It went down to the wire for Frank Beamer's Hokies, who didn't clinch the Coastal Division title until last weekend with an emphatic 38-0 rout of Virginia. With the win, Tech moved to 11-1 on the season. Virginia Tech is the only school in the FBS to win 10 or more games in eight straight seasons. The Hokies' one blemish on the year was a 23-3 loss to Clemson in Blacksburg back on October 1st.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers have had the Atlantic Division title locked up for a few weeks now. That could explain why the team has dropped two straight games to close out the regular season, falling at NC State (37-13) and then at South Carolina (34-13). At 9-3, Clemson certainly had a magical season. The team was as high as fifth in the BCS poll at one point, its highest ranking ever. The Tigers also beat three ranked opponents in succession, with wins over Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
Clemson holds an 18-12-1 lead in the all-time series. The Tigers ended a five- game win streak in the series by the Hokies with their dominant performance in Blacksburg in October.
The Hokies really came into their own on the offensive side of the ball over the second half of the season. Sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas had a big part in that. The 6-6, 254-pounder paced an offense that averaged 422.9 yards during the regular season. Thomas completed 60.5 percent of his passes, for 2,525 yards, with 18 TDs. He also gave a strong ground attack (199.8 ypg) another dimension, rushing for 419 yards and a team-high 10 TDs.
The bulk of the work on the ground is handled by junior tailback David Wilson, who earned All-ACC honors, rushing for an ACC-best 1,595 yards and nine TDs. His 132.9 yards per game ranks fifth in the nation. Wilson needs just 61 yards to set the single-season rushing record, surpassing Ryan Williams.
The rushing game is the preferred mode of travel in Blacksburg, but Thomas has a number of viable targets downfield when the team does throw the football. Jarrett Boykin (54 receptions, 673 yards, five TDs), Danny Coale (50 receptions, 776 yards, three TDs) and Marcus Davis (25 receptions, 449 yards, five TDs) have all made huge plays this season.
Virginia Tech has long been known for its defense and this year is no different. The Hokies come into this title game allowing a mere 15.5 ppg and have been really successful against the run, limiting foes to 98.7 ypg.
The team lost star linebacker Bruce Taylor to injury in game number eight, but others have stood up and filled the void. Up front, the team looks to sophomore rush ends J.R. Collins (48 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) and James Gayle (34 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 7.0 sacks) to lead the way. The linebacking corps is now headlined by sophomore Tariq Edwards (59 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, two INTs), while the secondary is chock-full of talent, including safeties Antone Exum (team-high 75 tackles) and Eddie Whitley (66 tackles, two INTs) and corners Jayron Hosley (56 tackles, three INTs) and Kyle Fuller (56 tackles, 12.5 TFLs).
The Tigers have taken the foot off the gas the last two games, but make no mistake about it, the Clemson offense is a Ferrari when running on all cylinders. The team is averaging nearly 440 yards of offense per game, fueled by a passing attack that is putting out 288.5 yards per game.
Like Virginia Tech, Clemson has flourished under the guidance of a young signal-caller. Sophomore Tahj Boyd has played at an All-American level at stretches this season and comes into this game having completed 59.9 percent of his passes, for 3,338 yards and 28 TDs. Freshman wideout Sammy Watkins has played a huge role in the team's success, racking up 72 receptions, for 1,073 yards and 10 TDs and was named the ACC's Rookie of the Year as a result.
Swinney is certainly impressed with his star receiver.
"Sammy was definitely a guy that we knew would have to help us, but it wasn't until we got him into camp that we realized just how special he was and that he had a chance to be a starter and a game-changer, and that's what he's been."
While the ground game is a complement to the passing attack, tailback Andre Ellington remains a potent weapon, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and scoring nine of the team's 18 rushing touchdowns.
Clemson's defense has put up mediocre numbers this season but it hasn't cost the team often due to the usually explosive play of the offense. On the year, the Tigers are allowing 383.5 yards per game. The real weakness has come against the run, with Clemson allowing a generous 186.5 ypg.
Still, there are playmakers at each level of this defense, starting with defensive end Andre Branch. The 6-5, 260-pound senior has played at an All- American level, racking up 72 tackles, 16.0 TFLs and 10.5 sacks. Jonathan Willard (69 tackles) and Corico Hawkins (66 tackles) highlight the play amongst linebackers, while safety Rashad Hall (team-high 73 tackles) leads the way in the secondary.