MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — After 13 seasons of trying, Miami is finally headed to its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
And reigning national champion Clemson will be waiting.
No. 4 Clemson and No. 7 Miami clinched their berths Saturday in the ACC title matchup, which will be played Dec. 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Clemson (9-1, 7-1 ACC) wrapped up its third consecutive Atlantic Division championship with a 31-14 win Saturday over Florida State. Miami (8-0 entering Saturday, 6-0 ACC) now is assured of its first outright Coastal Division championship because Virginia lost 38-21 at Louisville.
“It’s the first goal we set,” Miami wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “It’s something that no Miami team has done in the ACC. So obviously, that’s significant in itself right there. And to look at our other goals and see they’re way more significant than just the Coastal, it’s even bigger.
“Nobody’s been able to come to Miami and say, ‘We went to the ACC championship.’ We will be the first team to do that. That’s just huge.”
The Hurricanes learned of their clinching about an hour before kickoff time of their game against No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday night. They entered the ACC in 2004 and have yet to win a conference title, nor had they managed even a division championship since the ACC went to that format in 2005.
Miami entered the season as the favorite in the Coastal. Everyone else in the division now has at least three ACC losses, while Miami is the lone unbeaten in league play.
Miami could have gone to the ACC title game in 2012 after finishing in a three-way tie atop the Coastal, but declined the opportunity as one of the many self-imposed sanctions related to an NCAA probe into the actions of a rogue former booster.
It’s Clemson’s fifth berth in the ACC title game. The Tigers are 3-1 in their previous trips, winning in each of the last two seasons.
“This is a really, really difficult league and incredibly difficult division,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said earlier in the week. “But you know what? Isn’t that the way we want it? To me that’s the way you want it. You know, for years everybody talked about how bad this league was and couldn’t win postseason and couldn’t win out of conference. It’s not really a discussion anymore. ”
Miami leads the all-time series with Clemson 6-4 — but the last meeting was the worst loss in Hurricanes’ history. Clemson beat Miami 58-0 on Oct. 24, 2015, a day before the Hurricanes fired Al Golden and a few weeks before they wound up hiring coach Mark Richt.
“This was the goal from Day One of this season, whether you want to count that as last January or this fall,” Berrios said. “Now other goals become possible. And we understand those goals as well.”
Miami will be the fifth team in the last five years to represent the Coastal in the ACC championship game, following, in order, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. No Coastal team has won the league crown since Virginia Tech in 2010.
Clemson is representing the Atlantic for the fifth time in the last nine seasons. The last time the Atlantic champion wasn’t Clemson or Florida State was 2008, when Boston College played in the title matchup.
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