CFP Play-in: No. 1 Clemson, No. 7 Miami in ACC Championship
By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami know what's at stake in the upcoming Atlantic Coast Conference championship - a spot in the College Football Playoff.
"The winner of this league is definitely going to be in the playoff," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday. "And deservedly so."
Think of Clemson-Miami as a playoff play-in, perhaps more directly than other some other Power Five league title games next weekend.
Both the Tigers (11-1, No. 3 CFP) and the Hurricanes (10-1, No. 2 CFP) have been part of the playoff committee's top four for several weeks and while Miami may slip after its upset loss at Pitt last Friday, it would certainly jump back into the mix with a win over Clemson, which moved up from No. 4 to No. 1 in the latest AP Top 25 released earlier Sunday.
Miami coach Mark Richt doesn't mind his players talking, wishing and planning for a successful playoff run.
"If the thought of (the playoffs) motivates a guy, that's great," Richt said. "Any motivation going into a ball game is a good thing. If they're thinking about the possibility of the playoffs, or being the first team to ever win the ACC championship from the University of Miami or because they want to make their family proud, as far as motivation goes, I'm all for whatever gets a guy excited about preparing."
Swinney's had his team in playoff-mentality ever since its lone loss at Syracuse, 27-24, on Oct. 13. He and his staff made sure the Tigers understood another misstep would most likely end the dream of a second straight national title. Clemson has won its past five straight, including a rousing, 34-10 victory at rival South Carolina on Saturday night.
Swinney believes it's a long-term process of teaching Clemson's culture to each group that enrolls. "Is it easy? No," he said. "You've got to work hard to do. It's developing leadership in the program and guys taking ownership in the way we have to do things week in and week out."
Clemson's run to the finish included having to rally from behind at North Carolina State for a 38-31 victory that gave the Tigers control of the ACC Atlantic Division and a fourth-quarter surge against Florida State a week later to break open a three-point game for a 31-17 division-clinching win.
Miami is making its first appearance in the ACC title game, and it has won its share of big games to get here. None bigger than its 41-8 dismantling of Notre Dame earlier this month that placed the Hurricanes among the nation's elite and in the CFP top four. The path detoured this past weekend with Pitt's 24-14 stunner that was Miami's first loss of the season.
Richt has seen all sorts of frustrated, postgame reactions after losses, from wall-punching staffers to players voicing their anger. This group, he said Sunday, was disappointed in the defeat, yet ready to work on corrections.
"I think everybody's in a good place right now," he said.
The game returns to Charlotte after a year in Orlando, Florida, due to an ACC ban because of a North Carolina law that limited protections for LGBT people. The law was repealed earlier this season and the ACC removed its ban, bringing the game back to the area where it has been played from 2010-15.
Swinney enjoyed the Florida city's hospitality last year, but is glad to have the game restored to Charlotte - a much closer drive for the thousands of Tigers fans expected to attend.
Miami's Richt has no doubt Hurricane fans will be loud in their support. He's also certain the ACC winner will get the chance to play for the league's third national championship in five seasons.
"Whichever team wins the ACC, considering the body of work of both teams, should be a shoo-in, in my opinion," he said.
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Updated November 26, 2017