North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Clemson Tigers, Saturday December 5, 8 p.m. ET
This is a very nervous time for the entire Clemson program. The worst of times, really. Sure, it's a good problem to have - they are the No. 1-ranked team in the country. There is just no upside in this game, however, and mountains of downside. Win and you get a conference championship that proves nothing and has seemed inevitable for weeks. Lose, though, and the whole season comes crashing down - they could quite easily go from No. 1 to out of the playoffs entirely if they don't perform well and teams below them - like Stanford, for example - shine in their final opportunities to impress the committee.
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For North Carolina, on the other hand, they are playing with house money. No one really thinks they are deserving conference winners, and surely no one thought they would be here this year, so anything they get - and that could potentially include a playoff bid if they win and other teams struggle - is just gravy. It's still a very important game for them, but the pressure they will feel is nothing like what their opponent faces.
North Carolina vs. Clemson Betting Storylines
At the risk of oversimplifying things, this game ultimately comes down to two things. The first is the ability of the North Carolina defense to stand their ground. They have been decent against the pass this year, but they are just a tire fire against the run - they rank 107th in the country in yards allowed. Clemson's offense is balanced, led by a QB in ACC Player of the Year Deshaun Watson, who is as versatile and dangerous as any in the country. Watson can run, and running back Wayne Gallman had well over 1,100 yards this year despite missing a game to injury. If North Carolina can't find a way to disrupt the offensive efforts of the Tigers then Clemson will just run at will and this game won't be even a little interesting.
The second defining factor is the other running game. North Carolina is more reliant on the run than Clemson is, and perhaps a little better at it. Running back Elijah Hood scored 16 times, scampered for nearly 1,300 yards, and is the most important part of this offense. Senior QB Marquise Williams is not only a strong rusher himself - 786 yards and 10 scores - but he relies heavily on the run to create opportunities for his offense. If Clemson can contain the North Carolina run then they will win - it's that simple. I would have felt much better about that happening until the last three weeks. When Clemson beat Syracuse three weeks back it was much closer than it should have been, and the biggest reason was the rushing game - Syracuse carried 34 times for 242 yards, or a stunning 7.1 yards per carry. Syracuse only sits 76th in the country in rushing average, so that result was a real outlier. South Carolina ran pretty well against the Tigers in the finale, too. This team is not as strong defensively lately as they have been. And that is a cause for concern.
North Carolina vs. Clemson Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Clemson favored by 4.5 points, and that has since shifted slightly to five points. Action is evenly split between the two teams, so it seems unlikely that we will see major movement without a major development or sharp action hitting one team particularly hard. The total sits at 67.5.
The favorite is 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings between these teams. Clemson has covered the spread in their last four neutral-site games, but is 0-4 ATS in their last four games overall. The Tar Heels are 6-0 ATS in their last six against teams with winning records.
ACC Championship Game Predictions: North Carolina vs. Clemson Betting Picks
I like seeing teams finish strong, and Clemson has not done that despite winning. They squeaked past Syracuse and South Carolina - both teams in the market for new coaches right now - and were far sloppier against Wake Forest, including three interceptions, than they should have been. This is a team that is feeling the weight of the world. They are vulnerable to the run. They have an edge at quarterback and on offense in general, but this is a massive game for Watson, and Williams has tons of experience, so the gap won't be as large as it should be. Clemson is the better team, but at this price I can't justify betting on them. A pass might be in order on this game, but if you are determined to bet then North Carolina sure seems to be the team to back.
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