When this season began back in September, I projected that Virginia Tech would lose one conference game during the regular season, then lose in the ACC championship game and end the year at the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Now that the title game has arrived, all of that is still in play.
If the Hokies beat Clemson Saturday in Charlotte, they would be crowned ACC champions for the fifth time in eight years and move on to the Orange Bowl, where they would likely face Houston or the Big East champion (Louisville or West Virginia). Lose, however, and Virginia Tech is likely headed for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and a matchup with Auburn.
Entering this week, the plan was to stick to my initial projection and take Clemson even though it stumbled into this championship game with three losses in their past four games. After all, the pressure is now off the Tigers; the Hokies are actually favored Saturday night even though they lost to Clemson handily back on Oct. 1.
But then you listen to Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney admit quarterback Tajh Boyd “is in a little bit of a slump,” and offensive coordinator Chad Morris concede that “right now we aren’t playing our best football like they are,” and it’s clear Clemson may still be searching for answers to this late-season swoon.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, played its best game of the year a week ago against Virginia, and got some extra fuel this week when non of its defensive players were named first team all-ACC.
Don’t expect Bud Foster’s defense to completely shut down the Tigers, though. Clemson just has too many weapons. But unlike when these teams met back in October, the Hokies have a quarterback in Logan Thomas who isn’t afraid of the moment and can win games with his arm and legs.
Turnovers will be the deciding factor, though. The Tigers have 12 in the past four games, while the Hokies have just 13 all season. But two early turnovers ultimately doomed Virginia Tech in its loss to Clemson.
That said, I’m going against my gut here because something tells me this game will play out in a similar fashion to last year’s ACC championship game, when Virginia Tech used an early turnover and a dominant performance by Tyrod Taylor to storm to a 44-33 victory over Florida State.
My prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Clemson 28
But what do you think will happen Saturday night? Vote in the poll below and let me know your thoughts in the comments section.