CHARLOTTE — Dabo Swinney doesn't remember the exact date, but it couldn't have been more than a couple of years ago when the Clemson football coach found himself in Costa Rica, staring down one of the coldest bodies of water he can remember experiencing. 

It was the offseason. Swinney was one of several college football coaches traveling on an annual Nike-sponsored trip. He dipped his toes in the water.

"I'm from Alabama," he thought. "There's no way I'm getting in that. It was freezing."

But already in the water, and comfortably so, were two familiar faces — one of whom Swinney reconnected with in Charlotte on Friday.

"(Michigan State coach Mark) Dantonio and (Pittsburgh coach Pat) Narduzzi are out there and I'm like, 'I'm going to have to get in the water. I cannot go down like this,'" Swinney laughed. "So literally — I'm in that water, I was numb after 10 minutes.

"(But) we just hung out and talked for like an hour in this freezing cold water. They were like 'There's nothing to it.' Both of them. I'm the biggest pansy you've ever seen. I didn't want to jump in, but I'm like, 'I have to get in this water.' We had a good laugh about that."

Swinney laughed about it again Friday when he arrived in Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game press conference alongside Narduzzi, whose Pitt team will look to crush Clemson's College Football Playoff hopes Saturday night. This is no laughing matter with so much at stake for the Tigers.

Here are four factors to watch as Clemson looks to avoid an upset:

Controlling the moment

Swinney has become masterful at convincing his team to treat every opponent equally, no matter the potential mismatch, and this weekend will be no exception. Clemson is a 27½-point favorite. Narduzzi reminded everyone in his press conference that anything can happen on any given day in college football.

"We've been through a journey at Pittsburgh, maybe a little bit different than Clemson. We've had some bumps in the road. Our guys won five of the last seven games to get to this game today. We've earned it, to come here," he said. "I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't think we could be in Charlotte playing in this game at some point. It's been a program goal."

Winning in the trenches

The Panthers lost their starting center, Jimmy Morrissey, to a season-ending ankle injury, which has forced Narduzzi's offensive line to make some adjustments that put them at a disadvantage against Clemson's vaunted defensive line. Communication issues were a problem for the Panthers in a blowout loss to Miami last week.

"When you lose your guy up front, starting center, there's going to be some growing pains there," Narduzzi said. "We hope a week removed, a week of coaching, that we can hopefully clean up some of those problems we had a week ago."

Get Trevor going

Narduzzi has been warned by another ACC coach that  Trevor Lawrence's release is even faster live than it looks on video. Pittsburgh, which has an average pass defense,  is going to have to deal with the Tigers' freshman quarterback all night. The Panthers rank seventh in the conference and 61st nationally in pass defense.

"Pitt is a tough, physical team. If you know anything about Pat, man, that's kind of who he is," Swinney said. "Defensively, they're in your face. Linebackers are downhill. They're pressed outside. Safeties are downhill. They're incredibly disciplined. They know their system. They don't make a lot of busts. They get after you."

Stop the Panthers' run game

Pittsburgh has the nation's 17th-ranked rushing offense. Clemson has the nation's No. 2 rushing defense. The game could be won or lost right there.


Clemson 49, Pittsburgh 17

ACC Network has launch date

The ACC Network, which will make its debut in 2019, officially has a launch date. The ACC announced the network will launch Aug. 22, then debut its first game Aug. 29 with a Thursday night matchup between Clemson and Georgia Tech at Death Valley.

According to a release from the conference, "the 24/7 network is poised to air 1,300 live events annually across its TV and digital offerings from around the conference’s 15 member schools and 27 sponsored sports."

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.