This season has been a wild one for the Clemson Tigers, who have had to overcome changes at quarterback and the drama that comes with them to put together a truly dominant campaign.
They square off with a Pitt team looking to pull a second massive upset of the Tigers in recent years to cost Clemson a spot in the College Football Playoff, putting themselves in a New Year’s Six bowl game in the process.
Clemson is a gigantic 28-point favorite over Pitt in the ACC Championship Game, as the Tigers look to remain in the top two heading into the College Football Playoff with a statement win in this game.
Clemson is fifth in the nation in scoring offense, putting up 45.7 points per game. They have been held under 40 points five times this season and have scored 40 points or more on seven different times in the regular season. Against a Pitt defense that has struggled at times this season, the Tigers could very well run up the score in this game.
The Tigers average 282.8 passing yards per game and 256.3 rushing yards per game. Trevor Lawrence will cross the 2,500 passing yard mark for the season in this game, and has completed two thirds of his passes for the year. Somehow, Clemson has had three different quarterbacks complete at least 65% of their passes this year, between Lawrence, the since-departed Kelly Bryant, and backup Chase Brice.
On the ground, the Tigers are averaging 6.6 yards per carry as a team, anchored by Travis Etienne. Etienne is averaging eight yards per carry this season, and has racked up over 1,300 yards on the season, as opposing defenses have struggled time and time again to take him down without him getting to the second level or at least falling forward thanks to his tough running style.
On defense, the Tigers are allowing just 14 points per game on the season, good for fourth in the country. They have held their opponents to single digits in points in half of their games this season, but could face a challenge from a Pitt offense that has kicked into high gear at times throughout the year.
Clemson should be in the College Football Playoff no matter what happens in this game, but a win here would almost guarantee them a spot in the top two, where they can avoid Alabama until the title game. As a result, expect the Tigers to be motivated to put Pitt away early here, as losing a game and risking a matchup with top-ranked Bama should be enough to put the fear of God into any team.
Pitt ACC Championship Analysis
Pitt is 77th in the nation in scoring average, putting up 27.8 points per game through the regular season. Against most teams that would be a passable average, but they will need to score more than that against a Clemson team that has scored in the 50s more than it has scored in the 20s to this point in the season.
The Panthers are a team that prefer to run the ball, averaging 232.7 yards per game on the ground. That is good for 17th in the nation. They rank 120th in the country in passing offense, though, averaging 153.4 yards per game through the air. Teams that try running the ball first usually have trouble against Clemson, whose defensive line could replace that of the Jacksonville Jaguars right now without anyone noticing. Pitt will have to get creative if they are going to keep this game competitive for four quarters.
Pitt comes into this game tied for 71st in scoring defense, giving up 27.8 points per game. As you can see, they have a net scoring margin of 0.0 for the season, which doesn’t bode well against a Clemson team that can outscore you both through the air and on the ground, while stopping everything you do offensively.
Somehow, Pitt comes into this game ranked 24th in the country despite losing five games this season. A win here could put them into one of the season’s big bowl games, even if the College Football Playoff is out of the question. Expect the Panthers to play like they’ve got nothing to lose here, because they really do have nothing to lose.
There is something to give the Panthers some confidence here, though, and that is the fact that the Panthers nearly beat a Notre Dame team that is going to end up in the College Football Playoff themselves. They lost to the Fighting Irish by a final score of 19-14, in a game that they led until the final six minutes of the game.
Clemson vs Pitt Trends
Clemson comes into the ACC Championship Game a perfect 12-0 straight up on the season, but just 6-6 against the spread on the year. Clemson is 5-1 against the spread in their last six conference games, and 5-2 against the spread in their last seven games overall. They have dominated neutral site games, which is what the ACC title game will be, having covered the spread in 10 of their last 12 games on neutral fields.
Pitt, meanwhile, is just 7-5 straight up in the 2018 season but their 7-5 record against the spread is superior to that of the Tigers. Pitt has covered the spread in six of their last seven games, including a run of five of their last six conference games to close out ACC play this season. And the Panthers have saved their best football for teams with winning records, going 4-1 against the spread in their last five games against teams above .500.
Pitt has shown that they can keep games close with the best teams in the country, but the gap between Clemson and Alabama against the rest of the country is so big that Pitt won’t be ready for the level of talent that they are about to play.