Louisville Cardinals at Clemson Tigers, Saturday Oct. 1, 8 p.m. ET
For the first time since 2002, we have three games between Top 10 foes in the same week during the regular season. You could have a heck of a debate about whether this one or the one featuring Wisconsin is more shocking. What isn't debatable, though, is that Louisville has far, far exceeded expectations. Heading into the season this seemed like a mildly-interesting game that would ultimately likely just be a speed bump on the way to their game with Florida State for the Tigers. Now it's arguably the most interesting game of the season to date.
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Louisville at Clemson Betting Storylines
We have known since the second this game showed up on the schedule what the storyline would be. The Heisman favorite quarterback would come in having made mincemeat out of all the opponents up to this point, and the outcome of the game would be determined by the opponent's ability to stop him like no one else has before. The obvious punchline, of course, is that we couldn't have known that the runaway Heisman favorite to this point wouldn't be Clemson's Deshaun Watson, the preseason favorite, but rather Louisville's Lamar Jackson. Jackson has been beyond incredible. He has 25 total touchdowns so far - 13 through the air and 12 on the ground. Only one other team - team, not player - in the whole country, Michigan, has more touchdowns than Jackson has scored alone. He's not the most accurate passer (58.7 percent completion rate), but with 10.56 yards per attempt he's obviously not handicapped by that. He has also averaged 8.6 yards per carry on 61 carries, so he can beat you up in any number of ways. Needless to say, Clemson hasn't seen an offense like this. How much faith you have in their ability to handle it entirely dictates how you pick this game.
That Clemson defense is no slouch. They currently sit third in the country in defensive efficiency, behind only Alabama and Ohio State. Now, in their first three against Auburn, Troy and South Carolina State they hardly faced a challenge, and Troy did put up 24. The Georgia Tech game was an impressive showing, though, as they held the quirky option offense that had been playing well heading into the game to just 124 yards of total offense. That defensive department should be a bit of a wakeup call - a mojo restorer - for this Tigers team. We'll have to see if it actually winds up that way.
There is more than one offense to discuss here, too. Watson and the Clemson offense has really struggled - at least compared to the very high standard they set last year. Watson's completion percentage and yards per attempt have fallen off a cliff compared to last year, and the team has often looked like they are trying to score while running in a swamp. They have a whole lot of talent but have not yet managed to capitalize on it fully. In Louisville they are facing the team that ranks sixth in defensive efficiency. Now, you could argue that you could question Clemson's higher ranking because they haven't played anyone. You can't say the same for Louisville. It would be impressive enough if the Cardinals had just limited Florida State to 20 points, but the final 10 of those points came in the last 5:19 of the game when Louisville had opened up a 53-point lead and were playing their ninth stringers. Watson should find his mojo at some point this year, but it won't be easy for him to do here.
Louisville at Clemson Odds and Betting Trends
This line has been on a wild ride so far. It opened with Clemson favored by as much as 3.5 points. Now, though, you don't have to work very hard to find Louisville favored by as much as a full point. It's not often you see a line blow through the key number of three like this - especially when the opening favorite was the No. 1 team in the country heading into the season and they are at home. About two-thirds of bets have come in on Louisville, so the line movement, while striking, isn't completely out of line.
Louisville is 5-0-1 ATS in their last six games and 28-11-1 ATS In their last 40 road games. They are just 1-5 ATS in their last six in October, though, so they likely don't welcome the change of the calendar. Clemson is 4-1 ATS in their last five home games and has the same mark against teams with winning records.
Louisville at Clemson Predictions and Picks
You gotta ride the hot hand. I have watched most of two Clemson games this year and have been impressed by some things, but I have mostly waited for that Clemson team we saw last year to return - especially on offense. I have watched just as many Louisville games and have mostly just laughed and pressed rewind on my DVR to watch plays again. I don't know if the Jackson phenomenon is sustainable, but I also don't care. It is what it is for now, and if it shows up here it will be enough to pull off a very unlikely win - and all but clinch the ACC title in Week 5.
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