The ACC can certainly make a statement against the SEC, the nation’s best conference, this weekend in Atlanta. On Friday night, NC State faces Tennessee at the Georgia Dome, but the marquee matchup is Saturday when defending ACC Champion and preseason No. 14 Clemson faces an Auburn team looking to rejoin the nation’s elite post-Cam Newton.
Last season, Auburn returned the fewest starters in the country off the 2010 National Championship team, including losing the Heisman-winning Newton. The Tigers slipped to fourth in the SEC West and 8-5 overall. Auburn finished last season, also in Atlanta, with a 43-24 blowout of ACC team Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Star running back Michael Dyer had been suspended for that bowl game, and he was booted off the team this offseason. That also would be the final game on the Auburn sideline for very highly respected offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who had been hired at Arkansas State. Temple’s Scott Loeffler replaces Malzahn and is expected to tone down the scheme. Auburn also has a new defensive coordinator: former Atlanta Falcons DC Brian VanGorder.
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Clemson won the ACC for the first time since 1991 thanks to a school record-setting offense. But the Tigers’ season ended with a major thud as they were embarrassed 70-33 by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, with that WVU offense setting numerous NCAA bowl records in the process. The Clemson defense was an issue most of the season, so coach Dabo Swinney let coordinator Kevin Steele go and hired former Oklahoma DC Brent Venables for the same job.
Clemson vs. Auburn Betting Storylines
Last September, Clemson beat Auburn, 38-24, in Death Valley (CU was a 3.5-point favorite then as well) thanks to a huge game from a then-mostly unknown freshman receiver named Sammy Watkins. He had 10 receptions for 155 yards and two TDs and added 44 yards rushing on his way to being a freshman all-American. QB Tajh Boyd threw for 382 yards and four scores as Clemson piled up 624 yards of offense to end a 14-game losing streak to Auburn.
Boyd (ACC-record 38 TDs last year) and leading rusher Andre Ellington are back, but Watkins won’t be on the field until Auburn’s third game. He was suspended for the first two after an offseason arrest. Watkins was Boyd’s best deep threat all season, targeted 25 times on Boyd's throws of at least 20 yards. Five of those resulted in touchdowns. Sophomore Charone Peake will start for Watkins alongside DeAndre Hopkins (952 yards last season) and Jaron Brown. Peake had just four catches last season, but he’s apparently the second-fastest player on the team behind Watkins and was one of the nation’s top recruits in 2011.
The Tigers will also be missing a key starter: center Reese Dismukes was suspended following a recent arrest. Dismukes was one of two offensive players to start every game last season at the same position. Auburn will have two new starters on its offensive line and will start two freshmen and two sophomores up front vs. Clemson. Sophomore Tunde Fariyike is expected to take Dismukes’ spot.
Meanwhile, the Auburn quarterback derby was decided last week when Kiehl Frazier was named the starter over Clint Moseley. Frazier was used almost exclusively in Wildcat packages last year and threw only 12 passes, completing five with two interceptions. He did rush for 327 yards and three scores on 76 carries. Moseley started six games last year and is a better thrower but not mobile at all.
Last year’s Auburn Tigers really were no match for good teams. They were 2-4 vs. ranked foes but one win came against Mississippi State, which finished nowhere near the Top 25 by the end of the year. The other was a 16-13 upset at South Carolina. But in losses to the four ranked foes, Auburn was beaten by an average of 31.3 points per game. But those were four pretty darn teams: LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia.
Auburn, which was 2-4 vs. Top-25 teams a season ago, leads this series 34-12-4 overall and is 4-2-1 at neutral sites. AU has won 25 of its past 30 openers vs. nonconference opponents. Clemson is 2-4 in neutral-site games under Swinney.
Clemson vs. Auburn Betting Odds and Trends
Clemson is a 3.5-point favorite on BetOnline with the total at 55.5. Clemson was 8-6 against the spread last season and 2-3 ATS on road (Tigers are technically road team here). Auburn was 5-8 ATS a season ago and 4-4 ATS at home. “Over/under” records: CU 7-7, AU 7-6.
Clemson is 2-7 ATS in its past nine neutral-site games. Auburn is 5-1 ATS in its past six at neutral sites but has covered just two of its past 10 vs. ACC teams. The over is 4-1 in CU’s past five non-conference games and 9-4 in Auburn’s past 13 nonconference.
College Football Predictions: Clemson vs. Auburn Betting Picks
Three of the four coordinators are new in this game, so it’s hard to judge what the sides will look like. And the one returning coordinator, Clemson OC Chad Morris, doesn’t have his most electric player. On the surface, you have to give the clear offensive advantage obviously to Clemson. Those Tigers will dare Frazier to throw to beat them in his first career start. Defensively, Auburn has the advantage but it’s not as one-sided as the other side of the ball.
The team that has taken a big lead has lost in the past two years in this series, but I think that ends in 2012. Take Clemson and the under.
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