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  • As an enormous favorite in Charlotte on Saturday night, Clemson needs to slow down Pittsburgh's potent rushing attack if it hopes to cover.
By Sam Chase
November 28, 2018

Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Clemson Tigers (-27.5)

Sat. 12/1, 8:00 p.m. ET in Charlotte, NC

Three things to know before betting on Pittsburgh-Clemson:

1. As the game's enormous spread suggests, the ACC Championship Game between Clemson and Pittsburgh represents the biggest mismatch of any conference championship game this year. Each team benefitted from a weak ACC this season, but Pittsburgh sticks out as a team that probably should not be playing for a major conference title. Clemson, on the other hand, is a national title contender and is playing in the ACC title game for the fourth straight year. Clemson has won the conference championship each of the past three seasons, covering twice, including in a 38-3 spanking of Miami last year as a 12-point favorite.

While the gigantic line may give bettors pause, a number of historical trends suggest that the Tigers are still a strong play:

- Over the last 10 seasons, favorites of 21.5 to 31 points that are averaging at least 4.75 yards per carry and have held opponents to 125 rushing yards or fewer in three consecutive games are 40-14 against the spread.

- Over that same span, favorites of 21.5 to 31 points that are outscoring opponents by at least 7.0 PPG on the season and have won two consecutive games by at least 21 points are 73-34 ATS.

- Also in that same time frame, favorites coming off three straight wins of at least 17 points are 57-23 ATS when playing an opponent that lost its most recent game by at least 17 points.

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2. Clemson is significantly better than Pittsburgh in almost all respects, but how the Panthers' running attack handles Clemson's front seven will be interesting to watch. Pitt's average of 5.8 yards per carry is ninth in the country, and the team has reeled off a number of big plays. Its 29 runs of 20 yards or more ranks 13th in the nation. If the Panthers establish their ground game, they could cover a line that's approaching four touchdowns, but Clemson's defense won't make it easy. Headlined by future NFLers like Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell, the Tigers have absolutely stifled opposing rushers, limiting them to 2.23 yards per carry. That's easily the best number in FBS.

3. Pitt's embarrassing 24-3 loss to Miami last week offered a blueprint on how to slow the Panthers' run game. Against a Miami run defense that is strong, but not as strong as Clemson's, the Panthers ground attack folded entirely. Pittsburgh averaged a meager 1.8 yards per carry, and without a running game to rely on, Pitt lost by three touchdowns to a Miami team that features an infamously impotent offense.

Clemson, on the other hand, fields one of the best offenses in college football. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is 17th in the country in passer rating (156.82), running back Travis Etienne is seventh in yards per carry (7.97) and the offense as a whole is fourth in yards per play (7.38). If the offensively challenged Hurricanes were able to beat Pitt by 21 points, a 28-point victory feels well within reach for the Tigers.

Pick: Clemson -27.5

Confidence Level: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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