The Athletic

Clemson, North Carolina to meet in ACC Championship Game

By: Mitch Light, Chris Vannini, Nicole Auerbach

Clemson and North Carolina will face off in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte on Dec. 3. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Clemson (7-0, 9-1 ACC) clinched the ACC Atlantic with a 31-16 win over Louisville.
  • The Tigers had high College Football Playoff hopes after being ranked No. 4 in the first set of CFP rankings, but a 35-14 beatdown at Notre Dame sent them back to No. 10.
  • North Carolina (9-1, 6-0) won the ACC Coastal with a 39-34 win over in-state rival Wake Forest.
  • Tar Heels redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye is making his case for the Heisman and was ranked No. 3 in last week’s straw poll.
  • Clemson and North Carolina played in the 2015 ACC Championship Game, where Deshaun Watson-led Clemson won 45-37.

Backstory

Oregon and Washington stole the national headlines, but North Carolina and Wake Forest played one of the most exciting games of the day. Both offenses looked unstoppable at times, but the game was won on defense when North Carolina intercepted Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman in the fourth quarter with the Deacons holding a two-point lead. That turnover set up a short-field goal that ended up being the difference for the Tar Heels.

Quarterback Drake Maye was brilliant once again for North Carolina. He rarely misses a throw and plays with incredible poise. He also hurts defenses with his athleticism. After watching Maye in person, it’s clear why he is being mentioned as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2025 NFL Draft. — Light

What this means for Clemson

After Clemson’s lopsided loss to Notre Dame earlier this month, a lot of people wrote off the Tigers as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender. I’m not sure it’s a sure thing by any means, but it’s definitely premature to say that Clemson is not playing for a Playoff spot over the next three weeks. If the Tigers win out, they’ll be a one-loss Power 5 champion with at least a couple of Top 25 wins.

They’re also a team that the selection committee valued enough to put in its initial top four in the first midseason rankings. Clemson has zero wiggle room, but this team still has a chance to play for a national title. And it helps that the Tigers will get a good UNC team with a Heisman Trophy contender in the ACC title game; they don’t always get a high-quality opponent like this with a real opportunity to strengthen their resume. — Auerbach

What this means for North Carolina

North Carolina was one of the biggest underachievers of last season, starting with a No. 10 ranking and finishing 6-7. The Heels entered this season with no expectations and are now ranked inside the top 15. They have a Heisman contender in QB Drake Maye and an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. The Heels only have Georgia Tech and NC State left, before Clemson in the ACC title game.

It’s a long shot, but a potential 12-1 UNC would be in the conversation. Maye, meanwhile, threw for 448 yards against Wake Forest and keeps rising in the Heisman conversation. The redshirt freshman has thrown for 3,412 yards and accounted for 39 touchdowns with just three interceptions. — Vanini

Required reading:

(Picture: Jim Dedmon/USA Today)

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