For the past six seasons, the Atlantic Coast Conference has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches and championship success because of two teams, Florida State and Clemson.
The Seminoles won the last BCS title in 2013 and reached the first College Football Playoff the following season. Once Heisman winner Jameis Winston left Tallahassee, the stranglehold on the conference has resided in the northwestern corner of the Palmetto State.
The Tigers again ran through their league counterparts this season, culminating with a 42–10 rout against overmatched Pittsburgh for their fourth straight ACC championship, while staking their annual claim for another invite into the final four.
The second-ranked Tigers started fast against Pittsburgh, using a 75-yard touchdown run by Travis Etienne on the game’s first play from scrimmage and then cruising from there.
Pittsburgh, a four-touchdown underdog, got the score within 14–10 on a one-yard run by Qadree Ollison in the second quarter. It got no closer than that.
True freshman Trevor Lawrence threw for 118 yards and two touchdowns and Etienne had 156 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh only had 200 yards of offense (including eight yards passing), converted three of its 17 third-down opportunities and turned the ball over three times.
While most playoff contenders outside of Alabama can be debated, there is no such worry about Clemson, which can make a case to be seeded at the top of the College Football Playoff rankings on Sunday.
Since surviving a 27–23 scare against Syracuse in late September, Clemson has dispatched all foes in impressive fashion. Saturday’s win was its 11th of 20 points or more.
Before Saturday, the Tigers beat their last seven opponents by an average of 38 points, while rolling up 568 yards a game on offense.
And their vaunted defense has made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, recording 46 sacks on the season and allowing 11 touchdown passes in its 13 games.
None of the teams that will have their names called on ESPN on Sunday afternoon are without flaws. As with any good team throughout a long season, Clemson at times has looked lethargic and bored. Some games it hasn't run the ball at all and still won by five touchdowns, other times it couldn’t be stopped, racking up nearly 500 on the ground on two occasions. The pass defense has been solid, only giving up 300 or more yards twice in a game all season, but one of those occassions was last week when in-state rival South Carolina racked up 510 yards through the air.
Saturday night's performance was much closer to form, a wire-to-wire win that confirmed everyone's suspicion that the ACC's best team is in a class by itself.