Clemson is just one win away from the ACC Championship and a College Football Playoff berth. Here are the biggest factors the top-ranked Tigers have to consider against No. 8 North Carolina when the teams meet Saturday night in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium:
Turnovers can be a championship killer. Clemson has been clean in its biggest games (Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami), but not so much against teams failing to make bowl games (Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, South Carolina among others.) If the Tigers feel charitable, they can simply hand the ACC title to the Tar Heels by turning it over a few times Saturday night.
North Carolina has a strong secondary and a decent defensive line, but the middle of the field seemed to be available on a regular basis against most of its ACC Coastal Division opponents. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is smart enough to dissect defenses and exploit their weaknesses, so look for tight end Jordan Leggett to move the chains when necessary.
Clemson kicker Greg Huegel has had his problems with extra point attempts, so Ammon Lakip steps into that role this week. The Tigers’ Andy Teasdall has the lowest punt average in the ACC. UNC’s Ryan Switzer and T.J. Logan have hurt opponents in the punt and kick return game — the latter of which has been a bugaboo of Clemson’s coverage. If the Tigers can get out of special teams without any gaffes, that’s a huge bonus.
Know how to slow an offense down? Send it to the sideline, quickly. Clemson’s defense, the past two years, has always been prolific at getting off the field in three plays, which is the easiest way to keep Marquise Williams and company from turning this into a track meet. Ultimately, if the Tigers can hold UNC to a couple of field goals instead of touchdowns, that might be enough for Deshaun Watson to prevail.
Clemson 45, North Carolina 41
— Aaron Brenner