The hype of the ACC Championship started off at fever pitch despite a limited number of people in attendance at Bank of America Stadium. Nobody expected No. 3 Clemson to dominate 2nd-ranked Notre Dame, especially given the conference title game was serving as a play-in game for the College Football Playoff.
The Fighting Irish (10-1) took Clemson to the wire in South Bend on Nov. 7 with a 47-40 double overtime win, casting doubt if Dabo Swinney’s team would make it back for another championship run. As fate would have it, the five-time defending ACC champions took home a sixth consecutive title over the conference newcomers with a 34-10 win on Saturday night.
The Tigers (10-1) entered the rematch with Heisman hopeful Trevor Lawrence available and once again was in control of their own destiny before the final College Football Playoff rankings. There’s no debate they’ll stay in the top four come tomorrow’s final poll, and will likely move up to No. 2, setting the stage for a repeat national championship with top-ranked Alabama. That only being possible with wins in the Playoff Semifinal, of course. Clemson’s run for a sixth title defense started out smoother than many expected with a 21-point lead going into Halftime.
Lawrence made up for lost time against the Irish defense with 412 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. Two of those on long scoring strikes — a 67-yard bomb to Amari Rodgers, along with a 33-yard catch by E.J. Williams to put the Tigers up 14-3 early in the second quarter. Lawrence was named the game’s MVP, completing 25-of-36 passes for 322 yards. He also ran 14 times for 90 yards. The presumptive top pick in the NFL draft wrapped up one chapter of his Clemson career with unfinished business in the postseason.
“It would be a crying shame if the Heisman didn’t attach their name to Trevor Lawrence,” Swinney said in the post game. “I know that has become a stat award, but if you watch and you don’t know this is the best player in the country, I don’t know what you’re looking at.”
B.T. Porter’s 27-yard field goal increased Clemson’s lead to two scores before Travis Etienne would add a 44-yard touchdown with 27 seconds before halftime. Lawrence tacked his third score with a 34-yard run at 10:31 in the third quarter. A string of 34 unanswered points before Notre Dame got their only touchdown of the night. But came a little too late to be a factor with Chris Tyree walking it into the end zone from 21-yards out with 8:09 in the fourth quarter.
The Irish struggled to find consistency on both sides of the ball, being held to the least amount of points since Dec. 29, 2018—a 30-3 near shutout vs. then-No. 2 Clemson in the College Football Playoff Semifinal Cotton Bowl. Ian Book finished going 20-of-28 for 219 yards and tied a career-high being sacked six times.
The championship game returned to Charlotte for another year, but it came under scrutiny. Mecklenburg County health director Gibbie Harris said the game should’ve never happened due to the possibility of a massive COVID-19 spread over several states due to out-of-state guests. Bank of America Stadium was held to 5,240 people or 7% capacity, which was compliant with the current Coronavirus guidelines.
Clemson moves on with the final College Football Playoff rankings coming Sunday, Dec. 20 (Noon ET), and will be joined by Big Ten Champion Ohio State (6-0), SEC Champion Alabama (11-0), and the fourth Playoff spot up to a committee decision with Notre Dame or Texas A&M (8-1).