There’s good news and bad news associated with the playing of pandemic effected 2020 ACC Championship game in Charlotte. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday at 4 pm at Bank of America Stadium and, I hate to have to add this but the Sun Belt Conference has already had to cancel its championship due to Covid, that is dependent upon no coronavirus outbreaks with either team.

The good news

Is that our four man “Its Sports Magazine”/”Knights Sports Productions” team has been credentialed again for the rematch between Clemson and Notre Dame. The bad news is that, due to the extreme protocols that the ACC is adhering to and rightfully so, Shaun Haggerty and Al Curtiss along with A.J. Curtiss plus myself, will be covering the event in its entirety virtually.

How is that good news, you ask? Well, we have access to all activities leading up to the game as well as all postgame activities.

So, here is our ACC Championship Pregame preview. It includes questions of both Irish HC Brian Kelly and Tigers HC Dabo Swinney. Also, there is expert commentary from former Georgia and Miami HC Mark Richt plus former Florida State QB E.J Manuel along with former Clemson OL Eric McClain. Finally, all of our correspondents will chime in with their predicts on the outcome of the tilt.

So, without further delay, below is our in depth preview of the ND-CU II. Enjoy.

ISM : It’s a rarity in college football to play somebody twice. Is winning the first one an advantage, a disadvantage, or just neutral?

BK : It depends on what happens the first time around. This was a double-overtime game where both teams believe that they could have won the football game. Certainly, we did, and I’m sure Clemson believes they could have won the game. So from that perspective, I think both teams leave with a feeling of confidence, though Clemson is not a team that needs confidence, they’ve been the king of the ACC for a number of years. In the game that we played, I think both teams got a better sense of who they are. I don’t know that there’s an advantage one way or the other. This is still going to come down to the fundamentals,   and players making plays. There’s really good players on both sides of the ball. I just think it’s going be a
really closely contested football game. I think it’s going to match up the way people think it is.

DS : It’s neutral. I mean, it’s like having three scrimmages in the fall and you scrimmage the same defense and they scrimmage the same offense. In the scrimmage, sometimes the defense wins and sometimes the offense wins. They get familiar with each other. It all comes down to being in this moment. Yeah, it’s kind of neat that we get to watch tape. We play a lot of opponents every year where you can look back and study but teams change every year. So, it’s unique that you can look at a game from your season and kind of see the matchup and get a little better feel for their personnel involved. But, you know, it still comes down to these four quarters. Blocking and tackling and who executes the best.

ISM : A Brett Venables defense has only given up 30 points three times in the last three seasons. South Carolina in the 15-0 season when the game was really over. Last year to LSU in the Championship game and this year to Notre Dame. You’re giving the Mad Scientist a game film to look at and time to prepare for the rematch. Is that advantage Clemson?

EMC : Oh, 100%. That’s why I’m very interested in seeing the two weeks. If you look at his most recent history with bowl games, right. If you look at these playoffs that he’s coached in. I mean, he’s destroyed people. When you give him that much time to dive into your offense and to know what you’re doing, basically, before your players know what they’re doing. For a guy like James Skalski with his recognition and his ability to see things. That why I’m so interested to see this chess match and does Rees have something else up his sleeve. He had it the first time. He really caught them off guard with the play calling. Is that a factor or has Coach Venables and that defense just been given too much time to know what they really do. At the end of the day, it’s all about players going out there and executing. It all comes down to the that. The plan for both of these teams is going to be really, really good. I can’t wait to see it.

EJM : Yeah, I think the beautiful thing about Coach Venables defense, and we talk about this on our show a lot with each other, is the way that he’s able to scheme up blitzes. He schemed up some real good ones again Ian Book and Notre Dame. They just couldn’t get home. That was kind of the key. For the offensive line to really hold up giving Ian the opportunity and to say, “Hey, stand up there in the pocket and throw the football.”That gave McKinley and Skowronek the chance to catch the 50-50 balls. I think now its up to Coach Venables to figure out a way to say, “Hey, I’m still going to send these blitzes but, maybe, I have to send something that I haven’t done all season long. I don’t necessarily know what that will be but I do expect him to throw in some different wrinkles. Something that Coach Rees hasn’t seen before and may not be ready for.

ISM : Coach, this is for you first and then the other two guys, I want to piggyback on what EJ said about the blitzes by Venables I thought the Notre Dame running backs did a tremendous job of blitz pickup. I don’t think they missed one. Did you see the same thing.

MR : Coach, this is for you first and then the other two guys, I want to piggyback on what EJ said about the blitzes by Venables. I thought the Notre Dame running backs did a tremendous job of blitz pickup. I don’t think they missed one. Did you see the same thing.

MR : Yeah, I actually did a tape on that on the show after the game not only bragging about Notre Dame’s offensive line in the run game and pass protection, but as we all know, the back, usually has to be a big part of pick up. If it’s a six man blitz, who’s going to pick up the sixth guy? It’s at tailback and he did a beautiful job, not only of his assignment because half of it is just recognizing who to who to block. And then secondly, you got to be physical enough to get it done and have enough technique to keep guys off your quarterback. There’s one play particular on that last drive of regulation, before they tied it before winning in overtime, that he actually had an assignment for an outside linebacker. The offensive line, the right guard and the right tackle decided they’re going to block down on what they thought was an interior blitz by a linebacker in that a that A gap. So they’re going to squeeze down to leave the outside linebacker for the running back. Well, the outside linebacker acted like he was going to come in and bailed out. Thankfully for Notre Dame, because the linemen got beat, the defender spun off and was going to have a clean shot on Book and then, you know, Kyren went up there and made the block that allowed Book to stand up and step up in the pocket and throw about a 30 yard strike down the field. So yeah, he was, he was really more than good. He was spectacular in his job as a pass protector that game.

EJM : Yeah, that’s what I was referring to, Leo, about how well Notre Dame played in situations because a lot of times, third down is a blitzing down and really specifically third and 4 through, like, third and 8 or third and 9. Those are blitzing downs and that’s when I feel like Coach Venables likes to dial up, you know, double A mug blitzes and bringing two backers up the middle and, you know, the offensive line usually gets twisted up because they run games because they loop guys and then somebody comes free. Eric, you actually sent me a video of a perfect one. I think that might have been a week or two ago. But, either way, that’s why I thought Notre Dame did a really good job because they had the backs do an excellent job of stepping up. And, even if they couldn’t necessarily block the guy, just get a hat on them or get a shoulder on them. Just, you know, give Ian another half second, another second, to go through his reads or to get out the pocket.

EMC : And I think what what’s going to be interesting, Leo, to see this time is if it’s Skalski coming in, you know, if it’s not a younger less developed guy. if it’s that big 230-240 pound linebacker laying the wood and how much difference is that going to make or is Kyren, you know, just going to be able to step up huge like he did last time. You know, I think that’s going to be the biggest thing. Mike Jones and James Skalski and Baylon Specter. I mean, it gets tiring. When you get hit by those guys over and over again. But that first matchup not having two of the three, he did an unbelievable job. Can’t talk about it enough.

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t thank Kevin Best, Senior Associate Commissioner for Communications, and Amy Ufnowski, ESPN Public Relations/Manager for College Networks, for allowing us to participate in all the media events. Without their help, we would not have been able to provide this extremely insightful commentary for you as well as our postgame coverage.

Without further adieu, here’s our predictions of how the game will unfold. Enjoy

Al Curtiss – ACC South Correspondent
Clemson will win because they have better players and because Brian Kelly is on the other sideline. Kelly will break into his typical big game antics of screaming at refs, coaches, and players. It won’t be long before his team follows suit and implodes, turning a competitive game, 24-14 Clemson at half, into a 56-21 laugher that sends Dabo and Tigers into the CFP once again.

A.J. Curtiss – ACC North Correspondent
The eye-test says Clemson. All logic says Clemson. Heck, I pick Clemson every year, but this is 2020 and NOTHING is normal. As such, I am picking Notre Dame to beat Clemson for the second time this season. Yes, I know Clemson was without Trevor Lawrence in the first game, but in football you don’t line up against the quarterback. You line up across from another man and after their first victory, the Fighting Irish players are confident they can beat the man they are lining up against. Ian Book and the Irish offense do enough and eat enough clock to keep Lawrence and the Tigers on the sideline for long stretches.   The game will still come down to the last possession and Clemson driving for the win, but Lawrence tries to make up for missing the first game and throws an ill-advised pick to seal it for Notre Dame: 35-31.

Shaun Haggerty – ACC Central Correspondent
Tigers just have better players.  Enough said.  Clemson 37-20.

Leo Haggerty – Editor
When everyone is healthy, and they are, the Tigers just have too many weapons on both sides of the ball. The offense has the player who should win the Heisman Trophy at the helm under center in Lawrence and a great supporting cast. Plus, on defense you’re giving the Mad Scientist, Clemson DC Brent Venables, a game film AND an extra week to prepare. As we have seen in the past, that’s a recipe for disaster for the team in the other color jerseys. Clemson 38-23.