ACC Conference Atlantic Coast Conference

Clemson football knows its way around Charlotte, ACC Championship Games

Scott Keepfer, The Greenville News Published 4:35 p.m. ET Nov. 30, 2018 | Updated 4:42 p.m. ET Nov. 30, 2018


The Greenville News’ Scott Keepfer recaps the ACC Championship coaches press conference The Greenville News

CHARLOTTE – Playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game in Charlotte for the fourth time in the last eight years has its advantages.

“I did not have to have directions to get here,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Friday during the 2018 ACC Championship Game press conference at Bank of America Stadium. “Just pull in the Panthers lot and go left and pull around back. It’s kind of nice to know where you’re going.”

It might pay for the Tigers to book a downtown hotel a few years in advance; a victory Saturday night against Coastal Division winner Pitt would make the Tigers 4-0 in title games in Charlotte.

More: Greenville native, Pitt commit Davis Beville hopes his future team can upset Clemson

“I definitely think experience is a positive,” Swinney said. “When you have a lot of experience doing something, there’s a lot of confidence that can come with that.”

This year’s team has been enveloped in an air of quiet confidence while rolling to a 12-0 record and No. 2 national ranking. A win against Pitt (7-5) will assure the Tigers of a fourth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff.

On the other hand, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi will be bringing a team to an ACC Championship Game for the first time. The Panthers claimed their first division title since joining the ACC in 2013 by going 6-2 in league play.

Narduzzi said he’ll be a bit nervous, but that’s not unlike any of the Panthers’ other 12 games this season.

“There’s nerves for kids, there’s nerves for coaches – I’m nervous before every game,” Narduzzi said. “If you don’t have nerves, you probably aren’t ready.

“But we’ve got some mature guys on both sides of the ball. After the first play, there’s no more nerves. When it’s game time, it’s like playing Pop Warner football all over again.”

Clemson enters the game as a 27-point favorite, but Swinney knows better than to discount Pitt – the last team to defeat the Tigers at Memorial Stadium and the only team to provide a blemish on the home resume of this year’s senior class.

More: What Pitt is saying about Clemson football ahead of Saturday’s ACC Championship Game

“I think we’ve been a heavy favorite in every game,” Swinney said. “But we know anybody can beat us. This very team has beaten us (in 2016), and I’m sure they’ve had that (video) running on a loop all week.”

Pitt is a run-oriented team with one 1,000-yard rusher in Qadree Ollison and another back rapidly approaching that mark in Darrin Hall.

Swinney described the Panthers’ defense as “in your grits,” an assessment that may confound some of Pitt’s players. So we let Swinney explain.


Dabo says the 2018 Pitt team is not much different than the team that beat the Tigers in 2016 The Greenville News

“They force the issue,” Swinney said. “If you can beat us, come beat us.”

And Swinney wasn’t finished. After watching tape of South Carolina’s success against the Tigers’ secondary last week, Swinney said he “wouldn’t be surprised if Pitt checked our oil a time or two.”

Narduzzi didn’t refute that claim.

“That’s what we’ve got to do – give them some different looks,” Narduzzi said. “If we line up and try to go toe-to-toe with them, it probably doesn’t go so well.”

Narduzzi has plenty of concerns, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and Clemson’s NFL-ready defensive front foremost among them, but it’s not like his team will be in uncharted waters.

“It’s not like we’ve played the sisters of the poor,” Narduzzi said. “Notre Dame, we played them as well as anybody in the country (in a 19-14 loss).”

Pitt also lost to Central Florida, which means the Panthers will have played three of the four remaining unbeaten teams in the nation come late Saturday night.

“Clemson is the benchmark of ACC football,” Narduzzi said. “That’s kind of what you work for, that’s where we want to be. Clemson has a great football team and I have a lot of respect for how they’ve done it.”


ACC Championship

What: No. 2 Clemson (12-0) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5)

Kickoff: 8 p.m.


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