With Heisman Trophy contender Deshaun Watson and most of the other key pieces returning from its highly ranked offense, Clemson was on virtually everyone’s short list to challenge for the national championship this season.
But coach Dabo Swinney’s team looked far from invincible in its first two games — sputtering to a 19-13 road win over Auburn to begin the season before edging Troy 30-24. The Tigers did seem to hit another gear last week in a convincing 26-7 road victory over Atlantic Coast Conference rival Georgia Tech.
While Clemson’s play could be fairly characterized as uneven, Louisville and quarterback Lamar Jackson have been dynamic all season.
In the third year of Bobby Petrino’s second act as their coach, the Cardinals have scored at least 59 points in each of their first four games, averaging 63.5 points.
Jackson, a sophomore out of Boynton Beach, Florida, has established himself as the Heisman Trophy favorite with his feet (12 rushing touchdowns) and arm (13 passing scores). Jackson, who almost signed with Florida out of high school, has accounted for 1,856 total yards in the Cardinals’ four games (1,330 yards passing, 526 rushing).
Louisville’s 63-20 demolition of Florida State is probably the mostimpressive single-game performance by any team this season. And while the Cardinals clearly own the sexier resume, they are in the unenviable position of being a road favorite at night in Death Valley.
Since the start of the 2006 season, Clemson has thrived as an underdog against top 10 opponents, going 9-3 against the spread in the role.
Look for Watson and Tigers, 2-point underdogs, to bring their “A” game Saturday and knock off Louisville.
Five more plays (home team in CAPS):
Navy (+7) over AIR FORCE — Tago Smith was going to turn some heads as Keenan Reynolds’ replacement at quarterback for the Midshipmen this season, but he was lost for the year in the season opener. Still, Navy has been a regular ticket-casher as an underdog against the other service academies, going 11-2 ATS in the role since 1999.
Texas (+2½) over OKLAHOMA STATE — Despite facing just one Power 5 opponent (Baylor) in its first five games, Oklahoma State ranks No. 110 in defensive yards per play (6.6), which does not bode well against a Longhorns offense under the command of a freshman quarterback (Shane Buechele) growing more comfortable each week with its new, up-tempo style.
TEXAS CHRISTIAN (+3½) over Oklahoma — Both of these teams stumbled badly in September, exposing the Big 12 Conference as somewhat of a fraud. Essentially shut out of any playoff hopes with two losses, the Sooners at least deserve a look as a play-against team the rest of the way, especially when facing teams such as TCU that have the personnel to push back.
Michigan State (-6½) over INDIANA — Richard Lagow threw five interceptions last week in Indiana’s home loss to Wake Forest, so Michigan State’s defense must be salivating at the thought of the forward pass this weekend. The Spartans also should be in a foul mood after last week’s loss to Wisconsin, plus they are 16-6 ATS as road favorites since the start of the 2008 season.
Missouri (+13) over LOUISIANA STATE — Former Mississippi coach Ed Orgeron has been named LSU’s interim head coach, replacing the fired Les Miles, but the Tigers still lack a quarterback and do not possess the same dominant defense as in years past.
Last week: 3-4 against the spread
Paul Stone of VegasSportsAuthority.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow on Twitter: @paulstonesports