College football picks, odds for ACC in Week 6: Clemson relying on defense in top-10 showdown with Miami

Week 6 in the ACC sets up a key piece of the conference championship race with one of the games of the year not just in the league but in all of college football taking center stage. Not everyone had Miami at Clemson circled as one of the pivot points in the season, but after watching D’Eriq King thrive in Rhett Lashlee’s new offense, the Hurricanes are looking like an appropriate foil to the Tigers’ pursuit of a sixth-straight conference title. 

Whether the top-10 showdown between Miami and Clemson serves as a preview of a potential ACC Championship Game rematch is highly dependent on what happens elsewhere in the conference, particularly at Notre Dame, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. In that sense, Saturday’s game between the Tar Heels and the Hokies is yet another key piece to figuring out who ends up in the top two spots of the final standings in this 15-team, one-division 2020 season. It’s too early to throw out terms like “elimination game,” but that first conference loss at this point in the season can quickly have a contender on the outside looking in when it comes to the championship race.

Speaking of, we begin this week’s picks with ACC Friday night action and Louisville’s trip to Georgia Tech.

Louisville (-4.5) at Georgia Tech: Circle the wagons, back against the wall time, whatever cliche you want to use — that’s where we’re at for Louisville right now. A team that finished solo behind Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division in Year 1 of the Scott Satterfield era returned most of its key pieces on offense and entered 2020 with hopes of contending for a conference championship. With two conference losses in September, the Cards will need to basically run the table and get some help to make it to Charlotte. But even if the conference championship is off the table, it’s time to clean up the mistakes on defense and get back into rhythm offensively after letting one get away at Pitt in Week 4. The Yellow Jackets are going to be a tough test with Jahmyr Gibbs providing the kind of explosiveness that gashed Louisville’s defense in the loss to Miami, but I think the off week has allowed this group to reset and we see a focused effort and a touchdown-plus win. Pick: Louisville -4.5 

No. 19 Virginia Tech at No. 8 North Carolina (-5.5): Justin Fuente is 4-0 against North Carolina, and I’m not sure the Tar Heels have shown the kind of dominance that’s expected from a team carrying a top-10 ranking. The Hokies were down 23 players in its delayed opener against NC State and 21 players against Duke the following week, but the protocol-driven attrition has not seemed to impact the effectiveness of the offense. Virginia Tech, far and away, has the best rushing attack in the conference, averaging 319 yards per game on the ground at 7.01 yards per attempt with running back Khalil Herbert having the kind of season that will warrant not only conference but national recognition at the position. North Carolina’s first two opponents rank as the No. 14 and No. 15 rushing offenses in the ACC, respectively, and I think that step up in competition is going to be the Tar Heels’ toughest challenge. However, after giving up 31 points to Duke, I’m not totally sure that the Hokies are ready to stop Sam Howell. I lean Hokies and the points, but really I’m most confident in there being lots of points. Pick: Over 60.5 

NC State at Virginia (-9.5): What does this line say about Pitt? Or NC State, for that matter? The Wolfpack are coming off a huge win against the Panthers, and now find themselves as nearly double-digit dogs against the Wahoos? Virginia played Clemson well last Saturday night, and the floor is so much higher now than when Bronco Mendenhall took over, but this is still a group that is a step back in terms of personnel from the ACC Coastal Division title team of 2019. NC State has a potent ground game, but when Pitt slowed that down, Devin Leary rose to the occasion and flexed a dynamic passing attack that makes the Pack’s offense much more well-rounded than it appeared in the first two games of the season. Maybe there’s a letdown performance coming after the emotional high of that Pitt win, but I’m thinking the power ratings haven’t corrected for NC State’s change at quarterback and we’ve got at least a field goal of value here. Pick: NC State +9.5

Duke (-2.5) at Syracuse: When we mention the “circle the wagons” moment for Louisville, it’s to correct course on a season that had high expectations. For Duke, it’s to bring the team together and get focused for one of the most likely wins on a schedule that is running out of those opportunities. The issue is going to be slowing down a Syracuse offense that plays markedly better at home than on the road and avoiding the kinds of mistakes on offense that have contributed to the ACC’s second-worst turnover margin. On a related note, Syracuse has the ACC’s best turnover margin and leads the nation in interceptions: Pick: Syracuse +2.5  

Pitt (-6) at Boston College: The Eagles did a pretty good job of limiting Sam Howell’s ability to beat them with the downfield passing attack, and that’s one of the things that Pitt does best offensively. More specifically, it seems to be one of the only things Pitt does well offensively, and there hasn’t been much balance when it comes to establishing the run. There has to be a bounce-back here from Pitt as it looks to right the ship following that heartbreaking NC State loss, but the matchup doesn’t bode well for a blowout. I think Pitt wins, but it might be another field goal party for the Panthers. Pick: Boston College +6 

No. 7 Miami at No. 1 Clemson (-14): Let’s have a conversation about Big Game Dabo. The Clemson offense of the last decade has featured at least six years of elite quarterback play, some of the best wide receivers in the country and what is likely to be three NFL-caliber running backs when Travis Eitenne is picked in the 2021 NFL Draft. But when it comes to the biggest games in the regular season, Dabo lets his defense lead the way. It doesn’t always end up that way — take the epic Deshaun Watson-Lamar Jackson duel of 2016 — but if the Tigers can establish an advantage with its defense, Clemson is comfortable winning big games without searching out style points. 

Since the start of 2015, Clemson has played 11 games against top-25 opponents during the regular season and is averaging 18.5 points allowed in those contests. Not all of the results are the 24-10 win against Texas A&M in 2019 or the 14-6 rock fight against Auburn in 2017, but those results highlight the in-game mentality of a coach who is always doing whatever’s possible to end up one point ahead on the final scoreboard. Clemson will play the field position game, run the ball to keep the other offense off the field and take those field goals when red zone tries come up short. That kind of mindset can only work when you have one of the best defenses in the country, and under Brent Venables, that’s been the X-factor. Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence have helped power national championships and great postseason performances, but winning on Saturdays in September and October has often been thanks to the Tigers defense. Pick: Under 61.5   

Florida State at No. 5 Notre Dame (-21): Don’t overthink this one. Florida State has a little bit of momentum going after avoiding disaster against Jacksonville State, but Notre Dame is an older and more proven team that has already shown the willingness to turn lopsided wins into blowouts. The defense will be looking for its second shutout of the season, and there hasn’t been much from the Seminoles against FBS competition to think that’s an unlikely scenario. That said, if there is any impact of rust from the time off due to game cancellations and a COVID-19-related pause in activities, it will probably be on the offensive side of the ball for the Irish. I like Notre Dame laying the points, but the winning play is to take the under. Pick: Under 52

Last week: 1-3 | 2020 season: 11-12

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 6, and which team will pull off a shocking upset? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned over $4,200 in profit over the past four-plus seasons — and find out.

Source Article