Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 at 10:42 AM
Clemson has been motivated all year to return to college football’s national championship game and avenge their loss to Alabama in last year’s title game. As the season hits the homestretch, the Tigers are 9-0, and you get 7-1 odds on them to win it all. Is this a good bet or bad bet?
While the ultimate decision we reach on this will have to be reserved for clients, I want to share with you at least some of the basics of what we’re looking at.
When the season began, Clemson’s defense was suspect. They had lost three terrific impact players to the NFL in defensive ends Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson, along with corner Mackensie Alexander. But the Tiger D has moved on without a hitch and has turned into the strength of the team. They rank eighth in the nation in points allowed and have disruptors on the defensive line in Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins.
The offense has not been as dynamic as expected. Deshaun Watson is having a nice year at quarterback, but he’s been eclipsed in the Heisman conversation by another ACC quarterback in Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Watson’s key numbers—64% completion rate, 7.9 yards-per-attempt and 24-10 TD/INT ratio are nice enough, but not spectacular. The same can be said for running back Wayne Gallman (643 yards, 5.3 YPA) and the trio of receivers—Mike Williams who stretches the field, short-game option Artavis Scott and third target Ray-Ray McCloud.
Clemson has played three games that are really noteworthy, their victories over Auburn, Louisville and Florida State. The Auburn and FSU games were on the road. Here’s a brief synopsis of the keys to win…
*The 19-13 win at Auburn to start the year was pretty ugly, but the Clemson defense gave an early sign of what they could do. They held Auburn’s potent rush game to a little more than two yards-per-carry. It was enough to overcome a spotty game from Watson.
*A 42-36 win over Louisville at home came after trailing by eight in the latter part of the fourth quarter. Watson had good passing numbers, 20/31 for 306 yards and five touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions.
*More come-from-behind action at Florida State, with a late touchdown drive to win 37-24. Watson again produced through the air—27/43 for 378 yards, but it again came at a price—two interceptions.
Clemson’s remaining schedule is not easy—Pitt, Wake Forest and South Carolina all have winning records. The ACC Championship Game looks like it will be against Virginia Tech, though North Carolina can still sneak in. Any one of these teams can beat the Tigers, but it also has to be said that none of these teams are as good as Auburn and Louisville, and are no better than even with Florida State.
Going in favor of Clemson is that their 7-1 price is pretty good. It’s better than what’s available with Michigan or Ohio State, two other teams that control their destiny to reach the Playoff. It’s certainly better than what you get with even-money favorite Alabama, and only marginally less profitable than the 8-1 tag hanging on Washington.
Also in favor of Clemson is that their defense is championship-worthy and while Watson may not have had the spectacular year envisioned for him, he’s been clutch in tough situations. That’s a more important quality to have in the hyper-tense atmosphere that college football is played in come November .
Going against Clemson is that when Watson has to stretch the field he becomes more interception-prone and it’s going to be harder to overcome that against the teams he’ll meet in the Playoff. From a price standpoint, it can be argued that if you’re going to challenge Alabama, you might be better off picking a handful of teams with even higher prices to come off the periphery. And ultimately, it’s hard to argue that this year’s Tiger team is better than last year’s—and of course last year’s team didn’t win it all.
There’s good arguments on both sides. We can’t help you with all your tough choices on this Election Day, but we can help you with how to vote on Clemson’s national championship chances and a host of other difficult college football betting issues.