College Football Picks: Clemson Tigers to Win ACC, but Can They Reach the NCAA Football Playoffs?

Matthew Jordan

Friday, June 5, 2015 7:08 PM GMT

Florida State has largely run roughshod over the ACC for three straight years, but things could change this season with the loss of Jameis Winston. The team poised to take most advantage of that? Clemson. Here the Tigers' 2015 odds from 5Dimes.

Watson Is Star-In-Making
The ACC has made some talk of possibly realigning when the NCAA allows leagues to decide themselves how teams can qualify for a conference championship game. Currently conferences must have at least 12 teams and two divisions but that's expected to change in 2016. Clemson would love to get out of the Atlantic with the powerhouse Seminoles, who have won it three years running and have handled the Tigers in the regular season in each of them. Clemson basically knows if it loses to FSU, reaching the ACC title game has been impossible because then the Noles would have to lose at least twice more in conference and they just don't do that. Maybe in 2015 with some key losses, led by  Winston, although Florida State will welcome Notre Dame transfer quarterback Everett Golson. He was heavily recruited out of Myrtle Beach, S.C., by Clemson and may have transferred there instead of FSU if the Tigers didn't have such a good young quarterback.

The guy I'm talking about is Deshaun Watson. ESPN asked if he might be the most intriguing player in college football this season and he might just be. Watson is +1800 on the Heisman odds, and I believe he's great value as long as he is fully healthy. Watson didn't begin last season as a starter in his true freshman year but he took over quickly, coming in the Tigers' third game against Florida State.

He nearly led an upset of the Seminoles, with FSU prevailing in overtime (with Winston suspended). The next game, Watson showed his star power by throwing for 435 yards and six touchdowns in a win over North Carolina. Then he played well again in a win over NC State before breaking right hand in a win vs. Louisville on Oct. 11. Watson missed three games, then returned briefly against Georgia Tech before spraining his knee. He would later tear his ACL in practice but play in the regular-season finale as Clemson finally beat rival South Carolina. Watson, who completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,466 yards, 14 TDs and only two picks, missed the bowl game to have surgery and he sat out all spring. He should be good to go in fall camp and will be preseason ACC Player of the Year candidate.

Watson is one of seven returning starters on offense but that unit lost excellent coordinator Chad Morris, the new head coach at SMU. The defense was one of the nation's best last year but lost eight starters, led by pass-rushing stud Vic Beasley, the conference's 2014 Defensive Player of the Year.

 

Clemson 2015 Schedule Analysis
The Tigers open their season Sept. 5 at home against Wofford and that obviously will be a slaughter. No opening line against the FCS team. Clemson's next game is another easy win, at home to Appalachian State, a former FCS powerhouse now in the Sun Belt.

Things finally get going on Sept. 17 at Louisville in the ACC opener and the Cardinals could challenge for the ACC Atlantic title as well. Clemson beat the visiting Cardinals 23-17 last season. Then comes a three-game homestand: Oct. 3 vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 10 vs. Georgia Tech (defending Coastal Division champion) and vs. Boston College. The Yellow Jackets stomped Clemson last year in Atlanta 28-6.

Clemson's only back-to-back road games are Oct. 24 at Miami and Oct. 31 at NC State. The Hurricanes could be a problem, but Clemson routed the Wolfpack  41-0 last year.

Certainly the one everyone in the Atlantic has circled is Nov. 7 at home against Florida State. Last time the Tigers hosted the Noles it was a Top-5 matchup in 2013 and a 51-14 FSU rout that got Winston started on his Heisman campaign. Clemson is actually 7-2 ATS  in the past nine at home vs. FSU.

Clemson closes at Syracuse and home to Wake Forest and should win those before the annual regular-season finale at the Gamecocks, this year in Columbia. The Tigers ended a five-game skid vs. USC last year but have lost three straight (four straight ATS) at South Carolina.

On 5Dimes college football odds, Clemson is +3300 to win the national title, +290 second-favorite to win the ACC and with an 'over/under' wins total of 8. The 'over' is a -180 favorite.

 

NCAAF Free Picks: The offense might have to carry the defense early on, but I'm a big Clemson guy this year because of Watson. The Tigers win the ACC and go 'over' eight wins. I'm not ready to proclaim they reach the College Football Playoff (no odds yet) until I see Watson on the field.