Georgia and Clemson are long-time rivals on the field, but they have one thing in common off the field and at the betting window—they have a tendency to play below expectations. Whether it’s aggravating their own fan bases with a crushing loss just when a corner seems to have been turned, or playing just well enough to win, but not cover the number, the Bulldogs and Tigers have a knack for pulling the rug out from under you.
Now, both programs in the national spotlight on Saturday, each undefeated and each with showcase home games. Georgia hosts Alabama (3:30 PM ET, CBS) and Clemson will get a visit from Notre Dame (8 PM ET, ABC) in the day’s two best games that you can watch back-to-back. Will the home teams finally meet their moment?
Let’s begin by giving some context of the last two seasons, because I want to make clear I’m not implying these programs can’t play good football. They can. Clemson is 19-5 over the last two regular seasons and has bowl victories over Ohio State and Oklahoma. Georgia is 17-7 in that same timeframe, and if we go back one year earlier to 2012, the Bulldogs were one play away from winning the SEC title and likely converting that into a national championship.
But each team has been consistently been overrated by the oddsmakers. In the same two-year period where Clemson was winning 19 regular season games on the field, their bettors in Las Vegas only cashed 11 pointspread winners—against 13 losers. With Georgia, that 17-7 straight-up record becomes 10-13-1 when we measure it against Vegas expectations. That’s the roundabout way of saying that Clemson and Georgia have spent two years being bad bets.
Now each team steps onto a big national stage for this first Saturday of October. Over the first month of the season, there’s reason for cautious optimism with Georgia, but guarded skepticism with Clemson.
Clemson is 1-2 against the spread thus far. On a recent Thursday night appearance against Louisville, the Tigers barely survived a very young Cardinal team 20-17, failing to cover as a five-point favorite. Sophomore quarterback DeShaun Watson is talented, but has his inconsistencies. He threw two interceptions against the Cards and failed to generate much in the way of a downfield passing attack.
The rush defense was exposed in an earlier game against Appalachian State, giving up over 200 yards on the ground and allowing 4.5 yards per carry. With Notre Dame and its physical offensive line leading the way for C.J. Prosise, that’s a problem.
Georgia is only 2-2 ATS even while going 4-0, so it’s tempting to think it’s the same old Dawgs. Maybe it will be, but there are some underlying reasons for optimism. Georgia’s two ATS misses, against Vanderbilt (31-14 as an 18-point favorite) and Southern (48-6 as a 49.5 point favorite) were fairly narrow and in the case of the Southern game, Georgia could quite likely have covered had they wanted to.
Furthermore, the passing game has been making notable strides. The publicity around the Bulldogs centers on their immensely talented running back Nick Chubb, who has gone for over 100 yards in all four games and is up there with rival SEC backs, Leonard Fournette at LSU and Derrick Henry for Alabama in the Heisman conversation. But in a 52-20 thrashing of South Carolina, the Bulldogs finally got consistent quarterback play from Greyson Lambert, who was a red-hot 24/25 for 330 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a QBR of 97.5 on a scale of 1-100. I know South Carolina isn’t what they used to be, but not just anyone can do this to an SEC defense.
Georgia also has more experienced talent on hand than does Clemson. The Bulldogs have three other players, in addition to Chubb, who are solid NFL prospects—outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and left tackle John Theus. Clemson’s talent is more of the up-and-coming variety and still being polished.
While I’ve compared Georgia and Clemson for the sake of this article, they’re not playing each other though. Georgia has a lot of good things going for them, but in playing Alabama, they play a proud program that’s talented and desperate. What’s more, the Bulldogs are a two-point favorite. It’s not about finding value against Alabama now, it’s about finding a team to beat the Tide outright.
On the Clemson side, they might have their problems, but Notre Dame has its own issues when it comes to handicapping—the huge betting fan base of the Fighting Irish influences point spreads and makes it difficult to find value on Notre Dame. They also send their own untested quarterback, DeShone Kizer into a raucous atmosphere at Death Valley. Clemson will get (+1), so it’s just a question of winning the game at home against an opponent that might be overrated themselves.
Those are the issues my handicapping team is looking at for Saturday night in particular, and it remains undecided how we’ll play those games or if we decide the ripest spots are elsewhere on the card. What I want to make sure you’re aware of here is that Clemson and Georgia are two programs that have shown you need to be careful—not just in big games, but up and down the schedule—when picking them against the Vegas number.
Jim Hurley has been a successful public handicapper since 1985, when he began a Network that emphasized a team approach to handicapping. Hurley consults with statistical analysts, personnel experts and Vegas insiders to narrow the NFL and college cards down to the most bettable games each and every week. Visit him online at www.winningedge.com.