Clemson (7-1) at Duke (6-3)
Nov. 3, 7:00, ESPN2
Here’s The Deal: No. 13 Clemson is doing everything it can to get back to a January bowl game. Now, all it has to do is keep taking care of business without suffering a second defeat.
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers have handily won four straight since falling to Florida State on Sept. 22, remaining in the hip pocket of the Seminoles in the ACC Atlantic chase. While the ‘Noles will have to lose again to squander their lead, Clemson still controls its own destiny for earning an at-large BCS bowl berth … probably. There are no guarantees, naturally, but it’s hard to imagine that an 11-1 Tigers team wouldn’t be a very attractive option for some bowl committee.
Duke’s solitary reign atop the Coastal Division didn’t last long. The Blue Devils now have company, Virginia Tech and Miami, after getting outclassed by Florida State in Tallahassee, 48-7. Already bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, and unlikely to partake in the ACC Championship Game, Duke is sort of playing with house money over the next three games.
Why Clemson Might Win: No one is stopping Chad Morris’ offense right now, certainly not an average Blue Devils D.
Last week provided a glimpse of Duke’s ability to stop elite talent, when it yielded five touchdowns and 560 total yards to Florida State. The Clemson attack is peaking, especially now that a healthy Sammy Watkins gives QB Tajh Boyd one more explosive weapon with which to connect. The aforementioned pair, along with speedy RB Andre Ellington and WR DeAndre Hopkins, is a primary reason why the Tigers are about to make it eight games in a row with at least 37 points on the scoreboard.
Why Duke Might Win: Yes, Clemson has played better on defense over the last two games. No, the D hasn’t reached a point where it can be counted on week-in and week out, especially with a patchwork secondary.
It remains to be seen whether or not Blue Devils starting QB Sean Renfree is physically cleared to play. However, the offense has already proven that it can thrive with Anthony Boone at the controls. When the sophomore started the Virginia game on Oct. 6, he threw four touchdown passes in a 42-17 win. Head coach David Cutcliffe has predictably done an outstanding job with all of his quarterbacks, a group that has also benefitted from being able to throw to Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder.
What To Watch Out For: Clemson is expected to get back a couple of key players in defensive backfield, corners Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland, who were banged up for the Wake Forest game. Rookie Cortez Davis performed well in an expanded role, while even WR Adam Humphries held up after switching sides of the ball. With a full complement back in the secondary, the Tigers should be better positioned to control Vernon and Crowder, who have five touchdown catches apiece.
What Will Happen: Duke has been a far better team in Durham than it has been on the road. Still, the Blue Devils haven’t faced a team of Clemson’s caliber at Wallace Wade Stadium this fall.
Duke is going to be feisty no matter who is taking snaps. However, keeping up with the Tigers offense is an assignment only a smattering of teams in America are capable of handling right now. At some point, either just before or just after halftime, Clemson will get separation following an explosive burst from one of its playmakers. The Tigers will get tested for a while, but 500 yards of offense will ensure a fifth win in a row
CFN Predicts: Clemson 37, Duke 24