Clemson and North Carolina will square off in the ACC Championship this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, with a potential playoff spot on the line for both squads. Clemson (12-0) is undefeated, while North Carolina (11-1) has won 11 straight games since losing to South Carolina, 17-13, in its season-opener.
We know about Clemson, but are the Tar Heels – who were No. 14 in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings – getting the attention and respect they deserve?
“Not yet, but I think they’re slowly gaining (it),” ACC Network analyst Tommy Bowden said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I think you said they’ve got a real good chance (to beat Clemson). I would pare that down to a good chance. I don’t know that they’ve got a real good chance, but they do the things that gives you a chance, which is score points. They’re really, really good at it. They’ve got some highly skilled people. The thing that hurt North Carolina was the fact that their out-of-conference schedule was so easy that if they beat Clemson, it will be the only ranked opponent they’ve beaten. I think they’ve beaten five or six teams with winning records. I just think the weakness of the schedule hurt them. If they can win decisively against Clemson, they might do enough to overcome it, especially since Notre Dame is (no longer a one-loss team) that can replace them.”
Gene Chizik, who led Auburn to a national championship in 2010, has been outstanding as UNC’s defensive coordinator. The Tar Heels are giving up roughly 100 yards and 20 points per game fewer than they did last season.
What has been the difference?
“They’re not giving up big plays,” Bowden said. “They’re not busting coverages. They really gave up a lot of big plays last year, and they’re tackling a lot better when you’re watching them play last year compared to this year. Now, some of those guys are a year older. That was going to come with the maturity. But I think right now what he’s done, he’s put up schemes there and a confidence level and obviously a teaching method that doesn’t allow those guys to bust coverages. Those were two huge things they did last year. If you don’t give you the big plays, you’re not going to give up the points.”
Clemson, meanwhile, has been ranked No. 1 in every playoff poll but has looked shaky toward the end of the season. There was the 56-41 win at North Carolina State, the 23-13 win over Florida State (the game was tied midway through the fourth quarter), the 37-27 win at four-win Syracuse (another fourth-quarter game), and the 37-32 win at three-win South Carolina.
Is Clemson without a doubt the No. 1 team in the country?
“You can make the case,” Bowden said. “You can and you can’t. Those other teams are good. They’ve done nothing to prove they need to be above Clemson. Clemson’s got the difference-maker at quarterback. He can beat you with his legs, he can beat you with his arm and he’s playing extremely well. Dabo Swinney has recruited well, their talent level is really good. but you’re talking about being in an arena with Oklahoma, Alabama and either Michigan State or an undefeated Iowa. They haven’t played teams of those caliber yet, but everybody they’ve played close, which would be Notre Dame and Florida State, they’ve beaten. They’ve beaten two good ranked opponents. So their schedule is as equal to the teams that are right behind them, but they’ve got all the ingredients. They’re great on third-down defense. They’ve led the nation most of the year (in that category). That means they’re getting off the field and giving a highly skilled offense a lot of at-bats, where eventually you’re going to hit home runs. So they deserve to be where they are until somebody beats them.”