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Despite it being mostly quiet the last seven days for Clemson fans and their football program, this week begins the long second half stretch of the season. Six games in six weeks, five of which are conference foes, and of course the Palmetto State clash with the Gamecocks to end the season.
Coming off a perfectly-timed mid-season break, Clemson's Tigers get down to the nitty-gritty in their quest for a second straight Atlantic Division title on Saturday when they play host to Virginia Tech at Death Valley. Maryland heads into the weekend as the ACC's lone remaining unbeaten team in conference play at 2-0, and the Terps have a chance to solidify their top position on Saturday in a 3:30 p.m. home game against 1-1 N.C. State.
This week Clemson can set the bar. Virginia Tech is arguably the toughest conference opponent Clemson has left on its schedule, simply because of how well coached they are. Frank Beamer also won't forget what happened to his squad in both Blacksburg and Charlotte last year and will likely have his team prepared for Saturday. This Virginia Tech team is coming off a semi big win at home against Duke (a program really going in the right direction) a game in which they struggled out of the gate, going down 20-7 early. The win was an important one for VT, but they also lost their starting center in the process, something that won't help them moving forward.
Logan Thomas knows what he has expected Virginia Tech football to look like this season. He finally got to see it on Saturday, after a 12-minute beatdown by Duke put the Hokies in a 20-0 hole. "We were able to move the ball any way we wanted to, throwing it and running it, and the defense was pretty much shutting down everything," Thomas said after the Hokies rallied from the early deficit to bury the Blue Devils 41-20. "If we play like that, special teams on top of it, that’s Virginia Tech football. That’s what we need to do," he said.
Looking at the boxscore closely tells us a few things. Virginia Tech was finally able to establish some serious consistency on the ground, rushing for 269 yards at almost 7 yards a clip. The Hokie defense held Duke to only 22 yards on the ground, but also gave up 300+ yards through the air. These are some of the same sort of traits Virginia Tech has shown on the road this year, which has resulted in three early losses. In those three losses the Hokies gave up 500+ yards to UNC, 500+ yards to Pitt, and 495 yards to Cincinnati.
To say Bud Foster's squad is struggling away from the friendly confines of Blacksburg is putting it lightly. Of those three teams (UNC, Pitt, Cincy), only the Tar Heels have any comparable weapons to what Clemson will throw at them on Saturday. This should bode well for Chad Morris and his crew, especially with two week to get healthy and ready.
So, to recap, were there positives in this game? Well, one, it was a win, so absolutely. The Hokies avoided dipping below .500 for the first time since 1992, they improved their conference record to 2-1 and improved their chances of getting to a bowl game with murderer's row coming up in the coming weeks
Taking a look from Vegas, Clemson opened as high as 11 point favorites at Betonline, but that number was pounded down early to 9/8.5, which is where it is sitting right now. Since it's usually the sharps (professional betters) that move lines very early in the week, I would guess that the line moved from 11 to 8.5 because these guys saw value in backing a double digit underdog in Virginia Tech.
Looking at this from as neutral a perspective as I can, it's hard to see a ton of value backing the Hokies on the road (especially where the line is now), a team that has lost by 2 or more touchdowns in both of its true road games (Pitt/UNC). With Clemson coming off a bye week and usually being a very bad matchup for them (if last year is any indication), it will be interested to see if we cover 8.5, which to me seems a little low.
Clemson is in the thick of the Atlantic Division race in the ACC at 5-1 SU overall and 2-1 SU in conference play. The Tigers are 4-2 ATS but 1-2 ATS at home this season. They are coming off a bye week after posting a 47-31 victory against Georgia Tech on Oct. 6 as 11-point home favorites. The total has gone over in their last four games.
Turning quickly to the BCS. Clemson debuted last night at number 19. Ouch. When you sit 5-6 spots higher in the Coaches and AP Poll's its pretty obvious your strength of schedule isn't exactly impressive. With two SEC teams on the schedule, its hard to really fault Clemson in this situation. Auburn has turned out to be a dumpster fire and the rest of the ACC hasn't been on par with the rest of the major conferences.
When the first BCS standings we were released a year ago, Clemson fans were on the edge of their seats. The Tigers were in the mix, unbeaten, and riding a string of three consecutive victories over top-25 opponents. This year's version finds Clemson, and the ACC, on the outside looking in - the Tigers done in by Florida State, and the Seminoles subsequently unable to survive their first ACC road test of the season.
Now, wins over Ball State and Furman don't exactly help your numbers with the computers, most big football schools have cupcakes on their schedule, it's just the way it is. In its remaining games as of now, 5 of Clemson's 6 remaining opponents have winning records. We aren't going to have an SEC West caliber strength of schedule by the end of the year, but it's only going to improve as the season goes on. At this point just win and the rest will likely take care of itself.