Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Clemson Tigers, Saturday October 3, 8 p.m. ET
The National Championship is not going to be decided on Saturday at Clemson by any means. This game will have a big impact on things, though. Both teams are eyeing a spot in the playoff. The winner will have a signature win to their credit - one that will make them much more attractive to the selection committee if they remain unbeaten or close to it. The loser won't be eliminated from playoff contention - unless, perhaps, they are completely blown out - but their margin for error will be completely gone, and they will have to be all but flawless the rest of the way to keep their postseason hopes alive. The stakes, then, are about as high as they can be for a pseudo-conference game in early October.
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Notre Dame at Clemson Betting Storylines
The good thing about Clemson, I guess, is that they will be fresh coming into this one. They are 3-0, but they certainly haven't been challenged getting there. Their first two games - against Wofford and Appalachian State - don't count as much more than glorified scrimmages. They won the games by 39 and 31 points, respectively, and dominated just as you would expect them to. Then they travelled to Louisville for a Thursday night game. That surely didn't go as well as they hoped. The Cardinals have some issues, but they almost pulled it off - Louisville returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to pull within three points but ultimately lost just 20-17. Clemson did not inspire much confidence in the game, and the two previous games only served to distort the stats and make the team tough to truly evaluate. Add in that they are coming into this game off a 16-day break, and you have a huge handicapping test.
Clemson could be fresh after the break and could have worked extensively on the issues that the Louisville game exposed. Or they could be lethargic after the extended break and the absence of game experience. The best part of the break though, is the chance for the offense to adapt to change. Chad Morris is no longer the offensive coordinator, and the Louisville game showed that the transition has not been smooth. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has not been nearly as dangerous this year as he was last year in his first year of starting. That needs to change - and now would be a very good time if this team has real national aspirations.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, has played a tougher schedule, though still not the best in the country by any means. In their opener they beat up on a Texas team that had even more questions than they do now - and that's saying something. Then they won at Virginia but didn't cover the 13.5-point spread. In fact, they needed a 39-yard passing touchdown with just 12 seconds left on the clock just to get the win. Then came their signature win so far - getting past Georgia Tech comfortably as small home underdogs. Last week UMass served as their virtual exhibition game.
It has been a solid season - especially when you consider that they have had to deal with a major quarterback change along the way. Malik Zaire was the starter, but he was lost for the season against Virginia. DeShone Kizer hasn't been perfect in relief, but he has been better than has been reasonable to expect in many ways. He's efficient and accurate, he is mostly avoiding mistakes, and the team has been responding well to him.
This is going to be his biggest test by far - Clemson has a Top-10 defense with a ferocious front seven - but it isn't nearly as concerning as it might have seemed to be a couple of weeks back.
Notre Dame at Clemson Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Clemson favored by two points, and that has widely shifted to 1.5 points. The action is almost perfectly split between the teams - at least in terms of number of bets - so it would be a real surprise to see a significant line movement from this point barring a major development. The total is widely at 53.5 and can be found a little higher in spots.
The Tigers are 4-0 ATS both in their last four home games and their last four nonconference games (though this is only sort of a nonconference game given Notre Dame's relationship with the ACC). Notre Dame has gone 6-1 ATS in their last seven October games. They have gone "over" the total in their last five road games.
College Football Expert Picks Against the Spread: Notre Dame at Clemson
I just don't believe in the Tigers at this point. Their defense does not seem to be as good as last year - the depth is a real concern - and what we have seen so far gives us no sense of how good they actually are. I don't like how long they have been out of action, and I am skeptical that the offense will be at full strength for this game. Notre Dame keeps losing players to injury, but they have shown toughness and have been well tested so far. As an underdog it's hard to look past Notre Dame. They are the clear play here.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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