Published Nov 28, 2018
Mind of Mike: Scattershooting the ACC title game
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Mike Farrell  •
Rivals National Columnist

CLASS OF 2019 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position | Team

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position


The Mind of Mike is a scary place. So we thought we’d go there to see what his thoughts on the ACC title game are.

... Based on recent recruiting rankings, this should not be much of a contest, as Clemson has finished near the top of the ACC the last several years and Pitt has been in the middle of the pack. Clemson, in fact, is recruiting on a level with programs like Alabama and Ohio State under Dabo Swinney.

... There isn’t too much left to be said about Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but one of the more impressive aspects of the true freshman’s game is his accuracy. Completing 66 percent of his passes while throwing only four interceptions, Lawrence already plays like a veteran. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the former five-star is the most talented high school quarterback I have ever scouted.

... Qadree Ollison has become one of the top running backs in the ACC after two injury-plagued seasons. With 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, the Panthers will put in a full effort to establish the run against the Tigers. Ollison was a low three-star running back in 2014 who had talent but lacked great speed. In fact, we debated whether he was a fullback or a true running back a few times during his recruitment. He’s turned out to be a great find for Pitt out of New York.

... After showing his potential in 2017, sophomore running back Travis Etienne has established himself as one of the top playmakers in the country this fall. With 20 touchdowns from the line of scrimmage, he is a threat to take it all the way on every touch. He was a high three-star out of high school, but made my list of players we might have underranked after Signing Day. He chose Clemson over LSU, as the home-state Tigers didn’t make him as much of a priority as Swinney and Clemson did. He was the 27th-ranked running back in 2017, a year loaded at the position with players like Najee Harris (Alabama), Cam Akers (Florida State), D’Andre Swift (Georgia), J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State) and Eno Benjamin (Arizona State) at the top. You could argue Etienne has been the best of the bunch so far.

... Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett has shown his full potential at times this season, most recently against Wake Forest two weeks ago, but overall the Panthers need a huge game from the sophomore against Clemson. He has five games this season with less than 12 completions, which definitely won’t be enough Saturday. Pickett was a low three-star prospect out of high school with few Power Five offers. He almost de-committed from Pitt for North Carolina after offensive coordinator Matt Canada, now the head coach at Maryland, left for LSU. Luckily for Pitt, head coach Pat Narduzzi stepped in and kept him in the fold. He hasn’t been great this season, but he has been a stabilizing force and a leader.

... While Pittsburgh prefers to pound the ball on the ground, Maurice Ffrench is a player who can make things happen in open space. The Panthers like to use him as a receiver, running back and on special teams, so look for the coaching staff to try to figure out ways to get him involved early and often. Ffrench was a mid-level three star prospect, like most of Pitt’s commitments in recent years, with less than 10 offers. He, like Pickett, hails from New Jersey, which has been an important state for the Panthers.

... One of the aspects that makes Clemson’s offense difficult to defend is its depth at wide receiver. Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers, Hunter Renfrow and Justyn Ross are all capable of being top receivers at other programs, so matching up against all four of them has proven impossible for opposing defenses. Clemson, without a doubt in my mind, has become Wide Receiver U in college football. Very few programs recruit the wide receiver position better.

... The Clemson defensive line obviously deserves all of the respect and attention that it receives, but the linebacking group, led by Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar, has also performed at a very high level. The linebackers' high level of play has made the Clemson defense even more imposing. It certainly helps to have four potential first-round draft choices up front on the defensive line, but let’s not overlook the linebackers here.

... Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is the leader of the defense and perhaps the entire team, and I remember very well seeing his freshman highlight tape out of high school. One of his coaches, I don’t remember who, sent me his film out of the blue, and usually that means a player isn’t very good. However, after watching the first few plays I was enthralled with his potential. This was before he had any offers, although Boston College was close. I invited him to one of our camps and he drove all the way to New Jersey to show off his skills, and the rest is history. He was a surefire five-star for us and a can’t-miss prospect.

... While the Clemson defensive line will get most of the publicity, defensive end Rashad Weaver is having a big season for the Panthers with 44 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. The sophomore has also excelled in the Panthers' three most recent wins, with 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Weaver was a huge miss for us as a high two-star prospect who was originally a Michigan commitment but had his scholarship pulled by Jim Harbaugh with about a week left in the process. He committed to Pitt over Penn State on Signing Day and has turned into a leader and star for the Panthers. He was originally offered by Michigan as a sleeper at one of its famous satellite camps.

... Let's not forget - Pittsburgh defeated Clemson during the 2016 season in Death Valley during Clemson’s national championship season.

... Pittsburgh only had 69 rushing yards and Pickett was sacked six times in its 24-3 loss at Miami this past weekend. Miami also rushed for 293 yards. Those aren't good signs for Pitt.

... The Clemson defense is second in the country, giving up only 12.1 points per game

... Prediction time: Clemson 56, Pitt 20

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