Clemson finished off their perfect regular season this weekend with a victory over South Carolina in the Palmetto Bowl, winning definitively by a score of 38-3… in a game that didn’t even feel that close.
But before we turn our attention to the conference championship match-up with Virginia, let’s take a second and look back, to see what we learned in the final weekend of the regular season...
Clemson is ready for the postseason
Despite the final score, this game really did have a “big fight feel” coming in - highlighted by a solid goal line stand from South Carolina on Clemson’s first drive.
But the Tigers soon settled in, picking off Ryan Hilinski just a few plays later… and from there, we were off to the races. Clemson scored on three of their next four possessions, finished the first half with 316 total yards (while giving up just 94), and by the time halftime hit, Clemson was up 24-3 and the game already felt out of reach.
In my preview, I mentioned being worried that against the 29th ranked defense with a particularly aggressive secondary, Trevor Lawrence might struggle. Well, those worries were quickly quelled, as the Clemson QB went off for nearly 300 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air on 72.2% passing - as well as leading the team in rushing yards with 66 yards on eight carries throughout the day. He was helped by his fantastic wide receiving corps, with both Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins dominating the Gamecocks all day long. Each went for more than 100 yards receiving, with Higgins recording 33.7 yards per catch with two fantastic touchdown catches.
Less surprising was the play of the defense, which was absolutely phenomenal against an offense with all kinds of problems heading into this one. They would end up holding the Gamecocks to just 174 yards and nine first downs, and forced six three-and-outs from South Carolina throughout the day.
And it should be noted, this was Clemson’s highest rated opponent in the SP+ since Texas A&M, and it wasn’t long ago that this South Carolina team beat Georgia on the road. This isn’t one to just wave away- it’s a statement game heading into the ACC Championship game.
The ACC Coastal reached perfect parity
Clemson’s dominance over the ACC Atlantic division is contrasted by the fact that the ACC Coastal has been one of the wildest places to play in all of college football.
Seven years. Seven different divisional champions. Virginia’s victory this weekend over Virginia Tech this weekend makes them the final piece of the parity puzzle for the Coastal division. And while yes, you could say that it’s a result of a comparatively weak division overall - it’s still pretty neat.
As for Virginia’s match-up with Clemson this weekend, should the Tigers prevail, it would also be the Coastal’s ninth straight loss in the conference championship game, with their last victor coming when the Hokies beat Florida State way back in 2010. It’s unlikely the Cavaliers will be able to break that streak the way that Clemson is playing right now, but we’ll have a full preview of that coming later this week…
We have a clear picture of what’s at stake for the rest of the country come conference championship weekend
While Clemson was busy absolutely tearing apart the Gamecocks, there was plenty of drama happening elsewhere in the college football landscape.
An Alabama loss in Auburn effectively eliminated them from CFP contention, while Minnesota dropped a heartbreaking game to the Badgers - clearing the path for Ohio State to be the Big Ten’s top team, even with a loss to Wisconsin this weekend.
But then again, for as much as there was that changed, plenty stayed the same: those Buckeyes once again downed the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, LSU continued to look dominant - but should have their hands full with a resurgent Georgia team in the SEC Championship game this weekend - and out west, Utah kept themselves in the CFP conversation… a conversation that should get louder if they’re able to beat Oregon this weekend.
We’ll have a full preview of our top conference championship games later this week in our Friday Football Thoughts, but until then… stay tuned, fans!