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Odds and Ends: Could Clemson's Spread-Covering Fortunes Change as Road Underdog?

Clemson heads to No. 23 Pitt as a 3-point underdog looking for a win and its first cover of the 2021 season.

Sometimes, you just need the situation to be completely different to obtain success.

That's at least one way to look at the Clemson Tigers heading into Saturday's 3:30 p.m. showdown with No. 23 Pittsburgh. After all, the perennial ACC power has yet to find a way to cover a spread all season, going 0-6 while putting together a 4-2 overall record. 

But it's not the Tigers' fault that oddsmakers have greatly overvalued Clemson's offense and based lines way too much on past seasons. This has been a weird year, and Dabo Swinney's team has had to scrap and claw for all three of its conference victories. Even the loss went into double overtime. 

So finally, oddsmakers have caught up with the Tigers...or have they? Clemson is no longer laying double-digit spreads. This week, it's actually an underdog on the road, something the Tigers haven't experienced since 2014 when they went to Florida State. 

Pitt is favored by three points at Heinz Field. The Panthers, who are +500 to make the College Football Playoff on FanDuel, have covered the spread in all five of their wins. Kenny Pickett is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and the offense is putting up 48 points. Clemson didn't score that many in its last two games combined. 

There should be no reason to back the Tigers unless you look at the other side of the ball. Clemson's defense has a history of dominating Pickett, who threw four interceptions against the Tigers last year in Memorial Stadium. Sure, personnel is different. The defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, isn't. 

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It might be crazy based on 2021 performances, but Clemson might actually be a value as an underdog. Defense travels and the Tigers don't necessarily need some huge breakout where they score 40 points. Just getting over the 20-point mark could be enough if Clemson can limit the Panthers, who have faced defenses from UMass, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Virginia Tech. None of those teams rank inside the top 45 in defensive success rate. 

Clemson ranks 21st in that category, and the Tigers are healthy at cornerback this week. Mario Goodrich has been one of the better coverage players in the country. Xavier Thomas and Myles Murphy can apply tons of pressure on the quarterback, and Pitt will be one-dimensional in this game. 

Don't overreact too much to Clemson's latest injury. If there's one position on the field it can afford to be lighter at, it's at the unproductive receiver unit. 

There won't be much home-field advantage in this game either as Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was practically begging people to come to this game, which shouldn't happen when you're one of the best teams in the ACC hosting one of the most consistent national powers in college football. 

Betting picks

Spread: Clemson

Total: Under 47.5

Best bet (3-3): We missed big time last week as the Tigers and Syracuse never came close to approaching the over in the point total, but this is a new week and a new opportunity to get back on the winning side. So let's go back to the well that's treated us well, as there should be a feeling-out period in the first 30 minutes of this game with both defenses playing good ball right now: First half under 23.5 points. 

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