Second-ranked Clemson hosts Louisville at noon today in what used to be one of the better games in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
However, the odds are slim that will be the case this year as the Cardinals come into Death Valley as a 39-point underdog.
Clemson (8-0, 5-0 ACC) is looking to go to 9-0 for the fifth time in program history and the third time in the last four years (1948, 1981, 2015 and 2016). Clemson earned conference titles in all of the previous four seasons in which it opened 9-0.
Louisville (2-6, 0-5 ACC) is hoping to avoid its first six-game losing streak since 1998.
Who has the edge?
Travis Etienne vs. Louisville’s run defense: The last couple of weeks, based on how NC State and Florida State were defending them, the Tigers leaned heavily on the right arm of quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The Seminoles and the Wolfpack have two of the better run defenses in the ACC so Clemson was not going to bang its head up against the wall as those two loaded up the box to take Etienne out of the game plan. That will not be the case this week. Louisville ranks last in the ACC at stopping the run, giving up 250.6 yards per game on the ground. Etienne who was held to 84 total yards the last two weeks, should eclipse the century mark this afternoon and then some. The Cardinals should help bolster Etienne’s 7.8 yards per carry average. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s D-Line vs. Louisville’s O-Line: Louisville has one of the biggest offensive lines in the country. The problem is, they’re slow. The Cardinals have allowed a league worst 26 sacks, to go along with 59 tackles for loss, also last in the ACC. The Tigers got five sacks last week vs. Florida State and had 14 tackles for loss overall. This week, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant are hungry for some more. It could be a long day for Louisville quarterback Jawon Pass. Advantage: Clemson
Trevor Lawrence vs. Louisville secondary: On paper this appears to be a good matchup. Lawrence is one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks as he leads the league in touchdown passes (16), fewest interceptions thrown (2), yards per attempt (8.5) and passing efficiency (164.2). He also ranks second in the league in completion percentage (65.3). The Cardinals rank third in the ACC in passing defense, giving up 187.4 yards per game. However, when you look deeper into the numbers, you discover the Cardinals are doing well because no one has really needed to throw the ball on them. Louisville leads the ACC in the fewest attempts to defend at 22.1 passes, while they rank last in the conference in yards per attempt at 8.5. They also have just two interceptions and have allowed 12 touchdown passes. Opponents are completing 62.7 percent of their passes – 11th in the ACC. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom Line: While Clemson has continued to stockpile its talent and is still a major player in college football, Louisville has slipped from being one of the ACC’s top teams and arguably is one of the league’s worst these days. Clemson is clearly better at every position in this game. The Tigers will win this game, but the question is by how much? If the Cardinals quit like they did a few weeks back in a demoralizing 66-31 loss to Georgia Tech, then the Tigers could score 70 points. I don’t think that is going to happen, but Clemson will cover the 39-point spread.
Prediction: Clemson 56, Louisville 0