The Clemson Tigers are ranked 21st in the country at 5-2 overall, but their offense has struggled since losing quarterback Deshaun Watson and that could help keep Syracuse close.
There could be a closer game than the better than two-touchdown line indicates Saturday night with the ranked favorite missing its quarterback when the Syracuse Orange (3-4, 3-4 ATS) pay a visit to those 21st ranked Clemson Tigers (5-2, 4-3 ATS) at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC at 7:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPNU.
The posted line at Pinnacle Sports for this contest is Syracuse +14½ at current odds of -108.
Lost to Great Competition
Clemson remains ranked with two losses because both defeats came vs. stiff competition on the road, first vs. Georgia in the Georgia Dome on opening week and then especially while losing in overtime at Florida State. Unlike the Clemson teams of recent years however, it is the defense that is currently carrying this club as the offense has taken a step back since losing quarterback Deshaun Watson for about a month to a hand injury.
Syracuse was a losing college football pick for four straight weeks before a handy road win 30-7 at Wake Forest last week, but its losses also came mostly vs. tough competition and the Orange have hung tough in most of their games other then one bad 28-6 home loss to Louisville. Yes the Orange are also without quarterback Terrel Hunt, who is out for the season to a leg injury, but unlike Clemson, run-oriented Syracuse has been seemingly unaffected by changing quarterbacks.
Struggling without Watson
Clemson was playing as well as any team in the country with Watson under center as following the overtime loss at Tallahassee that may have deflated a lot of teams, the Tigers scored a combined 91 points while routing North Carolina and NC State. However, Watson was injured early vs. Louisville two weeks ago and the offense has basically come to a stand-still since then with Cole Stoudt under center.
Clemson did win that game vs. the Cardinals 23-17, but it did so without scoring an offensive touchdown as the Tigers’ two touchdowns came on a punt return and a defensive fumble recovery in the end zone. Furthermore, that win was not assured until the Tigers batted away a fourth down pass after the Cardinals had driven all the way to the one-yard line late in the contest.
And that was followed by another nondescript offensive performance last Saturday in a narrow 17-13 win at Boston College, where a missed extra point by the Eagles prevented BC from having a chance at a late tying field goal and again the Tigers withstood a late fourth down incompletion, this time from the 26-yard-line.
That defense has come on strong, allowing just 253.7 total yards per game overall in the last six contests since allowing 201 yards in the fourth quarter alone of the opening 45-21 loss to Georgia, and that will probably have to continue to be the case while the offense sputters until Watson returns in a few weeks.
Hunt Out for Syracuse Too
As for the Orange, Hunt was lost in that aforementioned 28-6 loss to Louisville on October 3rd, and Syracuse has been shuffling in two young quarterbacks in their two games since then in A.J. Long and Austin Wilson, but apparently that has been working for them as they covered the spread in a 38-20 loss to then number one Florida State and then blew out Wake Forest in those two contests.
Granted Hunt was also the leading rusher for the Orange when he went down, but they may have found their genuine tailback last week with Devante McFarlane rushing for 114 yards on 10 carries, and remember that Prince-Tyson Gulley (418 yards) and Adonis Ameen-Moore (276 yards) also lend good support.
Also, the Syracuse defense has done a good job considering the Orange have faced a schedule ranked 24th in SOS according to the Sagarin Ratings, allowing just 357.4 total yards per game and ranking 32nd in the country in rushing defense at 126.9 yards per game on a scant 3.2 yards per carry.
Not Intimidated on Road
Finally, while this is the first trip ever for Syracuse to Death Valley, the Orange are a perfect 2-0 on the road this season with both wins being routs as they blew away Central Michigan 40-3 in addition to the Wake Forest romp, and they are 4-1 ATS in their last five true road games going back to last season in addition to their Texas Bowl win over Minnesota last December, so they do not figure to be intimidated.
Naturally, asking the Orange to win outright in this environment is a tall order nonetheless, but we see no reason why they cannot hang within two touchdowns vs. an offense that is not in peak form at Clemson on Saturday.
College Football Pick: Syracuse +14½ (-108)