The good news for the University of Virginia: they’ve generally had a decent season and they’re in the ACC Championship game. The bad news: they’ve got to face the defending National Champion Clemson Tigers who have been running roughshod over their opponents since a narrow escape against North Carolina. The pointspread on the game definitely underscores just how tough a matchup Virginia is facing–Clemson is a -29 point favorite at a neutral site (Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC).
One of the more bizarre ‘takes’ of the 2019 college football season was that Clemson had somehow ‘lost their edge’. They had lost a boatload of NFL level talent coming into the year but that’s part of the college football process. Starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence did struggle somewhat at the start of the season but entering this game he’s averaging 239 yards per game and has thrown 30 touchdown passes against 8 interceptions. He’s thrown for 300+ yards in 4 of his last 5 games and has thrown 3 or more TDs in 7 straight games. The Tigers currently have the #3 ranked total offense in college football and the #2 ranked total defense. They’ve got the #1 ranked scoring defense allowing 10.10 PPG. They’ve also got the #4 ranked scoring offense putting up 45.3 PPG.
The sports radio hack narrative is that Clemson bumbled their way through the first few games of the season before getting a ‘wake up call’ in a 1 point win at North Carolina. It didn’t quite work that way. Heading into the North Carolina game Clemson was 4-0 SU/3-1 ATS. They were 2 points from being a perfect 4-0 SU/ATS at this point–their only non-cover was in the 24-10 win over Texas A&M that the Aggies covered as +15.5 underdogs. Clemson has been a wrecking crew since the ‘narrow escape’ at North Carolina. They’ve gone 7-0 SU/6-1 ATS with the only non-cover coming in a 59-14 win over FCS Wofford as -49 point favorites. With the exception of the Texas A&M game Clemson has been a -24.5 or higher favorite every time out and yet they’re 9-3 ATS on the season.
Not that this is anything new. Clemson is 25-12 ATS as a favorite during the last three years and 18-6 ATS against ACC opponents. They’re 15-5 ATS against opponents with winning records. They’re one of the most ‘public’ teams in college football and lay more than 3 TDs every time out and yet they’ve covered games at a 66.6% pace during the last three years. The most common gripe is about Clemson’s quality of opposition but if anything they deserve a ton of credit for consistently being so sharp against overmatched opponents.
Virginia is a decent enough team but they’ve got a ton of injuries in the secondary. In their last four games they’ve allowed 300+ yards to North Carolina, Liberty and Virginia Tech. Clemson’s passing attack is better than any of these teams by an order of magnitude. Tigers shouldn’t have any trouble with UVA QB Bryce Perkins–they’ve got the #1 ranked passing defense. With the media and college football powers that be doing everything possible to marginalize Clemson they’ve got a ‘chip on their shoulder’. That’s a very dangerous mentality for a team without any significant weaknesses to have. I wouldn’t want to get in Clemson’s way.