ACC Notebook: Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game


Conference celebrates another banner year; Saturday’s QB matchup one of similar styles

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (theACC.com) – High stakes and high intensity surround the meeting of top-ranked Clemson and No. 10 North Carolina in Saturday night’s Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game. But a celebratory spirit will also be prevalent at sold-out Bank of America Stadium.

And, as the 2015 season reaches the postseason stage, Atlantic Coast Conference football is again most worthy of celebration.

It starts with the two teams that will take the field for Saturday’s 8 p.m. game. Clemson is unbeaten at 12-0 and owns the nation’s longest active winning streak  at 15 games dating back to last season. The 12-0 mark matches the best single-season mark in school history, and the 15-game streak equals the standard first set by the Tiger teams of 1947-49.

The Tar Heels (11-1) enter with their own school-record 11-game winning streak and can set a UNC record for total wins in a season with one more victory. The 23 combined wins between the teams are the most in the 11-year history of the ACC title game.

But this successful ACC season extends beyond Clemson, UNC and Saturday night’s meeting. 

Nine conference teams will be lined up for postseason bowl berths when bids are extended Sunday afternoon, and the ACC currently holds the inside track on a spot in the College Football Playoff for the second straight year. The nine bowl-bound teams gives the ACC an eye-opening total of 31 postseason berths over the past three seasons.

The regular season ended with three ACC teams – No. 1 Clemson, No. 9 Florida State and No. 10 UNC –among the top-10 of the College Football Playoff rankings. Those three teams are also rank among the top 10 of both major polls, with the Tigers at No. 1, the Tar Heels at No. 8 and the Seminoles at No. 9.

“We don’t take a backseat to anybody,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said of the ACC. “We’re not here to say, ‘Hey, we’re No. 1’ and all that kind of stuff. All I’m saying is this league is as good as any out there. Nobody is going to be excited to play Clemson. Nobody is going to be excited to play North Carolina or Florida State.”

Particularly in view of recent results. The ACC leads all leagues with seven wins over top-10 ranked non-conference opponents the past two years. That includes a 3-0 mark in true road games. No other conference owns even one win over a top-10 opponent away from home during that span.

Last Saturday’s “Rivalry Weekend” featured a 3-1 showing by ACC teams versus SEC opponents, with all three wins coming on the road. That followed a 4-0 showing against the SEC in the 2014 regular-season finales.

“You look at the out-of-conference games that we’ve been able to win,” Swinney said. “I mean, just for (Clemson) alone, in the last four or five years, we’ve had opportunities to play and beat Auburn and Georgia and LSU and Ohio State and Oklahoma and Notre Dame … This is a really good league.”

INEVITABLE COMPARISONS
Conference Player of the Year Deshaun Watson was a unanimous choice of voting media members as the All-ACC first-team quarterback, and with good reason. The sophomore from Gainesville, Georgia, not only led Clemson to an undefeated regular season, he put up mind-boggling numbers while doing so.

The only NCAA Division I player this season to pass for over 3,000 yards and run for over 700 more, Watson has accounted for 36 touchdowns (27 passing, nine rushing).  Very few quarterbacks can compare, but the one on the other side of the ball in Saturday night’s Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game might come close.

North Carolina redshirt senior Marquise Williams enters the contest having accounted for 3,391 yards of total offense – second in the ACC behind Watson’s 3,979. Williams has rushed for 786 yards – 30 more than his Tiger counterpart – while ranking fourth in the conference in passing yards at 2,605. Williams has thrown for 18 touchdowns and run for 10 more in addition to catching a scoring pass.

Williams, who will be playing in his hometown on Saturday night, says he doesn’t know Watson well. However, he got a first-hand look last year at Clemson, when the then-freshman delivered a breakout performance in leading the Tigers to a 50-35 win. Since then, Williams has continued to admire Watson’s skills from afar.

“I haven’t had too much interaction with him, but he's a great quarterback,” Williams said. “He’s done a tremendous job at Clemson. He's one of the guys I watch when we’re not playing to see how well he's doing. I’m all up for guys doing it just like me.

“Guys like us don't get too much credit, you know?” Williams added. “People think we wouldn’t be able to make it to the pros with what we're doing. But I look at him, and he’s a phenomenal athlete. He's done a great job to keep those guys 12-0.”