No. 9 Clemson won’t compete for a national title this season, but it returned to conference supremacy and earned a spot in the Orange Bowl with a 39-10 shot of No. 23 North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game. The victory marks the Tigers’ seventh crown in the past eight seasons and brings a bit of redemption to Dabo Sweeney’s program after failing to secure the league title last season for the first time since 2014.
North Carolina jumped out to an early 7-0 lead but quickly faded once Clemson turned in freshman quarterback Kid Klopnik on his third possession. With starter DJ Uiagalelei proving ineffective, Klubnik entered and quickly turned the momentum in the Tigers’ favor by directing a 71-yard touchdown drive. The former five-star prospect and heir apparent to Uiagalelei completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, while also running for 30 yards and a score. Klopnik remained on the court until Hunter Johnson’s third-string home run came in as the game spiraled out of control in the fourth quarter.
Klopnik’s counterpart, North Carolina’s Drake May, has directed the Tar Heels into the red zone five times, but those outings have produced only 10 points. A fumble attempt and a field goal attempt were hampered by the Tar Heels in the first half, and a costly interception spoiled their chances during the third quarter.
With the Tar Heels only down 24–10, May threw an ill-advised third pass that was intercepted by Clemson’s Nate Wiggins and returned 98 yards for a touchdown with 5:05 left in the third quarter. The play dashed UNC’s hopes for a rally and led to the Tar Hills’ third straight loss. At 9-4, North Carolina can still post double-digit wins for the second time since 1997 if it wins a bowl game.
Clemson has already achieved double-digit wins for the 12th consecutive season under Swinney and could finish 12-2 if they win the Orange Bowl. Tennessee is herThe game is scheduled for December 30th in Miami. With such a surefire win in the ACC Championship Game, Clemson would have been in shape to make it into the College Football Playoff if it hadn’t lost to South Carolina last week. Without the Gamecocks loss, which was Clemson’s first home loss since 2016, the Tigers could have benefited greatly from losses this weekend by No. 3 TCU and No. 4 USC.
But a league title and New Year’s Eve ball appearance is nothing to scoff at, especially after the program lost longtime coordinators Tony Elliott (Virginia) and Brent Venables (Oklahoma) to head gigs after the 2021 season.
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