Edwards: Clemson at Duke

Week 1 will conclude tonight when Duke hosts Clemson in an ACC showdown. As of Thursday, most books had Clemson installed as a 13-point road favorite with the total in the 55 to 56 range. The Blue Devils were +350 to +400 on the money line.

For first-half wagers, the Tigers were favored by seven points with a total of 28.5, and Duke was +260 to go into halftime with the lead.

Although some books spent time at -13.5 over the weekend, most spots had Clemson at -13 on Monday morning. The total was at 55.5 points everywhere this morning, but we started to see some movement around noon Eastern. Most spots are now at 54, but South Point and DraftKings were at 54.5 as of 1:15 p.m. Eastern, and Circa was the only book left using 55 points.

By 6:35 p.m. Eastern, Clemson had been reduced to a 12-point favorite.

Duke had a spectacular first season under Mike Elko, who replaced David Cutcliffe as head coach in Durham. The Blue Devils, who finished 2-9 and 3-9 in Cutcliffe’s last two years, went 9-4 straight up and 10-3 against the spread in 2022.

Elko’s club won six games by double-digit margins and all four losses were in one-possession games. In fact, three of Duke’s defeats came by eight combined points. The Blue Devils lost 23-20 at Ga. Tech in overtime, 38-35 vs. North Carolina and 28-26 at Pitt.

Duke’s fourth loss was 35-27 at then-undefeated Kansas as a 7.5-point road underdog. The Blue Devils covered the spread as seven-point home underdogs vs. UNC and as seven-point road ‘dogs at Pitt. In fact, they produced a 5-1 spread record with three outright victories in six games as ‘dogs.

Duke finished 2022 +487 in net yardage and second nationally in turnover margin (+16) behind only USC (+22). The Blue Devils averaged 32.8 points per game, and the defense gave up just 22.1 PPG.

Elko, a veteran defensive coordinator who was named ACC Coach of the Year, had been Jimbo Fisher’s DC at Texas A&M from 2018-21. Prior to that stretch in College Station, he had been DC at Texas in 2017 and Wake Forest from 2014-16. Elko was with Dave Clawson on his staffs for 12 seasons, including the three-year run with the Demon Deacons.

Elko took a defense that gave up 38.1 PPG in 2020 and 39.8 PPG in 2021, and that unit improved by more than 17 points in one season. Other than Sonny Dykes at TCU and maybe Kirby Smart at Georgia, nobody in the country did a better job than Elko last season.

With that said, we have to point out that Duke had a fortunate schedule last year. The Blue Devils didn’t have to face Clemson, FSU, NC St. or Notre Dame, and all four of those schools are on their 2023 slate.

With Duke returning 10 starters on offense and eight on defense, it’s quite possible – perhaps even probable – that it will be improved this year, but getting back to nine wins in back-to-back campaigns will be a formidable task. The program hasn’t won at least nine in consecutive years since Cutcliffe went 10-4 in 2013 and 9-4 in ’14.

FanDuel has Duke’s season win total at 6.5 (‘under’ -154, ‘over’ +126). Clemson is the +150 ‘chalk’ to win the ACC Championship Game, while Duke has 40/1 odds (Circa has a better number at 50/1, and it has the Blue Devils at 100/1 to win the College Football Playoff). The Tigers have won the ACCCG in seven of the last eight seasons.

Phil Steele’s National Unit Rankings in his preseason magazine have Duke at #16 at QB, #55 at RB, #30 at WR, #36 on the offensive line, #23 on the defensive line, #63 in the secondary and #11 on special teams. LB is the only position that isn’t ranked nationally, and Steele has the Blue Devils at #12 (out of 13) at LB in his ACC Unit Rankings.

Going into last season, Steele’s preseason mag had Duke at #58 on the 0-line and #23 on special teams in his National Unit Rankings. No other position groups were ranked and he goes up into the low-to-mid 60s at each spot.

Riley Leonard is back for his true junior campaign, but it’ll probably be his last in Durham. When ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released his latest 2024 NFL mock draft on Aug. 30, he had Leonard going #20 overall as the third QB selected (behind USC’s Caleb Williams at #1 and UNC’s Drake Maye at #4).

In 2022, Leonard ran for a team-high 699 yards (812 before subtracting sack yardage) and 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,967 yards with a 20/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Duke has all of its skill players back, with the lone offensive starter lost coming from the offensive line. Senior WR Jalon Calhoun garnered third-team All-ACC honors in 2022 when he hauled in 62 receptions for 873 yards and four TDs. Junior WR Jordan Moore was a fourth-team All-ACC selection after making 60 catches for 656 yards and five TDs, while sophomore WR Sahmir Hagans had 31 grabs for 400 yards and five TDs last season. Junior TE Nicky Dalmolin caught 21 balls for 170 yards and four TDs.

Junior RB Jordan Waters splits carries with Jaquez Moore and Jaylen Coleman. Waters ran for 566 yards and eight TDs with a 4.6 yards-per-carry average, and Moore had 508 rushing yards, five TDs and a 6.4 YPC average. Coleman produced 480 rushing yards, four TDs and a 4.7 YPC average.

Waters added 16 catches for 106 yards, while Moore had seven receptions for 81 yards. Coleman caught six balls for 49 yards and one TD.

Duke’s offensive line is anchored by OT Graham Barton, a fourth-year junior who garnered first-team All-ACC honors in 2022. Steele’s magazine has Barton as a preseason second-team All-American, a preseason first-team All-ACC pick and the #10 OT available in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Calhoun joins Barton in Steele’s mag as a preseason first-team All-ACC choice, while Moore and Leonard are second and third-team All-ACC selections, respectively.

Duke’s defense is led by junior DT DeWayne Carter and DB Brandon Johnson. Steele’s preseason magazine lists Carter as the #21 DT available for the 2024 NFL Draft.

Carter, who is 6-foot-3 and 298 pounds, was a third-team All-ACC selection in 2021 when he recorded 36 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three passes broken up. He garnered second-team All-ACC honors last season when he produced 36 tackles, 11 TFL’s, six QB hurries, 5.5 sacks, four PBU, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries for 12 return yards and one scoop-and-score TD.

Johnson enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2022 as a true sophomore. He had 55 tackles, 7.5 TFL’s, seven PBU, 5.5 sacks, four QB hurries, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions for 29 return yards and one pick-six for a TD.

Carter is a preseason first-team All-ACC selection in Steele’s magazine and a fourth-team All-American. Johnson is a preseason third-team All-ACC pick.

Another playmaker on Duke’s defense is junior DE RJ Oben, who has started 22 times in 25 games played the last two seasons. Oben recorded 20 tackles, 10 QB hurries, 6.5 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2022. In the last two seasons, he’s combined for 12 TFL’s, 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Junior safety Jaylen Stinson is Duke’s leading returning tackler. He had 74 tackles, two interceptions, 1.5 TFL’s, one QB hurry, one PBU, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble and one sack last season. Stinson also contributes on special teams. He had two kickoff returns for TDs in 2021, and he averaged 25.3 yards on 15 kick returns last year.

Hagans only returned four punts in 2022, but one was an 81-yard return for a TD and he averaged 36.5 yards per return. Calhoun averaged 12.6 yards on nine punt returns, with a long of 43 yards.

Punter Porter Wilson is a preseason second-team All-ACC choice in Steele’s magazine. Wilson averaged 43.1 yards per punt in 2022 and had a net of 40.2 yards. On 46 punts, he forced 16 fair catches and buried foes inside of their own 20-yard line 16 times.

Todd Pelino goes into the season as the starting kicker. He made 8-of-9 field-goal attempts and all 23 PATs last year.

Duke brought in the #68 overall recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite. The transfer-specific group was ranked #58, with the Blue Devils importing nine players from the portal, including three from Power-Five programs.

Seven of the nine transfers are offensive linemen, and the other two players are DBs. Jake Hornibrook, a 6-foot-5, 308-pound OT who started 23 times in 34 career games at Stanford over the last four seasons, is stepping right into a starting role.

Al Blades Jr., a cornerback who transferred from Miami, is also listed as a starter on Duke’s depth chart tonight. In five seasons with the Hurricanes, Blades started 15 times in 43 games. He has 91 career tackles, 14 PBU, four interceptions and 1.5 TFL’s.

Another transfer we’ll see in action tonight is CB Myles Jones, who is listed with true sophomore Chandler Rivers as a co-starter (Jones OR Rivers). Jones comes to Duke after being at Texas A&M for the last six seasons. He started in 30 of 38 career games he played for the Aggies, but he’s played just one game in each of the last two seasons due to injuries.

Jones has 124 career tackles, 29 PBU, six TFL’s, four interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. As a true freshman last year, Rivers played in all 13 games and started six times, producing 52 tackles, six PBU, two TFL’s, two QB hurries, one interception and 0.5 sacks.

Even though there’s been some notable slippage since Trevor Lawrence left for the NFL after the 2020 season, Dabo Swinney’s program has still produced 12 consecutive double-digit win totals. In the first 14 full seasons of his tenure at Clemson – he went 4-3 and helped the Tigers earn a Gator Bowl bid when he took over midway through the 2008 campaign when Tommy Bowden was fired – Swinney has led the Tigers to at least nine wins 13 times. The lone exception was Year 2 in 2010 when Clemson went 6-7 and lost its bowl game.

Clemson beat 24th-ranked North Carolina 39-10 as a 7.5-point favorite in last year’s ACCCG. Although the Tigers dropped a 31-14 decision to Tennessee at the Orange Bowl, they still finished 11-3 SU and 7-7 ATS.

In addition to the loss against the Vols, Clemson lost 35-14 at Notre Dame and blew a second-half lead in a 31-30 home loss to arch-rival South Carolina.

Clemson finished 2022 +1,062 in net yardage and -1 in turnover margin. The offense averaged 33.2 PPG after scoring merely 26.3 PPG in 2021. The defense allowed an average of 20.9 PPG, which isn’t bad at all. In fact, that ranked fourth in the ACC and #22 nationally. However, it was the most points Clemson had given up since 2015.

Swinney’s 2023 squad returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense. Steele’s National Unit Rankings have the Tigers at #28 at QB, #8 at RB, #24 at WR, #13 on the o-line, #1 on the d-line, #2 at LB, #3 in the secondary and #63 on special teams.

Cade Klubnik started one game – the loss to UT in the Orange Bowl – in his true freshman campaign last season. He completed 61-of-100 passes (61%) for 697 yards and two TDs, but he was intercepted three times. Klubnik added 139 rushing yards and two TDs with a 3.3 YPC average.

He has two excellent RBs in Will Shipley, a preseason third-team All-American and a first-team All-ACC selection, and Phil Mafah, a preseason second-team All-ACC choice. Shipley ran for 738 yards as a true freshman in 2021. Then in 2022, he earned first-team All-ACC honors by rushing for 1,182 yards and 15 TDs with a 5.6 YPC average. He also had 38 catches for 242 receiving yards.

Mafah ran for 515 yards and four TDs with a 5.3 YPC average last season.

WR Antonio Williams started 10 games in 2022, hauling in a team-best 56 receptions for 604 yards and four TDs. WR Beaux Collins had 22 catches for 373 yards and a team-high five TDs. TE Jake Briningstool had 25 receptions for 285 yards and four TDs. Briningstool and Williams are preseason fourth-team All-ACC picks in Steele’s mag, while Collins is a preseason third-team All-ACC selection.

Clemson’s offensive line has three players as preseason All-ACC picks by Steele, including OG Walker Parks (2nd team), OT Blake Miller (3rd team) and center Will Putnam (fourth team). Miller started all 14 games as a true freshman last season.

Parks has started 26 games in the last two seasons, and he earned fourth-team All-ACC honors in 2022. Putnam started 22 games at right guard in 2020 and ’21, but he started all 14 games last year at center and garnered third-team All-ACC honors.

Clemson’s defense is led by four preseason first-team All-ACC picks in Steele’s mag, including LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Barrett Carter, safety Jalyn Phillips and DT Tyler Davis. Carter and Davis are also preseason first-team All-Americans, while Trotter is a preseason third-team All-American. Trotter led the Tigers in tackles (92) as a true sophomore in 2022. He also recorded 13.5 TFL’s, 6.5 sacks, six QB hurries, five PBU, two interceptions for 35 return yards and one pick-six for a TD and one forced fumble.

Davis, a fifth-year senior who had 45 tackles, 10.5 TFL’s and 6.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2019, was a second-team All-American last season. Despite missing two games, he recorded 31 tackles, 15 QB hurries, 9.5 TFL’s, 5.5 sacks, one PBU and one fumble recovery. Davis has started 39 times in 42 games, tallying 111 career tackles, 26.5 TFL’s, 26 QB hurries, 15.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and three PBU.

Carter garnered fourth-team All-American honors in 2022 when he produced 77 tackles, 11 QB hurries, 10.5 TFL’s, eight PBU, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Phillips started all 14 games last season, contributing 82 tackles, four PBU, 1.5 TFL’s and one interception.

Four Clemson defensive players are preseason second-team All-ACC picks, including DE Xavier Thomas, DT Ruke Orhorhoro, safety Andrew Mukuba and LB Wade Woodaz. Thomas is a sixth-year senior who was limited to three games last season and five games in 2020 due to injuries. He has 91 career tackles, 29 TFL’s, 15 sacks and five forced fumbles.

As a true freshman in 2022, Woodaz had 20 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, three PBU and 1.5 sacks. Orhorhoro was a third-team All-ACC selection last year when he recorded 28 tackles, nine QB hurries, eight TFL’s, five PBU, four sacks and one fumble recovery.

According to the 247Sports Composite, Clemson brought in the nation’s #15 overall recruiting class. Swinney isn’t a big believer in the transfer portal. The Tigers imported only one player from the portal, three-star transfer QB Paul Tyson from Arizona St.

The 2023 recruiting class includes one five-star prospect and 11 four-star players. The five-star prospect is DL Vic Burley, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice. He was the nation’s #32 overall player, the #3 defensive lineman and the #2 player in the state of Georgia.

However, Burley is ‘questionable’ tonight due to a lower-body injury sustained in mid-August.

Circa has Clemson at +145 to win the ACCCG and +1500 to win the CFP. The ‘No’ on Clemson to win the CFP at Circa has -2600 odds.

FanDuel has Clemson’s season win total at 9.5 shaded to the ‘over’ (-188, ‘under’ +152).

PREDICTION: I was hoping Duke would get +14 to make a small play on the Blue Devils. The line has gone the other way, though. Therefore, I’m backing Will Shipley’s prop to go ‘over’ 80.5 rushing yards for one unit (-115 price), in addition to placing one-half unit on Riley Leonard’s rushing yards to go ‘over’ 30.5.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-Zero Clemson players were on Kiper’s 2024 Big Board that only went up to #25. In his positional rankings, Kiper had Trotter as his #1 off-ball LB and also had Carter as his #4 OLB. Duke’s Barton was Kiper’s #2 ranked center.

-FanDuel has Klubnik with +1600 odds (or 16/1 after his number moved from 14/1 several days ago) to win the Heisman Trophy. Those are the fourth-shortest odds behind USC’s Williams (+450), Washington’s Michael Penix (+850) and FSU’s Jordan Travis (11/1). Michigan QB JJ McCarthy shares 16/1 odds with Klubnik. Duke’s Leonard has 120/1 odds. In a double-chance wager that’s no longer up but was several days ago, bettors could take Williams or Klubnik to win the Heisman for a +320 payout.

-FanDuel also has conference exactas listed. The odds for Clemson to beat Duke in the ACCCG are 65/1, while the number is 150/1 for Duke to beat Clemson. The co-favorites for this bet are shared by the combination of “FSU to beat Clemson” or “Clemson to beat FSU” and both scenarios have +650 odds.

-Clemson’s 2024 recruiting class is currently ranked #2 in the ACC (behind FSU) and #15 nationally. The Tigers have verbal commitments from 17 prospects, including two five-star players and 10 four-star recruits. Duke is currently ranked #36 nationally and #8 in the ACC. The Blue Devils have 20 verbal commitments, including a pair of four-star prospects.

-Clemson and Duke will be playing on short weeks with limited preparation in Week 2. However, both schools fortunately face FCS opponents. Duke will host Lafayette and Clemson will take on Charleston Southern in Death Valley.

You can follow my 24/7 sports betting opinions on my twitter account, where I often tweet out live in-game plays that I make.


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