It’s not a make-or-break weekend for Deshaun Watson. It is something close to that, though. No player could gain more Saturday than Clemson’s quarterback.
Watson can lead the Tigers to the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year. He can leapfrog Louisville’s Lamar Jackson to win the Heisman Trophy. He can continue to make a strong case to be the No. 1 pick in next spring’s NFL Draft.
Or he could lose to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and go broke on the first two of those three goals.
“I think the kid from Louisville is winning it,” Wynn Las Vegas sports book director John Avello said of the Heisman race. “Who’s going to beat him out?”
Watson has a shot. With a big bet down at the blackjack table, he’s hitting on 12 with the dealer showing a face card.
The odds are in Jackson’s favor. He was the dealer most of the season, and his Heisman odds were 1-50 at the Westgate book before Jackson stumbled badly down the stretch. First, the Cardinals were blown out as 17-point favorites at Houston. And then he threw three interceptions and lost a costly fumble late in a loss to Kentucky, a 28-point underdog.
Jackson left the door cracked open for Watson, who needs a fantastic finish. The Tigers are 10-point favorites over the Hokies at Orlando, Florida, where the winner can take an Uber ride to Disney World.
“Watson could be playing for the Heisman this weekend,” The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall said. “That could be a very high-scoring game.”
In other words, look over the total of 58. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will give Watson every opportunity to pad his stat sheet before the votes are cast.
Jackson has better numbers (3,390 passing yards, 1,538 rushing yards and 51 total touchdowns) than Watson (3,626 passing yards, 444 rushing yards and 38 total touchdowns.)
But when they went head to head on Oct. 1, Watson put up slightly better numbers in Clemson’s 42-36 win.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board mandated the books close Heisman betting at the end of November. Allowing wagering on the award for the 2015 and 2016 seasons created a popular option for bettors.
The four-team playoff is a much hotter debate than the Heisman. The only point most everyone agrees on is No. 1 Alabama is getting in, win or lose Saturday as a 24-point favorite over Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game. The Crimson Tide will roll as expected, so forget that.
The debate begins at No. 2, where Ohio State seems safe despite not reaching the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes were lucky to beat Michigan 30-27 in a double-overtime thriller, and now they get to rest for the playoff.
The Penn State-Wisconsin winner could sneak in — the Badgers are 3-point favorites in Indianapolis — if No. 3 Clemson or No. 4 Washington gets upset. The Huskies are 7½-point favorites over Colorado on Friday in the Pac-12 title game in Santa Clara, California.
“If there are no upsets, there will be no changes. If there’s two losses, then it gets really interesting,” Avello said. “I don’t think either Penn State or Wisconsin gets in there. Michigan beat them both. How do you move one of those teams ahead of Michigan, which virtually tied Ohio State on the road? I think Michigan is the team that moves in if there’s an upset.”
The system is as flawed as boxing judging, but a four-team playoff is good for college football because it sparks heated debates and creates special shows for ESPN’s talking heads. An eight-team playoff would be best, but that’s an argument for another day.
Still, this year it looks a lot like Nick Saban and everyone else. The four contenders atop the Big Ten pale by comparison.
CG Technology posted possible playoff lines Thursday, with Alabama favored by 10½ over Washington and Ohio State favored by 3½ over Clemson, which seriously tested the Tide in the national title game in January.
Keep an eye on the Tigers. Watson probably won’t win the Heisman, but he has a final chance to impress, and he has a shot to put another scare into Saban and maybe someday bring hope to the Cleveland Browns.
This is my last shot before the bowl season to get over .500. At 38-40-1 for the season, here are five plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):
Oklahoma State (+11½) over OKLAHOMA; NAVY (-2½) over Temple; San Diego State-WYOMING (Under 62); Virginia Tech-Clemson (Over 58); Penn State (+3) over Wisconsin.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow @mattyoumans247 on Twitter.