson should be able to open things up in the run game which, in turn, will open up the passing game. 

Elijah Hood vs. Clemson's Defensive Line:

North Carolina running back Elijah Hood has been a star player for the Tar Heels this year. On the season, Hood has rushed 192 times for 1,280 yards and 16 touchdowns. He rushed for over 100 yards in seven games this year, including a 220-yard game in a 45-34 win over NC State during the last game of the regular season. With all of Hood's ability, it will be interesting to see if he has what it takes to compete with Clemson's star-studded defensive line. The Tigers are fourth-best in the country at stopping the run, surrendering just 160 yards per game. On Saturday, one of the two will have to give. Who will it be?

Will UNC's Marquise Williams Atone for His Past Mistakes at Bank of America Stadium?:

The last time Marquise Williams played at Bank of America Stadium, he threw three interceptions in a loss — UNC's only loss — against 3-9 South Carolina. This Saturday, he will have the chance to make up for for his past blunder. He'll have to do a lot better this game for the Tar Heels to have a chance against the No. 1 team in the nation. 


Key Stats


160.8: This is the number of yards the Clemson defense allows on the ground. The Tigers' ability to stop the run may have a huge impact on North Carolina's ability to move the football. If the Tigers can limit the abilities of dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams and 1,000-yard rusher Elijah Hood, the Heels will be in for a long night. 

208.3: Conversely, North Carolina is terrible at defending the run. This season, the Heels' 101st-ranked defense has given up 208.3 yards per game on the ground. They'll be facing a Clemson team that averages 229.7 yards per game, headed by dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson and talented running back Wayne Gallman. UNC will have to limit the run to have a chance Saturday. 

1980: The year 1980 was the last time North Carolina won the ACC championship — a 35-year drought. The Tar Heels have been bottom-dwellers of the ACC for quite some time now. Regardless of which team wins Saturday, the Heels have had a great season, and that' something they should be proud of.


Players to Watch


This game will be a matchup of great dual-threat quarterbacks. 

For the Tigers, keep an eye on signal-caller Deshaun Watson. Watson has had a monster year and is in consideration for the Heisman Trophy. Leading his team to a perfect 12-0 record, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound sophomore has thrown for 3,223 yards (70.5 percent completion percentage), 27 touchdowns, and only 10 interceptions. Not only does Watson boast the ability to kill defenses with his arm, his mobility and flawless execution of the Tigers' zone-read option is something to be scared of. Watson's 756 yards on the ground (139 attempts) made him the only quarterback in the country with at least 750 yards rushing and 3,000 yards passing. He also has nine rushing TDs. When it comes to a player leading this Tigers' team, who would think of anyone other than Watson? His great play all year has made the Tigers an elite team and even earned him ACC Player of the Year honors. 

For the Tar Heels, the player to watch is quarterback Marquise Williams. No, he isn't UNC's best player — that would be running back Elijah Hood. However, Williams' play will be key to the success of the Heels. Clemson boasts the No. 6 defense in the nation, led by star defensive end Shaq Lawson. Williams will have to stretch the field with his arm and keep the defense honest with his legs. All year, Williams has been doing just that. He's no where near the caliber of a player like Deshaun Watson, but Williams is a very solid player with immense dual-threat capabilities. This season, Williams has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,605 yards, 18 TDs, and only eight interceptions, and has also rushed 124 times for 786 yards and 10 TDs. 

Last Saturday against NC State, Williams set a school record for total offense. He'll have to give his all for UNC to contend with the Tigers.


Prediction


While it's nice to see the Tar Heels have a great season, I don't think they have it in them to beat Clemson. The Tigers are too well-rounded of a football team. Their ability to run and pass will be too much for North Carolina's defense to handle, and Clemson's strong defense will give Carolina's offense fits all game. In the end, No. 1 Clemson comes out victors of the 2015 ACC championship.

Final Score: Clemson 45 — UNC 20

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