CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WVIR) - The Virginia football team will be playing for the ACC Championship for the first-time in program history, as the Cavaliers take on Clemson on Saturday in Charlotte, NC.
Head coaches Bronco Mendenhall and Dabo Swinney were all smiles as they posed with the championship trophy at Friday’s press conference, and they each expressed admiration for the program the other coach has built.
Virginia held a fifteen minute walk-through following the press conference, where the players spent time enjoying the moment on the field, rather than practicing.
The Wahoos will be big underdogs on Saturday.
Clemson has won the ACC Championship four years in a row, and they are favored by more than four touchdowns.
The Cavaliers have never played in this game, but they have played in this stadium, as UVa beat South Carolina 28-0 in the Belk Bowl last year.
“Long term memory is facilitated by a number of things," says UVa head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "One of them is a significant emotional experience. I just walked out on the field, and I felt good, because it was associated with our win over South Carolina, and that’s a positive thing. It adds a level of confidence, and takes away some of the unpredictability. Now, we weren’t playing Clemson. This is a different opponent. I’ve never coached against Clemson, nor has our team played (against them), but at least the setting is one less unknown before we play the game, and that’s a good starting point.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says, “It’s very easy to see why (Mendenhall) and his team are here. He’s done a fantastic job, building a culture the right way. Building a team based on belief, and effort. Obviously well-coached, but just having a group of guys with a special will-to-win. They’re a champion as well, representing the Coastal. There are going to be two champions on the field tomorrow night, and one team holding up the trophy, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Virginia football team has won the ACC Championship twice (1989 & 1995), and both times came before the league switched to a title game format in 2005.
They were co-champions in those seasons, so a win on Saturday would give UVa the team’s first outright ACC Title.
To get it, they’ll have to go through Clemson.
The Tigers are ranked No. 3 in the nation.
They’re the reigning national champions, and the four-time defending ACC champs.
They are also on a 27-game winning streak
“I don’t even really think about it, to be honest with you," says Swinney. "It’s just a blur. You get so busy working, and ‘On to the next game,’ and starting over every week, it’s hard for me to even think back 27 games. Every week is the biggest game of the season for us, and that’s really a mindset that we have.”
Mendenhall adds, “I’m really proud to be associated with this team, this group of young people, what they’ve accomplished. Their mindset it so pure, in relation to excitement to play a college football game in a conference championship format. It’s so refreshing, where in this day and age, conference championships are just now a warm-up for something else to come. Conference championships are why you play, in my opinion. Anything else comes after that.”
A win by UVa would give them ten wins for just the second time in program history.
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 7:30 PM in Charlotte, North Carolina.