While it was arguably the best game of the college football season to date, the first Clemson-Notre Dame duel in early November was missing something. What it missed was Trevor Lawrence.
The Tigers were ranked No. 1 at the time and took a rare fall without their star quarterback. Lawrence, the favorite to be the top pick in next year’s NFL draft and the future face of the New York Jets, was sidelined by COVID-19 when the Fighting Irish rallied to win 47-40 in double overtime. How might that game have been different?
Movie sequels seldom top the originals — see “Blues Brothers 2000,” “Caddyshack II” and “The Hangover Part II” for flops — and the Clemson-Notre Dame rematch Saturday for the ACC championship might not live up to the hype and turn into another classic. But the plot gets a new twist with the return of Lawrence, who figures to be the star of the show.
“Trevor Lawrence makes a big difference,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “This is the kind of game where he’s licking his chops to get a shot at Notre Dame.”
Clemson closed as a 5.5-point road favorite for the Nov. 7 game. Last week DraftKings opened the Tigers -7.5 for the rematch in Charlotte, N.C., but the betting market moved over the weekend, and the new price is -10.5 across the board.
“A little more than a touchdown seemed like the right number,” Avello said. “I think the move on that is because everybody is expecting Clemson not to lose to this team again. But it’s not like Notre Dame is a pushover.”
With the Irish and Tigers positioned to claim spots in the four-team playoff, oddsmakers inflated the line based on the popular expectation that Clemson (9-1) will win the rematch with Lawrence leading the way. Notre Dame (10-0) should be a playoff team even with a loss, although a bad showing in a four-touchdown blowout could change things.
The Tigers were beat up with defensive injuries in the first meeting and are closer to full strength now. Lawrence returned to start the last two games and completed 64.4% of his passes for 598 yards and three touchdowns as Clemson outscored Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech by a combined 97-27.
Stepping in for Lawrence, freshman D.J. Uiagalelei passed for 439 yards and two touchdowns against the Irish. Uiagalelei was not the reason the Tigers came up short. Clemson’s defense allowed 518 yards, and star running back Travis Etienne was limited to a season-low 28 yards on 18 carries.
Senior quarterback Ian Book capped Notre Dame’s dramatic 91-yard drive with a tying 4-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left in regulation. Book triggered the Irish attack by accounting for 377 total yards (310 passing, 67 rushing), and freshman Kyren Williams carried 23 times for 140 yards and three touchdowns, including a 65-yard run in the first minute. The Irish are better and more physical than the Tigers on the offensive and defensive lines.
Book has been outstanding in the second half of the season, and the Irish avoided potential flat spots on the road after the Clemson upset with double-digit wins at Boston College and North Carolina. Professional bettor Paul Stone said he expects the underdog to put up a good fight in Part II. Stone bet Notre Dame at + 11 on Sunday at Circa Sports.
“I made the rematch Clemson -10, so I certainly don’t have any qualms with the opening number,” said Stone, a VSiN college football analyst. “Clemson obviously played without Lawrence and several key defensive starters in the earlier loss at Notre Dame. But I believe this Irish team has the chance to keep this within a touchdown. Clemson’s defense isn’t as dominant as in recent years, and the offensive line also has some chinks in its armor. I’ll take a shot on Ian Book and the Irish to hang around and give the Tigers their money’s worth.”
The ACC made a smart business decision by opting to give Clemson and Notre Dame byes last week and advancing both to the league title game. Alabama and Ohio State are penciled in as the other two teams in the playoff.
Only one team in the SEC title game has national championship hopes and a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, and that team is no longer Florida. The Gators were victims of a stunning upset Saturday, when 23-point underdog LSU pulled off a 37-34 win with a third-string freshman quarterback making his first start.
“I don’t know how Florida could lose to LSU in that spot,” Avello said. “Florida looking ahead is probably what happened.”
Alabama opened as a 12-point favorite over Florida last week, but the line has ballooned to 17 after the Gators’ recent poor performance. Is the line inflation an overreaction? It’s tough for any bettors to fade a Crimson Tide team that’s 8-2 ATS and has covered seven straight games with ease.
Nick Saban’s defense has allowed a total of 36 points in the last five games. Mac Jones, who has completed 76.4% of his passes with 27 touchdowns and three interceptions, enters the week as the Heisman favorite. Alabama whipped LSU 55-17 on Dec. 5 and just wiped out Arkansas 52-3.
Florida’s Kyle Trask, who passed for 474 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted twice against LSU, is the type of quarterback who makes a double-digit underdog attractive. Still, he will be facing a dominant defense and must trade shots with Jones and the nation’s most explosive offense. It’s a tall task for Trask, and it’s a guessing game to predict Florida’s emotional state after a crushing loss.
Saban is a cash machine, so most bettors will probably pay the increased tax to back Alabama.
The price is also high to play Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, with the Buckeyes opening as 20.5-point favorites over Northwestern. The Wildcats have the league’s best defense, and the Buckeyes have played only two games in the last six weeks, so this matchup could be much more competitive than expected.
Dog bettors should wait this one out because the line is likely to hit 21.5 by Saturday.
“People really do love to bet on Ohio State,” Avello said. “For the most part, people just like to bet favorites.”
I prefer underdogs and will be looking at Northwestern and Notre Dame.