Control on the ACC championship race is on the line as No. 23 Pitt plays host to Clemson on Saturday in one of the bigger games for the Panthers in recent memory. Pitt is 5-1 after demolishing Virginia Tech 28-7 in a dominant performance against a once-ranked team. The Panthers also have wins over Georgia Tech and Tennessee.
Clemson has been brutally bad offensively all season, playing all five FBS games within one score. The Tigers needed heroics to squeak by Syracuse 17-14 after the Orange's Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Andre Szmyt missed a late field goal. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei threw for just 181 yards in the narrow victory.
Pitt and Clemson have only played four times and are knotted up at 2-2, including a 42-10 Clemson win in the 2018 ACC Championship Game. However, the Panthers pulled off one of the most memorable ACC upsets in recent memory when the they shocked the second-ranked Tigers in 2016 thanks to a legendary performance from quarterback Nathan Peterman.
Pitt vs. Clemson: Need to know
Quarterback gap: The Clemson-Pitt matchup is no stranger to All-America-caliber quarterback play. This time, it's the Panthers boasting the all-world signal-caller. Quarterback Kenny Pickett leads the ACC with a 181.8 passing efficiency mark and earned a spot on the CBS Sports Midseason All-America Team after throwing for 1,934 yards, 21 touchdowns and just 1 interception in six games. Conversely, Uiagalelei shockingly ranks last among qualified ACC QBs in passing efficiency while Clemson's passing offense ranks No. 107 nationally. The disparity has set the table for why Pitt is having a great season and Clemson is reeling.
Defense on track: For all Clemson's issues on offense – and there are many – the defense has been its usual outstanding self. The Tigers rank No. 8 in net points per drive allowed and No. 10 in defensive EPA margin – a metric that takes account how individual plays affect scoring chances. The only team to score more than 20 points against Clemson's defense (NC State) needed overtime to do it. For all of Pitt's offensive success, it has not played a defense anywhere near Clemson's level.
ACC implications: Pitt has not won a conference championship since joining the ACC in 2013. While these two teams sit on opposite sides of the conference, a victory on Saturday would give the Panthers an almost unbeatable edge in the ACC Coastal title race while potentially eliminating their most fearsome competition from earning a trip to the ACC Championship Game. Every team in the wacky Coastal has at least two losses except for Pitt and Virginia Tech (over which Pitt holds a tiebreaker). Clemson suffering a second loss in ACC play would put it multiple games back from Wake Forest and NC State, both of which are undefeated in conference play, and the latter holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Tigers. Clemson and Florida State have won every ACC title since 2011. A Pitt win would almost certainly clear the way for some new blood.
How to watch Pitt vs. Clemson live
Pitt vs. Clemson prediction, picks
There's no question, this is one of the biggest games for Pitt since it joined the ACC. Settling down and living up to the moment will be a legitimate concern, but having a fifth-year starter in Pickett will help keep things under control. Clemson has crumbled against high-level competition, having lost to both top-25 squads it has faced. Pitt has been the class of the ACC and will prove it again on Saturday afternoon. Prediction: Pitt (-3.5)
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