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NCAAF Week 16 ACC Games

It’s Week 16 of the college football season, and the ACC has arrived at its championship game. Due to COVID-19, there is one other game on the schedule, a makeup game which will round out the schedule. We’ll devote most of our attention to the ACC title bout in Charlotte and examine the online betting odds.

Clemson Tigers vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish (In Charlotte)

Odds: Clemson -10.5

This is a rematch of the Nov. 7 game in South Bend won by Notre Dame in double overtime. The obvious point to make is Trevor Lawrence, Clemson’s star quarterback and a likely top-two pick in the 2021 NFL Draft (alongside Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields), will play Notre Dame after missing the first game due to a positive test for COVID-19. Lawrence has not had a tremendous season – he committed multiple turnovers in a recent win over Virginia Tech, for instance – but he is still a star player with elite skills who has a chance to once again lead his team into the College Football Playoff. Trevor Lawrence has proved over and over again that he should not be doubted in these kinds of championship moments. He has won a national title and has led Clemson to two straight national championship games. He beat Fields and Ohio State in a memorable playoff semifinal one year ago. He has won the ACC championship every year he has started at Clemson.

Brian Kelly - Clemson vs Notre Dame betting advice

Even though Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has had an impressive season, and though he led a 91-yard game-tying drive to send the first game into overtime, Lawrence is the player who is impossible to doubt in a high-stakes encounter. The fact that he didn’t play against Notre Dame will give him a mental edge in this game. Lawrence got to see the tendencies of the Irish’s defense. He realized what kind of challenge he will face from a Notre Dame front four which dominated North Carolina’s offensive line in a recent victory for the Fighting Irish.

That North Carolina offense is one of the most potent in the nation. UNC just scored 62 points against Miami, and it scored 59 points against Wake Forest a month ago. The Tar Heels have a tremendous balance between the run and pass, and Notre Dame – after giving up two early touchdowns against UNC – dominated Carolina for the rest of the game. The Fighting Irish allowed just three points over the final three quarters, holding the Tar Heels to 17 points. It was the kind of statement performance an elite defense delivers late in the season when everyone knows how important each game is.

Notre Dame allowed 33 points in regulation to Clemso when freshman D.J. Uiagalelei filled in for Lawrence. There is an argument to make that Lawrence will improve Clemson’s offensive performance, and that argument is a reasonable one. Yet, it could also be true that Notre Dame’s defense – being familiar with Clemson’s system and tendencies – could make adjustments that will help the Irish and offset the value of Lawrence being on the field for the Tigers. Notre Dame could easily counterbalance Clemson’s advantages and force the Tigers into difficult situations on offense.

This game could actually turn not based on what Trevor Lawrence does, but on what the Clemson secondary does against Book and Notre Dame’s combination of wide receivers and tight ends. The 91-yard drive Notre Dame made to tie Clemson late in regulation was built on some long passes in which Notre Dame receivers broke free of Clemson’s cornerbacks and safeties. The Tigers have dealt with a number of injuries to their back four over the course of the season. That position group has not been one of the Tigers’ stronger and more reliable units. Clemson is powerful up front, which will make it hard for Notre Dame to establish the run on Saturday. However, if Notre Dame throws the ball on early downs and finds success in the passing game, the Irish could loosen up the Clemson defense. The Irish would force Clemson to devote more linebackers to pass coverage and keep them off the line of scrimmage at the snap. With smaller numbers of defenders loading up the tackle box, Notre Dame could then establish the run. Notre Dame will need to throw first, run second, instead of the other way around. If Notre Dame can throw well in the first quarter, it can then run the ball with progressively more effective as the game goes along. The Irish need to score big to win this game, but in the first half, they have to focus on scoring points. If they get a lead, then they can worry more about ball control and time of possession, keeping Lawrence off the field. Notre Dame shouldn’t be focused on ball control in the first half. Only if it has a late lead should it make a concerted effort to play keepaway. In the first half, Notre Dame needs big passing plays which will create a scoreboard advantage.

All in all, the 10-point spread for Clemson – while totally understandable given the reaction to Trevor Lawrence’s return – still seems a bit high. Notre Dame’s defense is legitimately good. Clemson will score, but Notre Dame will make Clemson earn everything it gets. The game will become a blowout for Clemson only if Ian Book commits multiple turnovers. It’s possible, but you wouldn’t want to expect it or count on it.

In many ways, this game could be a lot like the previous one in November… only with a healthier Clemson defense getting the late defensive stop it didn’t get in South Bend over a month ago.

Florida State Seminoles vs Wake Forest Demon Deacons (CANCELED)

Sportsbook Odds: Wake Forest -6.5

The Wake Forest team which defeated Virginia Tech and Virginia, and which had forged a winning record (4-3) through seven games, did not show up in its most recent game against Louisville. The Demon Deacons were blasted, 45-21. The team did not play for a full month due to COVID-19 disruptions. Head coach Dave Clawson came out and admitted that he didn’t have his team prepared. The Deacs simply didn’t respond well to the interruption of their schedule. They lost all their rhythm and continuity. Now that they have played a game again (for the first time in several weeks), one can reasonably expect the Deacons to play better and with a more recognizable pattern to their offense. Wake Forest scored 53 points at North Carolina before its monthlong covid disruption. The Deacons might not score that many points on Florida State, but Wake Forest is a few notches better than an FSU team which has underperformed all year and has lacked the quality recruiting and overall depth one would normally associate with the Seminoles. This should be a fairly manageable game for Wake – maybe not a blowout, but a relatively comfortable win which will be decided before the final five minutes of regulation.

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