- With Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence splitting time at quarterback for Clemson, the Tigers defense will be called upon to wreak havoc on the road against Texas A&M.
Clemson at Texas A&M (+12.5)
Sat. 9/8, 7:00 p.m. ET
Three things you need to know before betting on Clemson-Texas A&M:
1. If you believe Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, he had "no idea" that his old nemesis Clemson would be the second team he faced when he accepted his new job with the Aggies. That said, he seems to be looking forward to the reunion.
"I think it's an opportunity for your kids to find out what it's like," Fisher told the media. "They've got great players. We all know that. We're going to find out if we can compete and stay focused in the game."
No. 2 Clemson will indeed pose an enormous challenge for A&M, and Fisher will face pressure in front of an expectant home crowd to hang with the Tigers. After all, it's a team that he's quite familiar with. He faced Clemson eight times in his eight seasons as head coach at Florida State, going 4-4 straight up and 3-5 against the spread in that time. The Noles lost each of the last three seasons to Tigers teams that ultimately reached the College Football Playoff. Fisher's teams covered the spread in 2015 and '16, but last year's disappointing FSU squad lost 31-14 as 16-point underdogs on the road. Fisher knows how tough this Clemson team is to go against, and he'll have his team prepared accordingly, but that doesn't mean it'll be able to keep it close.
2. With Clemson bringing back 15 starters from last season, there are not many question marks for the Tigers. But a large one remains: Who's going to be the main guy at quarterback? Dabo Swinney's ongoing QB competition—framed as more of a collaboration—mirrors Nick Saban's conundrum in Tuscaloosa. There's senior Kelly Bryant, who led Clemson to the playoffs last year. Bryant can run but has a low ceiling as a passer. Then there's freshman Trevor Lawrence, who's got a stronger arm but is short on experience.
Those expecting a clear resolution in Week 1 were left disappointed. The duo split time in a 48-7 home win over Furman. Their performances were remarkably similar, with Bryant completing 10 passes for 127 yards and Lawrence completing nine for 137. Each put his strengths on full display. Bryant ripped off a 35-yard touchdown run and Lawrence threw three touchdown passes.
While Swinney says each guy will see time against A&M, he ought to be deliberate in how he staggers their snaps. Bryant played the first quarter against Furman, Lawrence played the second, and then each got two drives to start the second half before ceding to the third-stringer. That's all well and good in a tune-up against an FCS team, but a road game against an SEC defense is a big step up. (Especially against an A&M unit that returns eight starters and is coached by esteemed coordinator Mike Elko.) Swinney needs to make sure at least one of his signal-callers is given ample time to find a rhythm.
3. If you haven't taken the time to memorize the four names that comprise Clemson's starting defensive line, do so now. Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant were each voted to the All-ACC preseason team this year, and each has a strong chance of being a first-round NFL draft selection. They all looked good against Furman, especially Lawrence who played through injuries last season. Simply put, this is the most feared position group in college football—and it's not even close.
That's what quarterback Kellen Mond will be up against on Saturday when he takes the field for the Aggies. After seeing a good amount of action as a freshman in Kevin Sumlin's spread offense last season, Mond won the starting job over the summer and now directs a pro-style scheme under Fisher. Mond can run, and did so freely last year. But maintaining a strong presence in the pocket appeared to be a point of emphasis for him in a 59-7 season-opening win over Northwestern State. For the most part, Mond looked comfortable in the pocket, although the fact that he took two sacks against low-level competition is not a good sign as he prepares to line up under center across from Wilkins and Lawrence. It's a tall order for a sophomore making his second start in a new offense.
Pick: Clemson -12.5
Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)