(2) Clemson Tigers (-7.5, 63 o/u) at Auburn Tigers
The no. 2 Clemson Tigers (14-1 SU, 8-7 ATS in 2015) have some unfinished business to take care of. After a heartbreaking loss in last year’s national championship game, the Tigers are hoping to finish one spot better this year and, led by Heisman favorite Deshaun Watson, they have as good a chance as any team in the nation.
Their quest for a title heats up right out of the gate as they hit the road against the rebuilding but still dangerous Auburn Tigers (7-6, 3-9-1 ATS) this Saturday (9:00 PM Eastern at Jordan-Hare Stadium).
Clemson set a school record last season with 14 wins. By almost any metric, 2015 was a rousing success for the Tigers. Yet there’s the lingering feeling of “what could have been?” given that the team surrendered a fourth-quarter lead to the Tide in the championship game, ultimately falling 45-40.
Putting up 40 points on Bama’s vaunted defense was a feat in itself, and you can expect more of the same this season with the Tigers returning most of their key offensive starters. Watson (4,104 passing yards, 35 TDs, 13 INTs; 1,105 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs) is the key cog, obviously, but he’s not the only toy that coach Dabo Swinney has to work with.
Joining Watson in the prolific Clemson offense are running back Wayne Gallman (1,527 rushing yards, 13 TDs) and wide receivers Artavis Scott (901 receiving yards, six TDs) and Charone Peake (716 receiving yards, five TDs). All had solid 2015 seasons; all could be even better this year.
What really terrifies about the Clemson attack, however, is that future NFL first-round pick Mike Williams returns for his junior season. The uber-talented receiver missed almost of last season with a neck fracture suffered on the first drive of the year.
The Clemson defense lost some key contributors, including star pass rushers Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, along with corner Mackensie Alexander. But DT Carlos Watkins is an emerging star, and the defense won’t have to do too much on a weekly basis for Clemson to win. The offense is going to be, in a word, unstoppable.
Auburn has some talent on D, though, including potential NFL talents Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams. The defense will likely have to be the strength of the team in 2016 as the offense is starting unproven QB Sean White (1,166 yards, one TD, four picks in 2015) and the team dismissed first-string RB Jovon Robinson due to off-field incidents.
The tough offseason continued for Auburn this week when DE Stephen Roberts was arrested for attempting to elude law enforcement and carrying a pistol without a permit. Roberts, the fifth player on the team to be arrested over the summer, won’t play Saturday.
Auburn is getting a lot of points for a blue-blood program playing at home. But they were a terrible bet last year and are facing a Clemson team that’s apt to run up the score. I’ll take Watson and company to get their title quest off to a flying start.
Pick: Clemson (-7.5).
Photo credit: Public domain.