Virginia just ended one streak and the No. 22 Cavaliers would like nothing more than to end a few more against Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
The Cavaliers (9-3) earned their spot in the title game by snapping a 15-year losing streak against rival Virginia Tech. Now they are preparing for the challenge of taking on heavily favored Clemson (12-0) looking to end the third-ranked Tigers’ 27-game winning streak, and four-year run of ACC championships.
It looks like a mismatch — except to the Cavaliers. To them, it’s a chance to further advance the program’s upward trajectory.
“Opportunities like this don’t happen every day. To go up against the reigning national champs, ACC champs. It’s a great opportunity,” linebacker Charles Snowden said Monday. “You’re not going to find better talent than this in the country. I’m excited to get that opportunity.”
The programs haven’t met since 2013 when the No. 9 Tigers rolled to a 59-10 victory at Scott Stadium. Since then, Clemson has won four ACC championships and played in three national championship games, winning two. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, will be making their first title game appearance in program history.
That doesn’t mean the Cavaliers are conceding anything heading into Saturday night’s game in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“All year long, all spring, all camp, … we’ve been working as a team to be exactly here,” quarterback Bryce Perkins said.
The Cavaliers were more surprised when they came up short in the games they lost this season, linebacker Noah Taylor said.
“We knew what was going to happen,” he said. “I mean honestly, we didn’t think we were would lose those three games that we lost.”
Coach Bronco Mendenhall will lead Virginia into a bowl game for the third straight year after they went five years without playing in the postseason. Being a big underdog against the Tigers just makes the Cavaliers like everyone else Clemson has played this year, the coach said.
“If you look at the program they have established over time, the job coach (Dabo) Swinney has done, as well as their record, I think we’ll just be the next team that will be lumped in the same category as everyone else,” Mendenhall said. “The difference simply is that we’ve battled, scrapped and clawed our way to win our side of the division in a program that hasn’t known recent success and is hungry for more.
“The rest of it will be played out in the game.”
Swinney sees similarities between the Tigers and what Mendenhall is building at Virginia.
“Heck, we played for our first (ACC) championship my very first year in ’09, then we got beat. We got back two years later in ’11 and we won. Then we got our first bid to the Orange Bowl, gave up 70 points,” Swinney said. “… It’s just all part of the journey.
“Regardless of who wins the game or what the score is or any of that stuff, this is a huge moment for both teams. You’re in a championship game. You’ve competed on the field for our division. It’s the culmination of an excellent conference season.”
Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who guided last year’s championship run, said experience helps because it’s important to manage your emotions on the big stages.
“I think just not making the moment too big,” he said. “That’s something that’s easy to do, especially if you haven’t been there before.”
By HANK KURZ Jr. AP Sports Writer
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25