ACC Championship: #23 Virginia Tech vs. #3 Clemson Preview and Picks

Gameday has arrived as the Virginia Tech Hokies return to the ACC Championship for the first time to take on the Clemson Tigers who beat them in an upset five years ago in the ACC Championship when the Tigers were ranked 21st and the Hokies were ranked fifth. This year, the roles have reversed with Virginia Tech being the underdog and ranked 23rd while Clemson is the favorite as the third-ranked team in America with a lot at stake in this game.

Virginia Tech is definitely the underdog in this matchup, but the Hokies have the talent to compete with the Tigers along with being the team that has nothing to lose given how they have exceeded expectations and don’t have a shot at the playoffs. Meanwhile, Clemson knows that a win will send them back to the playoffs while a loss will send them to a New Year’s Six Bowl but nothing more than that.

Both teams enter this game playing some of their best football after Clemson beat South Carolina by 49 and Virginia Tech beat Virginia by 42 last Saturday. Now, both teams enter the primetime spotlight with Clemson having been on this stage a lot over the past few years and Virginia Tech making their return to national relevance this season.

With that said, here are our picks for tonight’s ACC Championship game.

Dwight Lester

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s championship week in college football. Now if you had told me at the start of the season that the Hokies would be playing on this weekend, well I would have called you overly optimistic. However, here we are and the Hokies are in Orlando to take on Clemson.

This game is a rivalry game for me as half my family are Clemson fans. The Tigers are no joke as they have been hovering around the top four all year long. That being said, what this Hokies team has become could give the Tigers a tough time. The Hokies have an offense that can score with Clemson. Jerod Evans is a top quarterback in the ACC regardless of what the awards say. His running and passing threat will give the Tigers fits. Looks for Evans to target Bucky Hodges heavily, as Clemson had trouble with talented, big tight ends this season.

The defense is going to have its hands full with the Clemson signal caller. Deshaun Watson is another running quarterback, the Hokies’ kryptonite. The defense is going to be tested for sure. The return of Greg Stroman could give the Hokies a boost, but it’s going to be the play of the front 7 who really determine this game.

Ken Ekanam mentioned he wanted to introduce himself to Watson with a sack. He will need to do that more than just once for the Hokies to have a chance at stopping the Clemson offense. Make no mistake, this offense is extremely talented, but the Tigers go as Watson goes.

The Hokies are way ahead of schedule as a team making the ACC Championship in Justin Fuente’s first year. Can the Hokies ruin the Tigers’ National Championship plans? The smart answer would be no, but there is still some magic left in that #25 jersey. The Hokies win a close one 31-27. LETS GO HOKIES!!!!!!

Pick: #23 Virginia Tech 31, #3 Clemson 27

Tim Thomas

The Hokies enter this game as the underdog against a Clemson team that may be the best chance to stop Alabama from repeating as national champions. While the Tigers are the more talented team along with having much more experience on the big stage, the Hokies have the potential to pull off the upset in this game.

Virginia Tech will have to avoid making mistakes and having turnovers that have cost them multiple times this season especially against Tennessee and Georgia Tech with the Hokies having 5 turnovers against the Vols and 4 against the Yellow Jackets. The Hokies will have to avoid giving Deshaun Watson and Clemson’s offense extra opportunities to score which they will take advantage of.

One area where Virginia Tech will need to try to make things happen is on special teams as the Hokies’ special teams have improved this season while Henri Murphy and C.J. Carroll have been returning kicks and punts quite well recently. Virginia Tech has also blocked four kicks and punts this season, and has the talent to get a big special teams play or two that could flip the game upside down.

The biggest issue for the Hokies comes in the trenches as Virginia Tech’s offensive line hasn’t been bad this season but has been inconsistent and faces the best defensive line they’ve played all season tonight. Clemson is loaded with talent especially up the middle with Carlos Watkins and Dexter Lawrence with those two and DE Christian Wilkins all receiving All-ACC First or Second Team honors. This is a big mismatch on paper and the Hokies’ offensive line will have to have one of its best games in years tonight.

Virginia Tech’s defense has also had issues with mobile quarterbacks and they face one of America’s best quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson who hasn’t had a lot of rushing yards this year but definitely has the talent to make plenty of plays with his legs. Bud Foster will likely try to run a decent amount of zone along with some spy plays for his linebackers in man coverage to manage the threat of Watson with his legs as the Hokies’ defense will have to step up and contain a mobile QB.

Jerod Evans will come out with a chip on his shoulder after not receiving any All-ACC recognition and make some plays, but Clemson is the more talented team and that will show tonight. The Hokies will keep this game competitive throughout, but the Tigers have been here before and with their immense experience and higher level of talent, Clemson will get the job done and beat the Hokies led by a big game from Deshaun Watson.

Pick: #3 Clemson 34, #23 Virginia Tech 24

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