If my headline is any indication, I believe we will see some teams who are due go against history.
Clemson (-3) at Louisville
This game has me tied up in knots. I want to believe in the Clemson defense. I want to believe in Dabo Swinney. I want to believe in the Tigers’ running backs. I want to believe in Kelly Bryant. I want to believe in all the things that Clemson needs to be in their favor in order to win Saturday night.
But I see one combined negative that outweighs Clemson’s arsenal.
Lamar Jackson and the home field.
Home-field advantage is a fickle thing in many sports, and nowhere is it more pronounced than College Football. Lamar Jackson knows that last year he had the matchup between these two teams in the grasp, and the Cardinals came up short in the end. The Clemson defense practically WILLed a win at the final moment (capitalization intentional), and the Tigers found themselves with the springboard victory to set up their National Championship-winning season.
The one thing going in Clemson’s favor when they’re on offense is that Louisville’s defense is worse than the unit they almost hung half-a-hundred on. I know the Auburn defense is an imposing unit, but the offensive rhythm took a significant step back from the gaudy numbers we saw against Kent State. The output Saturday should be somewhere in the middle, and if they can put up the requisite points, I believe they can hold off Louisville.
The problem is I don’t think the defense can hold Lamar Jackson enough to allow Clemson’s offense to outscore him.
Louisville hasn’t beaten Clemson in the three previous meetings in this series (all coming in the last three years). I believe Lamar Jackson is not going to waste a nationally-televised audience and a home crowd poised to be one of the most hyped-up in their football history at Papa Johns Stadium. The Clemson defense has to hold Lamar Jackson to 21 points or less, in my mind, in order to win this football game.
Until I see it for myself, I don’t know if they can get that done.
Pick: Louisville 35, Clemson 24
South Carolina (-6.5) vs. Kentucky
Much like Louisville, South Carolina has had to spend all week (and all offseason in some cases) answering questions about a losing streak against a conference opponent. No offense to the folks in Lexington, but a losing streak to Clemson is more respectable than any drought that comes against the Wildcats in any sport but basketball.
I believe that Kentucky is walking into a similar type of buzzsaw that Clemson will walk into Saturday night as the Wildcats will enter a sold-out and blackout crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium. The problem is, the Wildcats are nowhere as good as the Tigers.
Kentucky struggled through their first two contests, guttting out a 24-17 win at Southern Miss, and trailing for much of their home opener against FCS Eastern Kentucky. They’ve suffered critical injuries on offense, with their offensive line in particular resembling a M*A*S*H unit. A rushing unit that ran for 200+ yards last year is devoid of Stanley “Boom” Williams, and Benny Snell was kept in check by a Southern Miss squad that held him to 67 yards.
I still need to see more to be a believer in the Gamecocks offense, but the USC defense has more than brought their lunch pail in the first two weeks. They showed the conditioning strength and sideline-to-sideline movement that was lacking through much of last year, and Will Muschamp is seeing the contributions from the people he professed who needed to step up despite having limited experience. Jamyest Williams, Eldridge Thompson and Javon Kinlaw are just a few of the names who could soon be recognizable players among the heavy contributors for the future of this Gamecock D.
Saturday needs to be the day we see a full game out of sophomore Jake Bentley. During parts of the first two games we’ve seen him make some freshmen-level throws and mistakes, and come out of the gate wound too tight. I want to see a complete game out of Bentley in order to prove once-and-for-all that he belongs in the conversation among the elite QBs in this conference. Deebo Samuel more-than-likely won’t be able to bail him out on Special Teams, so he’ll need to find ways to get him the ball on the offensive side. I also feel this can be a breakout game for Hayden Hurst, who has found his opportunities in unorthodox ways in the USC attack. Look for him to make a couple of game-breaking plays, as the Gamecocks roll in their home opener.
Pick: South Carolina 31, Kentucky 17
Now it’s your turn, leave your picks and predictions for South Carolina and Clemson in the comments below.