The best freshman in America might be the best player in the Atlantic Coast Conference. If he leads Clemson to a road win today, he should start to get mentioned with the top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Yes, he’s that good.
It’s wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who lifted Clemson, a 2½-point favorite, to a 35-30 win over Florida State last week. Watkins has 29 receptions for 433 yards and six touchdowns.
Thanks to the emergence of Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Tigers are 4-0 and have hooked up their betting backers in three of those games. Boyd has been outstanding, throwing 13 touchdown passes compared with two interceptions.
Clemson is a 7-point underdog in its first road game, at Virginia Tech. The Tigers have thrived in the road ‘dog role during coach Dabo Swinney’s four-year tenure, compiling a 4-1 spread record.
The Hokies are also 4-0, but they beat suspect opponents Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall. Virginia Tech has failed to cover the number in three straight games.
Coach Frank Beamer’s team lost a lot of key players from 2010, including quarterback Tyrod Taylor. His replacement, Logan Thomas, has thrown as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns. Plus, he’s dealing with a sore shoulder.
I love Clemson catching the points, and I’ll also call for the outright victory. On that note, I’m suggesting a small money-line wager on the Tigers, who are plus-220 at most spots.
Here are four more plays for today (home team in CAPS):
■ Alabama-FLORIDA (Over 44) — I’ve been saying for months that Alabama has the country’s nastiest defense, but that can work both ways in terms of the total. In other words, the Tide defense can score touchdowns and create turnovers to set up the offense with a short field.
Both teams, especially Florida, are also capable of scoring on special teams. The Gators’ Chris Rainey has five career blocked punts, and Jeff Demps is a home-run threat in the return game.
■ Arkansas (+2½) over Texas A&M — Bettors should not think of this game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as a road game for the Razorbacks, whose biggest out-of-state alumni base is in Dallas. There was no shame in Arkansas losing at Alabama, which remains No. 1 in my power rankings. I made the Razorbacks 4-point favorites and think they will beat the Aggies for the third straight season.
■ WISCONSIN (-9½) over Nebraska — Wisconsin is poised to provide Nebraska with a rude welcome to the Big Ten at Camp Randall Stadium. Obviously, the Badgers have not played anyone of substance yet, but at least they have destroyed those inferior foes early and often.
The Badgers are averaging 48.5 points and allowing 8.5. The Cornhuskers are too one-dimensional offensively, and without an aerial attack, they won’t be able to keep up with Russell Wilson and the Wisconsin offense.
■ FRESNO STATE (-3½) over Mississippi — Rebels coach Houston Nutt’s program is immersed in turmoil and he’s almost certainly on his way out soon. Ole Miss was outgained 475-183 by Georgia in last week’s home loss. Fresno State’s Derek Carr has a 9-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and Robbie Rouse is one of the Western Athletic Conference’s premier running backs.
Last week: 4-2 against the spread
Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.