ACC Championship Preview
December 1, 2017
By Brian Edwards
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Miami was expected to give the ACC a jolt when it joined the league in 2004, but the program that won five national titles from 1983-2001 will be making its first appearance at the ACC Championship Game on Saturday night. The Hurricanes will take on Clemson in Charlotte at Bank America Stadium on ABC at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
As of early Friday night, most books had Clemson (11-1 straight up, 7-4-1 against the spread) listed as a 9.5-point favorite with a total of 46. Miami was available on the money line for a +310 payout (risk $100 to win $310). The Tigers were six-point favorites for first-half wagers with the total at 23.
Clemson took over the top spot in the College Football Playoff’s rankings this week thanks to Alabama’s loss at Auburn. The defending national champions will secure a spot in the CFP for a third straight season with a win over UM.
Clemson took its only defeat at Syracuse on a short week (Friday) when starting QB Kelly Bryant was limping around on a bad ankle before getting knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter. Without their offensive leader, the Tigers lost a 27-24 decision at the Carrier Dome.
Since then, however, Bryant has remained healthy and Dabo Swinney’s squad has ripped off five consecutive wins. Four of those victories have come by double-digit margins, including last week’s 34-10 win at South Carolina as a 12.5-point road favorite.
Clemson took the cash in a third straight game against the Gamecocks, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to make the final score look more respectable. Make no mistake, though, this was an assbeating from start to finish. The Tigers enjoyed a 469-207 advantage in total offense and shut USC out in the first three quarters.
Bryant completed 23-of-34 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. True freshman WR Tee Higgins had three catches for 84 yards, while Hunter Renfrow had four receptions for 75 yards and two TDs.
Bryant has done an excellent job of filling the enormous shoes left behind by Houston Texans star QB Deshaun Watson, who turned the fortunes of the Clemson program in his three seasons and was the catalyst for the school winning its first national title since 1981. The junior signal caller has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,426 yards with a 12/6 TD-INT ratio. Bryant has also produced 639 rushing yards and 10 TDs.
Deon Cain has been his favorite target, hauling in 49 receptions for 620 yards and five TDs. Renfrow has 50 catches for 526 yards and three TDs, while Ray-Ray McCloud has 40 grabs for 402 yards and one TD.
True freshman RB Travis Etienne, who was limited at practice due to a leg injury early in the week but has been upgraded to ‘probable,’ has rushed for a team-high 720 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 7.4 yards per carry. True sophomore Tavien Feaster has run for 637 yards and six TDs, averaging 6.4 YPC.
Clemson is ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, ninth at defending the pass, 14th in rush defense and fourth in scoring ‘D’ (13.6 PPG). This unit has held nine of its 12 foes to 17 points or fewer.
Senior LB Dorian O’Daniel has recorded 80 tackles, five sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, five passes broken up, three QB hurries and a pair of pick-sixes covering 66 yards. Sophomore DE Clelin Ferrell has enjoyed a spectacular campaign, contributing 58 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 7.5 TFL’s, two forced fumbles, seven QB hurries and one PBU.
Miami (10-1 SU, 5-6 ATS) won its first 10 games, only to see its unblemished record stained by a 24-14 loss at Pittsburgh in last week’s regular-season finale. The Hurricanes failed to cover the number as 12-point road ‘chalk.’ They’re now mired in a 2-5 ATS slump.
I’ve been calling Miami a fraud in terms of being a legit national-title contender all season long. UM only broke into the Top 10 of my Power Rankings (at No. 8) after defeating Va. Tech and Notre Dame by lopsided margins in early November. Nevertheless, with a win in this spot, they’ll almost certainly earn a spot in the CFP.
That won’t be easy, though, especially after losing a pair of key offensive players to injuries last week. TE Christopher Herndon and WR Ahmmon Richards are both ‘out’ for the season with knee injuries sustained at Pitt. Herndon had made 40 catches for 477 yards and four TDs, while Richards had 24 receptions for 439 yards and three TDs.
Mark Richt’s team has already been without star RB Mark Walton since he went down with a season-ending injury in October. Walton had run for 428 yards and three TDs with a 7.6 YPC average in the first four games.
In Walton’s absence, true sophomore Travis Homer has emerged as UM’s featured RB. He has produced 866 rushing yards and seven TD while averaging 6.3 YPC.
Junior QB Malik Rosier has connected on just 55.2 percent of his passes for 2,798 yards with a 25/9 TD-INT ratio. He can also make plays with his legs, evidenced by his 408 rushing yards and five TDs. Braxton Berrios has a team-best 44 receptions for 574 yards and nine TDs.
Clemson has been a single-digit ‘chalk’ three times this year, producing a 3-0 record both SU and ATS with those victories coming by margins of eight, 26 and 14. Meanwhile, Miami won outright in its only game as an underdog when it smashed the Fighting Irish by a 41-8 count as a 3.5-point ‘dog.
The ‘under’ is 7-4-1 overall for Clemson, going 6-2-1 in its last nine outings. The Tigers have watched their games average combined scores of 48.8 PPG.
The ‘under’ has been a steady money maker in UM games all year, hitting at a 9-2 overall clip. The ‘Canes have seen their games average combined scores of 50.2 PPG. This is the second-lowest total UM has had all year, with its 24-20 win at FSU slithering ‘under’ the 45.5-point total.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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