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ACC gives Clemson, Notre Dame Dec. 12 off, protecting double playoff shot

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Coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson play Virginia Tech on Saturday. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney got his wish.

Clemson, No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, isn't going back to Tallahassee, Fla., on Dec. 12. Or anywhere else.

The ACC on Tuesday afternoon announced the Tigers (8-1, 7-1 ACC) will play their final regular-season game on Saturday at Virginia Tech. Notre Dame (9-0, 8-0), which has already clinched a spot in the ACC Championship game, will also be off Dec. 12 and not play a previously scheduled game at Wake Forest.

It's a shrewd move by the ACC, as both Clemson and one-year conference member Notre Dame are likely headed for the College Football Playoff if Clemson avenges a regular-season loss in South Bend. The Tigers during that 47-40 double-overtime loss were without quarterback Trevor Lawrence and other key players. 

Clemson can secure an ACC Championship Game spot with a win against the Hokies.

Clemson's game at Florida State scheduled for noon on Nov. 21 was postponed after a Tigers backup offensive lineman who traveled with the team tested positive for COVID-19.

The test had been administered before the Tigers' flight left for Tallahassee, but the result was not known until after the team landed. Florida State then pulled out of the game.

The ACC on Tuesday also announced a measure designed to curb a similar situation. Teams are now required to administer COVID tests on Thursdays and share results prior to the visiting team traveling to the home team. 

"The Chief Medical Officers from each team will confirm results and attest that there is every expectation that the game will be played," the ACC wrote in a statement. "While the Medical Advisory Group has not identified evidence of virus transmission during competition, this adjustment will mitigate the chances of unnecessary interaction between team members and outside individuals that are inevitable during travel."

One week after Clemson's incident at Florida State, Virginia flew down to Tallahassee. The Cavaliers, then, also flew back early after positive tests administered by Florida State didn't come back until Saturday morning. 

The cancellations drew the ire of both Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenall and Swinney, who said Clemson's trip to the sunshine state had cost about $300,000. 

Swinney said earlier Tuesday he had not heard anything about playing a team other than Florida State that weekend.  

"I think if we have to play, we should play the game that (was) scheduled," he said. "We shouldn't have to prepare for a 12th game. We’ve had an 11-game schedule. We should play the game we’re prepared to play."

He won't have to worry about that now. 

Prior to the ACC's announcement, Duke appeared to be Clemson's best option for a potential Dec. 12 game. The Blue Devils were the only other team besides Florida State that would not have played 11 games by the end of this weekend and had an opening next week.

Instead, Duke (2-7), which is led by former Clemson backup quarterback Chase Brice, will play at Florida State on Dec. 12. Wake Forest, which was scheduled to play Notre Dame that day, will now play at Louisville. 

Earlier Tuesday, Swinney was asked if the Tigers planned on wearing their orange pants on Saturday. The britches are normally worn when some sort of championship is on the line. 

He demurred at first. The Tigers still had two more games to play, he said, meaning a conference title spot couldn't be clinched Saturday. 

But then he let himself consider the hypothetical.  

"If something happens," he said. "That could definitely be a possibility."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland alum. He's won national and state awards in sports and feature writing, and for reasons unclear he still roots for the New York Knicks.

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