NCAA Football Odds, Picks: (3) Clemson Tigers at (14) Louisville Cardinals

Former starting QB Reggie Bonnafon has rushed for 55 yards and a TD this season.

(3) Clemson at (14) Louisville
Time: Saturday, 7 PM (CT), ABC
Spread: CLE -3
Total: 56.5

Odds c/o 5dimes

Clemson has begun its 2017 season 2-0 and is currently ranked No. 3 in AP polls. The Tigers defeated Kent State in Week 1 and knocked off then-No. 13 Auburn 14-6 last week. Now, Clemson faces a challenge it was unable to overcome last season: Lamar Jackson. Though Clemson emerged as victors last year, the game served as Jackson’s coming out party and part of his statement season that promises to make him a top NFL draft pick this spring.

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Jackson and company will host Clemson as 3-point underdogs in Louisville, with an over/under set at 56.5 points according to college football oddsmakers at 5dimes. The game is to air at 7 PM (CT) on ABC.

Last year’s Heisman winner, Jackson was sensational against Clemson last season. He threw 27 of 44 for 295 yards but rushed for another 162 yards on 31 attempts. Jackson finished the game with one passing TD and two rushing TDs as Louisville fell 42-36. Despite the loss, Louisville won its next five games before closing the season with a disappointing three-game skid. The Cardinals are back on track this season though with a 2-0 start, after defeating Purdue and UNC in Weeks 1 & 2. The Cardinals defense has been a little shaky, but Jackson has kept the team winning with his dominance.

The sophomore has 771 passing yards on 64.7 percent completions with five TD passes and no interceptions, while also having rushed for a team-leading 239 yards on 40 carries with three rushing TDs. Jackson has passed or rushed for seven of the team’s nine TDs this season, with former QB Reggie Bonnafon having rushed for the other rushing touchdown on one of his 16 carries and 55 yards this season.

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Outside of Jackson, Wide receiver Jaylen Smith has also been huge with 300 yards on 17 catches and a TD. Freshman WR Dez Fitzpatrick has also delivered. He has caught the second-most passes on the Cardinals team with 173 yards on his eight receptions. He leads the team in TD catches with three, while Seth Dawkins has also pitched in with seven catches for 101 yards. Louisville appears to have all the pieces offensively, but the lingering questions surrounding its defense will be put to the test this week against Clemson.

The Tigers were able to put the clamps defensively on both Kent State (unsurprisingly) and Auburn last week. Clemson held the Auburn Tigers to just 79 passing yards and 38 rushing yards in the game, and it utterly frustrated starting Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who threw just 13 of 24 and rushed for negative-42 yards on his 18 attempts. Clemson QB Kelly Bryant threw 19 of 29 for 181 yards and rushed for 59 yards and a pair of TDs, the only touchdowns scored in the game. Bryant’s top-two receiving targets Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow each caught for 81 and 62 yards, respectively, and the Tigers did average 9.3 yards per reception on its 20 catches. It was not an overwhelming offensive showing, but it was far more impressive than what Auburn could muster against Clemson’s swarming defense.

There were concerns about how well Bryant would be able to manage the offense this year, but Clemsons question marks on offense can be replaced with exclamation marks on defense.

The Tigers have perhaps the best defensive line in college football. Preseason All-American Christian Wilkins had 12.5 tackles for a loss last year, and he will move back to the inside after playing on the end last season. Adding to his dominance will be Dexter Lawrence, a 340-pound 2016 monster who won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year last year. Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are solid on the other side. Clemson’s secondary has plenty of depth, and the Tigers should be able to keep fresh blood on the field. With so much incoming and returning talent, Clemson will win a lot of games just by virtue of shutting down opposing offenses. Defense is not the concern.

Expect Clemson’s defense to make the difference in this game, and though Jackson proved to be such a force last season, Clemson has perhaps the best defensive line to counter a talent like Lamar Jackson. Remember, even though Jackson had a monster game last season it was just not quite enough for Louisville, and it probably will not be this year either. Clemson prevails by a handful of points, as the slight underdog it is. The spread is tricky to bet on and set relatively skillfully by the college football oddsmakers at 5dimes and other betting venues.

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