Clemson is selected by most publications as a top 3 team entering the 2018 Season and a likely contender for National Champion. Dabo Swinney is entering his 11th year as Clemson Head Coach, so we expect more of the same from this program.
Who will lead the team behind center is not completely known at the present time. Trevor Lawrence is a True Freshman Quarterback that has not been named starter yet, but played well in the Spring and may beat out last year’s starter Kelly Bryant. Bryant was a proficient, but not spectacular passer with over 2800 yards, 13 TDs and only 8 INTS last season, but was most dangerous when running the ball with 665 Yards on the ground and 11 Rushing TDs. At the time of broadcast, Bryant remained the starter, but keep in mind Lawrence broke State Records in Georgia (records previously held by former Clemson QB Deshaun Watson) while amassing a completion percentage of nearly 70 percent and throwing 41 Touchdowns and only one Interception). He is a star in the making and if he does not get the starting job from the beginning of the season, he may still get plenty of snaps as the season progresses.
The team has a lead back with significant upside, and serviceable receivers, that could improve as Lawrence is expected to have a big arm. Lead back Travis Etienne ran for 766 Yards and 13 Touchdowns as a True Freshman in 2017 despite not starting. He should be even better this year with more touches. The projected starting Wide Receivers Hunter Renfrow, Tee Higgins, and Amari Rodgers combined for only five receiving touchdowns last season, but Higgins and Rodgers were less targeted as Freshmen. The Offensive Line returns three starters and should again be reliable.
Where Clemson thrives is on Defense. The Defense allowed only 13.6 PPG last year and held Five teams to single digits, including holding Miami to 3 points in the ACC Championship Game. The Defensive Line is likely the best in College Football, with several linemen heading to the NFL. Although they will have a challenging road game against Florida State, they may likely be undefeated heading back to the Conference Championship Game against likely Miami again.
The concern for us as always will be covering the number. Clemson has become one of the more consistent powerhouse teams in College Football which tends to inflate betting lines, especially at home and against Non-Conference opponents. Last year Clemson was 8-5-1 ATS and the defensive returnees and high ranking in Pre-Season polls makes us think the early lines may be higher than we hope until an adjustment is made near the middle to end of September. Nevertheless, as we will discuss shortly, there are two spots where we will consider backing Clemson in the first month of the season. Prior to discussing those games, let’s first look at the Future Wagers involving Clemson. The Season Win Total is currently at 11 and we think Clemson will exceed that number as it allows for a Conference Championship Game loss and if they were to be upset once during the season, it would be a push. However, with the improvement of Miami and a potential revenge spot in a Conference Championship Game, we do not believe Clemson is fair odds at -300 to win the ACC Championship, as we think a more suitable number is even money.
Nevertheless, Clemson is a legitimate title contender, having made the Championship Game Two of the Last Three Years with a National Title two years ago and losing in the Semi-Final last year to Alabama.
Clemson faces Furman in Week 1. Furman is an FCS School, similar to the former Division 1-AA, so most books will likely not offer a line as the game will be expected to be a very large blowout. However, Week 2 on the Road against Texas A&M is a spot we will look at. A&M features a new coach in Jimbo Fisher who has won two National Championships – One as Offensive Coordinator at LSU and one as Head Coach at Florida State. However, it often takes a few years for a new coach to make a significant impact as they need to institute a new system and recruit players to fit the system. Texas A&M features a sophomore Quarterback who had some success, but in limited snaps last year. They also lost two starting Receivers and a starting Tight End. With the strength of Clemson’s Defense, combined with some offensive inexperience and the growing pains of a new system, Clemson could be a suitable road spot play in Week 2. We will update you as we get closer to the game and see the initial lines.
Week 3 features a home against Georgia Southern who was 2-10 last year in a weak Sunbelt Conference. The line will likely be off the board or way too high to generate a strong opinion.
In Week 4, Clemson will start ACC Play against Georgia Tech on the road. Clemson defeated Georgia Tech at home last year by 14 points, which fell right on the point spread. Clemson won by 19 on the road at Georgia Tech two years ago while covering a 10 point line, but was upset outright in 2014 on the road at Georgia Tech losing by 22 while favored. Nevertheless, Georgia Tech was a better program in 2014 and was ranked at the time. Therefore, we are not too concerned about Clemson’s ability to play this game on the road. We will provide more detailed guidance as we approach Week 4 and look at the published numbers.
Lastly, September closes out with a revenge game against Syracuse. Clemson was defeated on the road last year at Syracuse despite being 23-point favorites. Although we expect the line to be high in this spot, unless extremely overinflated, we will look at Clemson to be a likely play for us in Week 5 barring anything unforeseen.