Editor's Note: This will be a weekly feature usually on Thursdays as new TLP writer Jawhar Ali gives his advice on the week's games and makes his 3 best picks ATS each week which will always include one Virginia Tech pick starting next week.
Welcome to the 2020 college football season, where volatility will be in full force and predictions will surely fall short. Do we condone gambling? No. That being said, it’s no fun to stay away from the game. Here are three picks for conference games this weekend in the ACC (lines are courtesy of Bovada).
Clemson (-33.5) Team Total OVER 45.5 vs Wake Forest
The No. 1 Tigers are favored to repeat as ACC champions and make it back to the CFB playoffs under what will assuredly be Trevor Lawrence’s final year in the collegiate ranks. Clemson somehow retained explosive runner Travis Etienne, who averaged 7.8 yards per carry last year and will be mightily featured against Wake’s shoddy defense which only allowed less than 120 rushing yards once in their final nine games.
In 2019, Clemson put up an easy 52 points against the Deacons on an impressive 7.1 yards per play. Lawrence excelled in that game, throwing for four touchdowns on an efficient 10.1 AY/A. There should be no reason the Tigers cannot meet or better that mark on Saturday just from a personnel and scheme perspective.
Clemson’s defense should also create a few turnover opportunities deep in scoring position due to the lack of continuity on the Deacon’s offense with the departures of Jaime Newman and Sage Surratt. Wake will have to rely on their ground game, which while productive last year, was extremely reliant on the quarterback run game. Without Newman, that strategy suffers quite a bit even without considering Clemson’s front seven. Wake will be put in plenty of third and longs – opportunities for the Tigers’ defense to get the ball back for the offense quickly.
Simply put, the Tigers will be able to score points in bunches. As of writing this, Clemson is favored by 33.5 points. Putting a little extra lettuce on the line would not be a bad play either, but the team total should protect against a backdoor cover so close to a critical number (35).
Louisville vs. Western Kentucky UNDER 58
Louisville has gotten a fair amount of preseason buzz as a team due to their offensive output last year as head coach Scott Satterfield got his young unit to overachieve, winning eight games in the process. Last season, these two teams faced off and the total points ended up at 59, a 38-21 Louisville win.
This year, with more continuity, the Cardinals should remain dangerous especially with a lethal zone read combo between quarterback Micale Cunningham and Javian Hawkins leading the way on the ground. In last year’s game, 51 of the 68 total plays run by Louisville were run plays, limiting the amount of possessions both teams had and which is why the under should be the smart play here.
Western Kentucky averaged just 25.4 points per game last season. They also only gave up 20.1 points per game and return the majority of their starting defensive lineup from 2019. They do not look like a team that will run up the scoreboard in 2020, even against a Louisville defense that was porous last season.
Notre Dame (-20.5) vs. Duke
One of the major themes that will play out in this unorthodox season is that continuity will be crucial to early success. For Notre Dame, they return starting quarterback Ian Book, who while unspectacular is a solid player with plenty of experience in the system. Although Notre Dame lost two of their better receivers to the NFL, the Irish develop their pass-catchers well as they usually have younger players who have plenty of success in their short passing gameplan.
Meanwhile, Duke is coming off a rough ending to 2019 where they failed to break 30 points in their last six games, resulting in a 1-5 record. This prompted a quarterback change, as Clemson transfer Chase Brice will start for the Blue Devils against the Irish. Brice may be an improvement over Quentin Harris, but it may not show in his first game against a strong Notre Dame defense.
The overwhelming reason I like this bet is the advantage Notre Dame has in the trenches. The Irish have been offensive line university recently, and that is especially true this year. Duke’s front seven was overwhelmed the majority of the time last year, only holding two opponents to under 138 rushing yards – and you guessed it, Notre Dame’s greatest strength will be running the football with explosive incumbent Jafar Armstrong as the starting tail back.
It may be dicey early, but Notre Dame’s defense and running game should wear the Blue Devils down in the second and third quarters to comfortably win this game by three scores.