This Saturday, the Wolfpack of North Carolina State visits Clemson, South Carolina for a Top 25 showdown between the two remaining undefeated teams in the ACC. Many think that this should be a close game and that this is simply too many points for Clemson to cover, but not I. Let’s take a deeper look at this one, shall we?
NC State has cruised to five victories in five games behind the arm of super-senior Ryan Finley. Throwing on 68% of their plays for 335.8 yards per game, the NC State offense is not going to be scared to throw the ball. That might be a problem on Saturday. NC State’s previous opponents are not even close to the level that Clemson is defensively, who ranks third nationally in total defense at 261.2 yards per game. The Wolfpack have gone up against defenses of James Madison (FCS), Georgia State (119th), Boston College (70th), Marshall (66th), and Virginia (25th). These five defenses are not exactly the most intimidating of matchups.
In order to cover the spread, NC State is going to have to run the ball successfully to help maintain time of possession. This will turn out to be their downfall. The Wolfpack have rushed for only 144.8 yards per game this season (96th), while accumulating only 3.85 yards per carry. On the other side of the ball, Clemson allows only 108.3 rushing yards (17th) per game and 2.49 yards per carry. Wolfpack running backs Reggie Gallaspy II and Ricky Person, Jr are going to struggle against this suffocating Tiger defense, putting the offense into obvious long-yardage passing situations. That puts all of the pressure on Finley to succeed in these difficult passing situations, against a Clemson defense that only allows 152.8 passing yards per game (6th).
Clemson’s offense is a well-oiled machine that I expect to have its way against a slightly overrated defense. While NC State’s rush defense is ranked in the top 15 and allows only 107.4 rushing yards per game, they have not been tested like they will be on Saturday. Out of the five opponents that State has played, only one ranks inside the top 50, Boston College. To add to that, Boston College was without star running back AJ Dillon in that game, which was a tightly contested contest. The Wolfpack will have to figure out how to slow down Clemson’s fifth-ranked rushing attack. Travis Etienne, Clemson’s leading rusher, has run for 162, 122, 203, and 167 yards in his last four games, respectively, totaling 654 yards. That is over 100 rushing yards more than NC State has allowed all season.
I realize that NC State is coming off of a bye, and that they are 10-2 against the spread under Coach Doeren in this spot. However, Clemson finds themselves in a very profitable spot, also coming off of a bye week.
Thanks to BetLabs, I was able to come up with quite a system that favors home favorites, who were favorites in their previous game, coming off a bye week. These home favorites are extremely profitable against teams who are playing their first road game in a few weeks. You can see that in these situations, the home favorite covers the spread over 70% of the time, yielding a 40% return on investment. If you were curious how these favorites do against teams that are also coming off their bye, I’ve got that for you too:
I would say that is just about as good as it gets, don’t you think? I realize this system has a lot of filters, but I believe they are correlated. This is a little smaller of a sample size than I typically would like to have, but I cannot argue with the results.
NC State Coach Dave Doeren has a record of 3-2 against the spread when going up against Clemson, with the last two years being close, one score games. According to SportsInsights, over 70% of the spread bets in this game have been on NC State, yet the line, which opened at 17, has moved to 17.5 and even 18 in some places. So, ask yourself: why would oddsmakers publish a line so big, knowing the matchup history, and knowing that the public will rush to the window to bet the underdog? Then asking yourself: why would oddsmakers move the line against all of the money that has come in on NC State? It is because the oddsmakers expect Clemson to run away with this game, and I agree. NC State has played four of their five games at home, and now have to travel on the road to play a Clemson team that is a step up in class from their previous opponents, also coming off an extra week of preparation.
Ultimately, I do not believe that NC State will possess the ball long enough in this game to cover the spread. While the NC State passing attack is one of the better passing attacks in the country, Finley and the rest of the Wolfpack will struggle against the defensive juggernaut that is Clemson. Look for NC State to turn the ball over a couple of times and for Clemson to control the clock behind the legs of Travis Etienne and the arm of Trevor “Sunshine” Lawrence.
Lay the -17.5 with Clemson.
Clemson 38 – NC State 17
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*Numbers in parenthesis depict national rank in given statistic