No. 3 Clemson will be playing its final 2020 regular-season game at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium on Saturday. If the Tigers win, they’ll clinch a spot in the ACC Championship Game for a sixth consecutive season and earn a rematch against No. 2 Notre Dame on Dec. 19.
The postponement of Clemson’s game at Florida State, called off just hours prior to a noon ET kickoff, and the controversy that followed the decision had left some questions regarding the team’s open date on Dec. 12. Would the Florida State game be played then? Will Clemson decide to schedule another ACC opponent instead to round out a 10-game ACC schedule? What happens if Miami, which lost to Clemson, has a better winning percentage at 9-1 than Clemson does at 8-1 and therefore gets invited to the ACC Championship Game over the Tigers?
The ACC stepped in to calm the waters of uncertainty with a simple declaration: the three teams in contention for the ACC Championship Game will be judged on a nine-game sample instead of a 10-game sample. Notre Dame has clinched one spot, Clemson can with a win in Blacksburg and Miami needs a Tigers loss as well as wins against both Duke (on Dec. 5) and North Carolina (on Dec. 12) to play for the conference title.
It’s simple for the Tigers: win and get the rematch with the Irish in Charlotte. Lose and things get a lot trickier. Will the Tigers take care of business against a foe they’ve won five straight over or will the Hokies play spoiler and end the reign of the ACC champs? Let’s take a closer look at the storylines to follow before making some expert picks.
Clemson: Much was made of the absence of star quarterback Trevor Lawrence from the loss at Notre Dame, but there were other personnel issues that were arguably as impactful on the final result — especially when you consider the stellar play from D.J. Uiagalelei in the double-overtime loss. Both defensive tackle Tyler Davis and middle linebacker James Skalski were back in the lineup against Pitt and their impacts were felt early and often. This is not the first year where Clemson has dealt with nagging injuries on the defensive side of the ball only to get healthier and reach its full, most dominant form in championship season. It’s basically part of the way they handle injuries. The absence of starters allows younger players and backups to get more significant game experience and the starters are not rushed back into action too early. The final result is a defense that’s deeper, fresher and healthier in the postseason, ready to outlast the opposition over four quarters of intense and physical play with a championship on the line.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies got a late start to the season but made such a startling impression in their first few weeks that ACC Championship contention was considered. That feels like a far cry from where we’re at now as Virginia Tech has lost four of its last five games, including a home loss to Liberty that was about as “gut punch” as it gets with a blocked field goal returned for a score called back because of a pre-kick timeout. This is a team that had an identity on offense with star running back Khalil Herbert gashing defenses behind a physical offensive line, but it’s lost its edge at the line of scrimmage and struggled to defend the pass against Pitt. Clemson’s arrival comes at a gut-check time for the team that’s taken some gut punches in 2020, so how the Hokies respond to the challenge will say a lot about the state of the locker room here in December.
Date: Saturday, Dec. 5 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Lane Stadium — Blacksburg, Virginia
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Clemson at Virginia Tech game prediction, picks
There’s a ruthlessness to the way the Tigers take care of business as you get closer to the College Football Playoff and I expect that to continue in Blacksburg. I made the mistake of trying to get too smart and pick against Clemson last week and I won’t make that mistake again. If Virginia Tech can ugly this game up it might be able to cover, but you don’t want to be betting on unusual circumstances with a Clemson team that’s finding its best form late in the year (again). Pick: Clemson -22
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