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A Rematch of the 2017 ACC Championship Has Arrived Sooner than Expected

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Hurricanes fans were overjoyed to have one of the easiest schedules of any Power Five program in the country. But that all changed when Clemson appeared on Miami’s new, conference-only schedule for this fall.

ACC Football Championship - Clemson v Miami
An aerial view of the Miami Hurricanes and Clemson Tigers competing in the 2017 ACC Championship game on Dec. 2, 2017 at Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.).
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

December 2, 2017 was the last time the Miami Hurricanes squared off against the Clemson Tigers on the gridiron—the ACC Championship at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

Things did not go well for former Miami head coach Mark Richt and his team that night. The Tigers had jumped ahead 14-0 by the end of the first period while the ‘Canes went scoreless until the fourth, scoring only a single field goal.

Miami lost badly, 38-3. It was not a night to remember after showing potential as a College Football Playoff team earlier that fall.

Like almost every season as of late, Clemson played spectacularly not only under the ACC’s brightest lights but throughout the entire 2017 season. The Tigers were fresh off of a national championship that January after defeating rival Alabama.

And the Hurricanes had gotten a strong taste of their opponent’s tiger-like mentality that evening, even after being dismantled by the same team back in 2015, 58-0.

“Obviously, it [ACC Championship] didn’t go well at all,” Richt said. “It just shows they’re the class of our league and they’re the measuring stick.”

The ACC’s updated 2020 football schedule has been released in light of conference-only play, and the time has come for Miami to face Clemson once again. The game will take place at Memorial Coliseum, also recognized by many as “Death Valley,” in Clemson, S.C. with the exact date and time yet to be announced.

Many ‘Canes fans had originally breathed a sigh of relief when they had learned the program would not be playing the Tigers. But that was only until the ACC had mirrored other conferences, including the Pac-12 and Big Ten, in shifting towards matchups solely against other in-conference schools.

Spearheaded by ACC commissioner John Swofford, the transformational plan was aimed at reducing long-distance travel amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

“Today’s decision was made after months of thoughtful planning by numerous individuals throughout the conference,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “Our institutions are committed to taking the necessary measures to facilitate the return in a safe and responsible manner. We recognize that we may need to be nimble and make adjustments in the future. We will be as prepared as possible should that need arise.”

While the timing of the intriguing rivalry game still remains unknown, Clemson still poses as a formidable threat. The five-time reigning ACC champions will return a chunk of their core from their 2020 College Football Playoff run, with the exception of linebacker Isaiah Simmons, cornerback A.J. Terrell, and wideout Tee Higgins, who will all suit up for NFL teams this season.

Not eligible for the NFL Draft until 2021, Trevor Lawrence remains the play caller for Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney. Viewed as the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, the Knoxville, Tenn., native looks to pick up right where he left off in 2019, having thrown 22 touchdowns without any interceptions in the last eight games of the year.

Recognized as arguably one of the most athletic running backs in the nation, Travis Etienne returns for his final year of eligibility after winning back-to-back ACC Player of the Year awards in 2018 and 2019. A native of Jennings, La., he tallied 1614 yards on 207 carries alongside 19 rushing touchdowns last season, proving a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties to hunt down.

Then even other wide receivers with potential are returning to the turf for Clemson. Justyn Ross, formerly ranked at No. 15 nationally and the No. 2 wide receiver in 2017, recorded 865 yards and eight touchdowns total while starting all 14 games last year. He will fill the absence of Higgins this fall, likely serving as Lawrence’s initial option.

And that is just to name a few. Clemson’s defensive side of the ball holds promise with rising talent in defensive tackle Tyler Davis, a potential All-American for this season. A second-team All-ACC honoree, he made an immediate impact for the Tigers having been credited with 51 tackles and 5.5 sacks, the most on their defensive line. The Apopka, Fla., native started immediately for defensive line coach Todd Bates and will strive do similar if not more damage.

The team’s second leading tackler in 2019, linebacker James Skalski has recorded 166 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks throughout his college career as a Tiger. As a rising senior, the Georgia native will be relied upon as a defensive orchestrator for defensive coordinator Brent Venables this year.

In the defensive backfield lies cornerback Derion Kendrick, an All-ACC selection who tallied 51 tackles despite arriving at Clemson as the No. 4 ranked wide receiver in the country in 2018. He proved versatile, nonetheless, becoming a starting cornerback in 2019 to fit team needs.

Clemson’s tall task, however, is to figure out how to fill the gap of their best defensive asset in linebacker Isaiah Simmons. Linebacker Mike Jones, a redshirt sophomore out of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), could possibly fill in well unless Venables elects to add a nickelback into the mix.

Other than lacking the invaluable Simmons, the three-time national champions have their opportunity for domination on the table with the Clemson standard for excellence always intact. A balance of well-experienced talent and also those who remain prepared to take another step, a crack at a national championship remains very much alive.

Miami, on the other hand, is primed for one of its more successful seasons should the program’s performance translate from paper to turf.

New quarterback D’Eriq King and offensive tackle Jarrid Williams, both Houston graduate transfers, have the golden opportunity to make a monumental impact on offense that has been extensively needed. Even highly touted freshman safety Avantae Williams can bolster the defensive backfield.

All of the talent infusions have been advertised and the coaching staff has received its praise. Yet in order to have a chance at toppling Clemson, every component on both sides of the ball must gel, especially with the arrival of new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

Commitment, focus, unison, and relentlessness are just a handful of requisites to take down a team that has been to five consecutive College Football Playoffs. Often that is not even enough, as history has proven.

The ‘Canes may even face the Tigers twice should both teams meet again in the ACC Championship this December. Both would have to finish with the two best winning percentages in the conference, similar to their matching 7-1 ACC records back in 2017.

The Hurricanes’ glitzy Turnover Chain may have to make more appearances than normal if Miami gets overwhelmed by Clemson’s defense again.