Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 5:21 PM
Clemson's offense was supposed to carry them to at least match the heights they reached a year ago in playing for the national championship. But the warning signs are all over the Tigers' first two games, where Clemson has won, but bettors have paid the price at the window both times.
In the season opener on September 3, Clemson was (-8) at Auburn, won 19-13 and came within a last pass into the end zone of losing outright. Last Saturday was even worse, as the Tigers struggled to a 30-24 win over Troy and came nowhere near the hefty (-35) pointspread. And the problem has been this team's strength - it's high-powered offense and quarterback DeShaun Watson.
Watson has been erratic in these first two games, failing to hit the 60 percent threshold in pass completions. The running game has been mostly plodding and Clemson has often been painful to watch. The fact that both ATS losses were also games that went Under (62.5 both times) is another indicator of an offense performing below expectations.
Some of the problems may be schematic. Last year, Clemson relied on a short passing game, complete with creative bubble screens and making use of Watson's mobility. This year the offense has moved a little closer to a more traditional system, with downfield passing aimed at keeping Watson from getting hit and getting the ball to wide receiver Mike Williams.
While there might be a long-term benefit to not getting Watson hit too much at this point in the season, there is also little doubt that it's hindering the Clemson offense. Whether Watson is going to lose his prestige in the eyes of NFL scouts, many of whom see him as the first overall draft pick next spring is an interesting question. For the purposes of college football betting, it's noteworthy in the sense that Clemson is not running the same offense from 2015 in spite of having mostly the same cast of players back.
The betting market has mostly taken this in stride. While Clemson has gradually fallen from a summer status of co-favorite for the national title (with Alabama) to a 15-2 price, the Tigers still have the fourth-best odds in the country. They're still 8-5 to win the ACC title, only slightly behind Florida State at 7-5, even though the Seminoles have an impressive win over Ole Miss. And Watson is still the betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy at 7-2.
But college football bettors paying attention know that Clemson has already been a money-loser in the early going. The next two games are a home date with South Carolina State, a non-board game at many books, then a quick Thursday Night turnaround at Georgia Tech. Those games provide the opportunity for Dabo Swinney and his staff to make the necessary tweaks to the offense. If they don't, or if the tweaks don't work, then Clemson backers will have to beware when Louisville comes to Death Valley on October 1.