Clemson Will Cover Battle Of Tigers At Auburn

Matthew Jordan

Monday, August 29, 2016 8:58 PM UTC

Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 8:58 PM UTC

The first full weekend of the 2016 NCAA football season is the best in terms of matchups this entire decade. And one of those marquee showdowns has No. 2 Clemson at -7 on odds. Join us for our NCAAF pick.

Watson Begins Heisman Campaign
The last time we saw Clemson take the field, it was No. 1 in the country and the only unbeaten team but a betting underdog against No. 2 Alabama in the national championship game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., back in January. Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson was unbelievable in the game, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 73 yards against one of the country's top defenses. Normally if you put up 40 points on Alabama, you are going to win. But the Tide had 45 points behind big games from QB Jake Coker (335 yards, two TDs), Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry (158 yards, three TDs) and tight end O.J. Howard (208 yards receiving two TDs).

At least if Clemson gets back to this year's national title game and has to face Alabama again, a very definite possibility, the Tigers won't have to worry about Coker and Henry as they are in the NFL. The Tide are the preseason No. 1 in both polls and the +600 favorites to repeat  on college football odds. Clemson is No. 2 in both polls and a +700 second-favorite to win it all.

Watson is the +450 Heisman favorite after throwing for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, one of the best seasons by a quarterback ever.  But he was only third in the 2015 Heisman voting behind Henry and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. This will be Watson's final NCAA opener because he already has said he's going into the 2017 NFL Draft and he could easily be the top overall pick with another big  year.

The Clemson offense should be dynamic with eight starters back. Leading rusher Wayne Gallman (283 carries, 1,527 yards, 13 TDs) returns. So does leading receiver Artavis Scott (93 catches, 901 yards, six TDs). It's almost not fair that Clemson also brings back last year's projected No. 1 receiver, Mike Williams. He was hurt in the 2015 season opener and done for the year. He had 57 catches for 1,030 yards and six TDs in 2014.

The offense may have to carry the load early as only four defensive starters are back. And the Tigers won't have one of their key pieces on that side of the ball, sophomore defensive end Austin Bryant, due to a broken bone in his foot. He might be back by Sept. 22. Bryant was to start this year after playing in 13 games in 2015 and had 35 tackles.

Clemson was 8-7 ATS on college football odds last season  and 9-6 O/U.


Make-Or-Break Season For Malzahn
If Auburn gets crushed in this game at home, the seat of embattled head coach Gus Malzahn will only get hotter. The administration at Auburn has little patience for mediocrity, especially in the giant shadow of powerhouse Alabama. The Tigers won the 2010 national title under Coach Gene Chizik (with Malzahn as offensive coordinator), but Chizik was gone just two seasons later after Auburn slipped to 3-9 in 2012. Malzahn took over in 2013 after a quick stint at Arkansas State and nearly led the Tigers to an upset of Florida State in the final BCS Championship Game. But Auburn slipped to 8-5 the next year and then 7-6 in 2015. Malzahn is supposed to be an offensive guru, but Auburn was only 94th in total offense last year.

As of this writing, we still don't know who Auburn's starting quarterback for this game will be. Both Jeremy Johnson and Sean White started last season and both largely struggled. They are battling transfer John Franklin III. There's really no reason for Malzahn to alert Clemson to which guy he's planning on playing. In the past 10 years, the only other time Auburn didn't have an official starting quarterback named this late in the calendar year was in 2008 when Tommy Tuberville waited until the season opener to trot out Kodi Burns at QB. That team went 5-7 and it was Tuberville's last at Auburn.

I believe it will be Franklin, a dual-threat who originally signed with Florida State in 2013 but redshirted as a freshman and barely played as a sophomore. Ironically, FSU coaches used Franklin to simulate Auburn QB Nick Marshall in practices for the 2014 BCS National Championship Game. Franklin spent last season at East Mississippi Community College.

The likely focal point of this year's offense was to be running back Jovon Robinson, but he was dismissed from the program in early August. Robinson, who missed five games due to an ankle injury, rushed for 639 yards rushing and three touchdowns last year as the No. 2 tailback.

Auburn was 4-9 ATS last season on college football picks and 3-8-2 O/U.


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Series History
Auburn leads the other Tigers 34-13-2 all time. But Clemson has won the past two. The teams last met in the 2012 season opener at Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Clemson was ranked No. 14 then and Auburn unranked and Clemson won 26-19 behind 25 carries and 228 yards from Andre Ellington and 13 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown from receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Ellington is a backup running back with the Arizona Cardinals currently, while Hopkins is one of the NFL's best receivers with the Houston Texans. Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier was 11-for-27 that night for 194 yards, a TD and a pick. Tre Mason rushed 14 times for 106 yards. These teams last played in Auburn in 2010 and Auburn won 27-24.


Final Analysis
Give the points, go 'over.' Clemson is 6-1 ATS in its past seven September games. Auburn is 1-10 ATS in its past 11 at home. The 'over' is 4-0 in Clemson's past four on the road.  


NCAAF Free Picks: Over 62 -110
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

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