One of the main reasons Saturdays are such an adrenaline rush for college football bettors is the high volume of games on the board. Hunting through fifty or so games early in the week in search of beatable edges is a grind, but the payoff on game day can't be touched. Also, the process has a progressive reward as you get more comfortable with all 131 FBS teams the deeper you get into the season. After sweating out games for two months, it's only natural that love-hate relationships start to form. Of course, objectivity is a must, but every bettor has a short list of teams he or she trusts. Like any relationship, it's not because you always win together. Instead, the trust is built on familiarity and consistency.
The Clemson Tigers have been one of those teams for me this season. They are most likely overrated and certainly don't deserve to be mentioned with the top four teams in the country. But I understand their shortcomings and have a good idea of when I can count on them to come through. This week is one of those times. Clemson travels to South Bend as a 3.5-point favorite to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Clemson -3.5 at Notre Dame
If you watched both these teams play Syracuse over the last two weeks, you are probably wondering why Notre Dame is the underdog. The Irish are coming off a dominating 41-24 win over the Orange, where they rushed for over 200 yards. They deserve credit for handling an overachieving Syracuse team, but this is a significant step up in competition. Notre Dame is going to need similar success on the ground if they are going to stay competitive with Clemson. And due to the lack of a vertical threat in their offense, the Tigers will be able to stack the box and force Drew Pyne to beat them.
The Notre Dame quarterback is coming off a 9-of-19 performance and has completed less than 50% of his passes over the last three games. I don't see Notre Dame being able to bully Clemson in the trenches. The teams that have successfully run against Clemson could keep the defense honest by taking shots over the top. Pyne doesn't have the weapons or the ability to put the Tigers' defense in conflict.
D.J. Uiagalelei is coming off his worst performance of the year, and Clemson still has a significant advantage at quarterback. That's the issue with backing Notre Dame. The two teams are built similarly, but Clemson is just a little better everywhere. The Notre Dame defense ranks 95th in EPA/play allowed on rushing plays. That's not a great sign in a game where both teams will be looking to impose their will. Keep in mind, Clemson moved up and down the field against Syracuse, but four turnovers kept the Orange in the game. Against the Syracuse defense, The Tigers' offense registered five more first downs than Notre Dame (27-22) and finished with a much higher net-yardage differential (+73).
I see this game playing out similarly to when Clemson took on N.C. State. Clemson put up 30 on a very physical defense, and the Wolfpack didn't have the explosive element required to expose Clemson's defensive weaknesses. Notre Dame's limitations on offense will show up in the red zone, where it ranks 60th in scoring percentage while Clemson converts at the fifth-best rate in the country (97%). Answering touchdowns with field goals isn't going to cover his number. Take the Tigers as a small favorite.
Stats provided by CFB graphs, cfbstats, and teamrankings.com.