CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Get out your slide rules. No. 22 North Carolina still has a mathematical chance — with outside help — to reach the ACC championship game.
None of the calculations, tiebreakers or probabilities matter if the Tar Heels (8-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) don't beat favored Clemson (6-4, 3-4) on Saturday.
“Not many people have won there,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “And nobody will think we’re going to win."
Clemson has won five straight in the series and gets the Tar Heels on a bit of a rebound. North Carolina survived a 47-45 double-overtime win against Duke last week, ending a two-game skid in league play with losses to Virginia and Georgia Tech.
Now they come to Death Valley just in time for Clemson’s late-season surge. The Tigers have won two straight and scored at least 31 points each time.
“They’re old Clemson again,” Brown said. “They’re playing like a playoff team.”
Clemson certainly is after posting four losses in a season for the first time since coach Dabo Swinney's second full season in 2010.
North Carolina's Drake Maye has been outstanding again this year, guiding an offense that leads the ACC in scoring at nearly 40 points a game. Maye tops the league with 314 yards passing a game. Swinney is duly impressed with Maye's ability. “He makes the coaches better, the fans better, and he makes the popcorn taste better,” the Tigers coach quipped.
Swinney learned early in his tenure from Brown to be generous with his time when other staffs want to learn from you. Swinney said it was Brown, then a national championship coach at Texas, who welcomed the Clemson staff in 2009 and spent hours answering questions from his young colleague.
Clemson has an open door policy ever since with a notable exception: “I ain’t gonna let (South Carolina coach Shane) Beamer hang out. That just is what it is.”
UNC closes the schedule with road games against Clemson and rival North Carolina State. Following the dramatic win over Duke, Brown said his players must be mentally tough to succeed.
“Our guys have to step up and be tough and be very confident to get through this stretch at the end of the year,” Brown said.
Clemson tailback Will Shipley was knocked unconscious in the game against North Carolina State and missed the next game in concussion protocol. Shipley returned to the field last week in a win over Georgia Tech and is ready to go against the Tar Heels.
“I definitely don't remember too much of the NC State play,” he said. “It's definitely a little scary, but it's what I signed up for.”
UNC has struggled badly in the fourth quarter defensively in the past two ACC games, giving up 22 points to both Georgia Tech and Duke.
Brown pointed to concerns about fatigue, particularly with Cedric Gray and Power Echols never coming out of the game at linebacker. He said the team needs to find a way to get them some rest.
“When they’re two major staples of your defense, it’s hard,” defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said, adding: “We’re going to need to try to find a way to get that done.”
The Tar Heels have had their struggles recently with Clemson. They haven't won since a 21-16 home victory in 2010. Since then, North Carolina has dropped all five meetings with Clemson including twice in the ACC title game (2015, 2022). North Carolina's last win at Clemson was 22 years ago.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report.
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