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Boston College has its biggest matchup of the season Saturday night when Atlantic Coast Conference foe Clemson comes north to take on the Eagles at Alumni Stadium.
A win by the 17th-ranked Eagles over No. 2 Clemson would knock the Tigers out of first place in the Atlantic Division, giving BC the inside track to the conference championship game. But the Tigers, who average 47.8 points per game, have bigger aspirations on their mind: a trip to the College Football Playoff.
Here are five things to watch for Saturday night:
1. Premier BACKS ON DISPLAY
BC’s AJ Dillon is widely regarded as one of the top young backs in the country. Despite missing time with an ankle injury, Dillon has still managed to rush for 897 yards and eight touchdowns.
But Clemson has a pretty good back in Travis Etienne. Like Dillon a sophomore, Etienne has been almost unstoppable and is the top rusher in the conference with 998 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 8.6-yards-per-carry average is third in the nation among rushers with 100 carries.
Which back will have the better night? That’s tough to call. But given Clemson’s success at stopping the run this season, the Tigers may have the upper hand in this category.
2. Test for the O-line
Clemson is third in the nation in sacks with 32. One of the top defensive fronts in the ACC faces a BC offensive line that has allowed only 14 sacks for a net loss of 83 yards. The line has been one of the best in the nation in front of agile quarterback Anthony Brown.
BC’s success on offense hinges on a complete performance from the line, giving Brown time to throw and Dillon lanes to run.
3. A primary secondary
The Eagles are tied for fourth in the country with 14 interceptions. Junior defensive back Hamp Cheevers has five of them, second-most in the nation.
Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been careful, throwing just three interceptions with a 65.4 percent completion rate. But against the league’s top secondary, Lawrence will need to be precise or BC will make life difficult for him.
4. Third is the word
The Eagles have been inconsistent on third down, with a 34.8 percent conversion rate. Against the eighth-best third-down defense in the country, BC must find a way to extend drives. The Tigers have allowed opponents to convert just 40 out of 134 times (28 percent).
When the Eagles defeated Miami, which has the top third-down defense in FBS, they went 6 for 18, one of the toughest games for the Hurricanes. Third-down conversions undoubtedly will be a big emphasis for BC.
5. Spotlight is hot
The Eagles haven’t had extensive prime-time experience over the past few seasons and haven’t appeared on “College GameDay” in nearly a decade. While this type of hoopla is commonplace for Clemson, it’s not for the Eagles. BC went 1-5 last year in games on ESPN or ABC. Clemson went 11-2 in 2017 and is 7-0 this year.
Which team will hold its nerve? The likely choice is Clemson, though BC has played a more poised brand of football this season.