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Clemson-Miami winner will give ACC some separation

There has been no shortage of drama between Miami and Clemson, as the past three games have been decided in overtime and won by the visiting team.

Enjoy Saturday’s game in Death Valley while it lasts, because it will be the last time the cross-divisional programs meet again until 2014 -- and this one is going to mean something.

The winner of this game will be in an extremely favorable position to make a run at the ACC championship game, as both one-loss teams are among the best in the conference this year. Miami has already begun to separate itself from the rest of the Coastal Division, and Clemson proved a formidable opponent for No. 10-ranked Auburn in a 27-24 overtime loss on the road. Miami’s only loss has come at No. 2 Ohio State. There’s no shame in either nonconference loss, but this will be the first ACC game for both teams and mark the beginning of nine straight weeks without a break.

“It’s a big game, very big,” said Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel. “It’s an ACC game first, and I know a lot of people want to see what Clemson is made of.”

The same can be said for Miami.

“We’re kind of excited about it to see where we are at in a conference game and against Clemson,” coach Randy Shannon said. “Last three games we have played Clemson went into overtime … thrillers at the end. This is also another opportunity to be on national television which is really good for the University of Miami, our program, and our football players to go out and perform out at a high level.”

The season is far from over, but a win on Saturday will separate both teams in their respective divisions. Florida State is one of the toughest opponents remaining for both teams, and Clemson still has to face an NC State team that is currently undefeated.

“This is the opportunity for us to work toward our next goal and defend our Atlantic Division title,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is a huge game for both teams in that regard. We’ve played three games and I like our personnel.”

Both teams have had weaknesses revealed against better competition. Miami’s biggest problem in September was turnovers. For Clemson, it was a lack of consistency on defense. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has thrown six interceptions in the past two games, and Auburn outgained Clemson 258-46 in the third quarter.

Clemson will be without injured starting left guard David Smith, and the Tigers will need to play a nearly flawless game up front to keep the pressure off of quarterback Kyle Parker. Miami is leading the nation in tackles for loss, second in sacks, eighth in total defense and No. 11 in scoring defense, allowing just 13 points per game.

“It’s a big challenge for us and we’re going to have to execute at a high level,” Swinney said. “They’re second in the nation in sacks and we’re not giving up many sacks. That will be a battle between their defensive line and our offensive line. Plays have to be made. There are big plays there that need to be made and this is the game to make them.”