Momentum is getting a week off as both No. 9 Clemson and No. 23 North Carolina will meet in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night at Charlotte, N.C., coming off losses.
Clemson (10-2, 8-0 ACC) dropped a 31-30 decision to in-state rival South Carolina last week, falling to the Gamecocks for the first time since 2013. It was the first time a South Carolina coach not named Steve Spurrier had beaten Clemson since 2001.
North Carolina (9-3, 6-2) saw its longshot hopes of making the College Football Playoff vanish in recent weeks as it lost back-to-back home games to Georgia Tech and NC State. The Tar Heels’ 30-27 loss to the Wolfpack on Saturday came in double overtime.
“I’m not going to sit around and feel bad. I’m not going to feel embarrassed for nine wins,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “I’ll give two teams credit that beat us at home at the end, which I’m disappointed in. But when your team plays as hard as they can play, that’s all you can ask them to do.”
Clemson is out of the CFP with its two losses, but don’t tell that to Tigers coach Dabo Swinney.
“The reality is we’re a 10-2 football team playing for our league title and one of the most consistent teams in the country,” Swinney said on his radio show. “Nobody’s got their head in the sand. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas, but we know that.”
While it is expected to be the second straight season that the ACC is excluded from the CFP, Saturday’s championship game still has significance. Each team still has bowl committees to impress in the last ACC title game that will pit winners of its Coastal and Atlantic divisions.
Like several other conferences, the ACC is ditching its divisions for the foreseeable future.
Clemson won the Atlantic and is playing in the ACC title game for the ninth time under Swinney. North Carolina is playing in the conference championship game for just the second time ever.
The Tar Heels last went to Charlotte as Coastal Division champs in 2015 under the direction of former coach Larry Fedora, where they lost to Clemson 45-37. That was the start of six straight conference championship wins for the Tigers.
“Clemson has all of this down,” Brown said. “We don’t.”
North Carolina is led by its high-powered offense. The orchestrator of that attack is quarterback Drake Maye, who is a longshot Heisman Trophy contender. Maye leads all of FBS in total offense (4,476 yards) and is fourth in yards passing (3,847) and tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (35).
Maye’s passing efficiency rating of 165.15 is 10th-best in the country. Maye has also rushed for a team-best 629 yards and six touchdowns on 161 carries.
“He’s a very good player. That’s why we recruited him. He’s a winner,” Swinney said of Maye. “He’s very accurate. He puts the ball where the guys have a chance to make a play, and just really impressive.”
Clemson’s quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has started all 12 games this season but has been replaced a handful of times mid-game by freshman Cade Klubnik. Uiagalelei has completed 62.2 percent of his passes this season for 2,511 yards and 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The numbers are an improvement from last season, when Uiagalelei threw just nine touchdown passes to 10 interceptions.
UNC is monitoring defensive backs with injuries this week: Storm Duck (upper body), Tony Grimes (lower body) and Cam’Ron Kelly (lower body).