Subway ACC Championship Game Preview: No. 9 Clemson vs No. 23 North Carolina

Photo Credit: Jonathan McCoy/SkyBoat

The Clemson Tigers and North Carolina Tar Heels enter the 2022 Subway ACC Championship Game (Saturday, 8 PM ET, televised on ABC) fresh off of two demoralizing losses to in-state rivals. Clemson lost by one point to South Carolina for the first time in eight years, while the Tar Heels lost in double overtime to North Carolina State.

Although the losses had zero effect on either program’s eligibility to win the ACC Championship, it is indeed worrisome to lose an important game the week before the conference’s biggest prize is awarded. The two head coaches are no strangers to success at this level, and both clearly understand the importance of enduring the grind and unique challenges each college football season brings.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney commented earlier in the week, “Being able to get back [to the ACC Championship Game] for the seventh time in the past 8 years is special. We hadn’t done it in 20 years prior to 2011. I’m proud of these guys, it’s not easy to do. They earned it. Congratulations to North Carolina and Coach [Mack] Brown. Both teams have earned the opportunity to compete for the overall ACC title.”

North Carolina head coach Mack Brown remarked, “We’re excited about playing in the ACC Championship game. It’s only the second time that Carolina has played in this game [in 2015, also versus Clemson]. It’s cool for our team to be the last Coastal Division champion. People have asked me about it, but I would have rather kept the division even if we changed the teams up…The guys have earned their way into this game. I’m proud of them. It’s a huge game with an opportunity to go to the Orange Bowl for the second time in four years. We said we wanted this program to be relevant when we came back, and this program is relevant nationally. We’re one of ten programs out of 131 [to be playing for a conference championship].”

The key to the game will undoubtedly be the performance of the quarterbacks. ACC Player of the Year Drake Maye leads North Carolina’s high-powered Phil Longo offense against a Clemson unit in its first season under the leadership of defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin. Top NFL wide receiver prospect Josh Downs, as well as Antoine Green and others, will need to challenge the Clemson secondary with crisp routes and clean catches to give North Carolina its best chance to win. It will be up to Clemson’s pass rush featuring elite prospects such as Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee to get to Maye and not give his targets time to find space.

Conversely, Clemson signal-caller D.J. Uiagalelei has endured a trying season and was, at one point, replaced by top-prospect Cade Klubnik. Uiagalelei will have to tune out the noise surrounding his long-term status as the Tigers’ quarterback and turn in a solid performance against a pedestrian North Carolina defense led by Gene Chizik. The Tar Heels defense made improvements down the stretch, but Clemson will still be the best team they have faced to this point.

In a game that has the potential to be a track meet, I like the Tigers to hoist the ACC Championship Trophy again to secure an Orange Bowl berth.

Prediction: Clemson 34, North Carolina 28

Written by Greg Atkins

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