Coaches love to say, “we just worry about what we do.” Dabo Swinney is clearly worried about what the Alabama Crimson Tide have been been doing.
Alabama has shown that while its defense may look mortal against quality passing games, the run-stopping ability of Saban’s front-7 is so fierce that it doesn’t matter as opposing QBs are constantly up against a tremendous pass rush on 3rd down and long.
Meanwhile, the Tide’s offense has progressed over the past 2 years from a unit that simply complemented its great D (in the Buddy Ryan’s Philadelphia Eagles sense) to a ranking of “Elite A-#1” in the college landscape. The only thing preventing sophomore Alabama QB Tua Tagavailoa from setting all kinds of passing records in 2018-19 is that every game he’s in seems to turn into a blow-out.
Like Yoda turning down Obi-Wan Kenobi’s offer to battle Emperor Palpatine, Swinney knew that his reliable-but-limited starting QB Kelly Bryant was not powerful enough to out-play Tagovailoa in a postseason setting.
So the veteran head coach took a chance, infusing frosh wunderkind Trevor Lawrence into the lineup as early in the season as possible.
Bryant was upset enough to request a transfer. But Lawrence has not disappointed. Clemson has gone from a team that couldn’t cover the spread against Texas A&M or Georgia Southern to an offensive dynamo in just a few weeks.
But are bettors overreacting? The Tigers’ line-to-cover at Boston College in an ACC Atlantic showdown this weekend opened at around 17 points, but it’s moving fast…and not in the underdog’s direction.
BC can jump into a tie for 1st place with a head-to-head victory in hand if the Eagles are able to upset the powerful Tigers. But Vegas isn’t giving it much of a chance, with moneylines of nearly (+1000) on the hosts and a point spread pushing (-20) on Clemson.
Swinney’s boys have the tools to dominate a fine football team like Eagles on all 3 units, even while playing on the road. The last time the Carolinians were threatened in any contest was on September 29th, when visiting Syracuse got within a 4-point margin after 60 minutes.
Lawrence did not play the entire game, and the Orangemen found a way to hang around despite only rushing for 2.3 yards per carry against the fantastic Clemson D-line.
But RB Travis Etienne rushed for 200+ yards and 3 touchdowns that weekend. It’s not often you see a team out-rush an opponent that badly and still only prevail 27-23.
Since then, Clemson has out-scored 4 conference opponents 240-36. That run includes a 41-7 pounding of NC State in which the Wolfpack stacked the line of scrimmage and dared Lawrence to pass. Big mistake.
Last weekend, the Tigers made bird-meat out of Bobby Petrino’s sorry Louisville Cardinals, to the effect of 77-16. Lawrence now has 18 touchdown passes and only 3 picks, and leading rushers Etienne and Lyn-J Dixon are averaging over 9 yards per carry combined thanks in-part to their talents, but also due to the finest run-blocking offensive line Clemson – or anyone in the ACC – could dream of putting on the field.
Offense Up, Defense Down in Massachusetts
Boston College has been relegated to mid-card status throughout the last who-knows-how-many seasons of ACC punditry. When the 2018-19 Eagles won 3 games to begin the season but followed-up by losing to Purdue, the confirmation-bias kicked in. Same old BC? Not exactly.
QB Anthony Brown expected a slow start this autumn, but he’s getting healthy and mobile. Brown only tossed 1 interception while completing 70%+ of attempts vs Louisville and adding rush yards here and there. He’s an effective game-manager who modest QBR belies his real value on the field (and in the betting markets).
Last weekend, the Eagles followed-up an impressive win over Miami with a 2nd-half beat-down of Virginia Tech as A.J. Dillon padded his already-prolific season rushing stats. He’ll pass the 1000-yard mark and the 10-TD mark very soon.
There’s only 1 problem. Boston College is not playing the kind of defense that it must be able to play to win the ACC. BC surrendered over 5 yards per carry in a 45-35 win over Temple in mid-season, and gave up 500+ yards in a loss to NC State in the next game.
A Paradoxical Prediction…and 2 Smart Bets
I’m recommending bettors pick Clemson…and I’m recommending that other gamblers pick Boston College. Come again?
The logic is sound and simple. I believe that Clemson has a 60% chance to cover the spread on Saturday evening. If the Tigers bring their A-game to Massachusetts there is no doubt Boston College is in for a long night.
But what if Clemson falters? It’s not a question of whether Lawrence is a mature-enough teenager to lead the Tigers to another conference title in 2018. He’s already proven that he can do that. Rather than an indictment of Lawrence’s youth or a question as to whether Clemson’s powerful front-7 can keep making the defensive backfield look like gold, I’m simply liking the Boston College Eagles as a hard-nosed veteran squad that can take advantage of a sloppy outing by the visitors.
Alabama is good enough to play like crap and still beat everyone in its league. Clemson has yet to prove that. The close-call against Texas A&M has been forgotten by handicappers, but it shouldn’t be. That kind of near-collapse on the road can happen again, and perhaps Swinney’s team wouldn’t be so fortunate next time.
If the odds are tasty enough on the moneyline, Boston College is an excellent “vulture” pick – a homestanding opponent just strong enough to circle-in and pick the bones if Clemson happens to have another poor 2nd half this weekend. Anything around (+1000) is a good market.
But if the Tigers continue to block well, hold on to the egg, and catch accurately-thrown missiles from Lawrence, it won’t happen.
The line movement makes a pick ATS a little less of a lock at (-20), but Clemson is still a decent pick to cover at the wider total. I would not wager on Clemson ATS if the margin gets to 3 TDs or more.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.