Clemson guards against letdown game following big Louisville win
That would be Clemson, which improved to 3-0 and 1-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a romp over previously unbeaten Louisville, 47-21. It was the type of win that showed that the defending national champions are capable of returning to the College Football Playoff for the third straight year.
Still, in his postgame press conference, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said his team had "a lot of room for improvement."
That may be so, but for the moment, the Tigers are playing as well as anyone in the nation.
Things aren't so rosy for Boston College after a 49-20 blowout at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Normally stout against the run, the Eagles were pounded on the ground by Notre Dame, which saw quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams pile up 200 rushing yards apiece.
Now 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the ACC, the Eagles and head coach Steve Addazio are in desperate need of positive momentum. However, with BC's next three ACC games coming against Clemson, Louisville and Virginia Tech sandwiched around a non-conference game with Central Michigan, hope for a major turnaround does not seem to be on the horizon.
Boston College at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Clemson -34
Three Things to Watch
1. Hole in the middle
Although it does not tell the whole story, one significant factor in BC's breakdown against the run vs. Notre Dame was the loss of inside linebacker Connor Strachan to a knee injury. The team's leader in tackles in 2016, Strachan is one of the centerpieces of the front seven, and he was sorely missed this past weekend. This week, Addazio said Strachan would be out indefinitely. The Eagles will quickly have to find answers. There are a few possibilities. Look for Kevin Bletzer and converted running back Davon Jones to provide help there. They will need to be at their best right away, as Clemson has averaged 248.7 yards per game on the ground and 5.9 yards per rush. The Tigers will attack BC in that respect from the beginning.
2. Front and center
There may not be a single senior on the starting Clemson defensive line, but it doesn't matter. The Tigers' front four is the best in the nation. In every game this season, the unit has been ferocious and dominant, so don't expect a drop-off against the Eagles. With defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant and tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, the group has combined for nine sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss in just three games. Going against an improved BC offensive line — but one that lost center Jon Baker to a season-ending ACL injury — the Tigers will once again be expected to wreak havoc in the backfield. The Eagles will need to move the pocket and keep quarterback Anthony Brown out of sticky situations in order to move the ball.
3. Don't fall into the trap
Last weekend, the Tigers took down Louisville in a prime-time tilt. After BC, Clemson leaves the confines of Death Valley again to face one of the prohibitive favorites in the ACC's Coastal Division, Virginia Tech, in what is sure to be another nationally relevant contest. That means that this week's matchup against BC acts as a bit of a trap game. BC will be in a race to make a bowl, not the College Football Playoff, so that knowledge, and the fact that Clemson enters as a 30-plus-point favorite, could have the Tigers looking ahead to next week. It's not likely that Dabo Swinney will allow his players to take on that mindset, but the Tigers can't allow themselves to fall victim to overconfidence.
It would be very hard to envision the upset here. Even though Boston College running back Jon Hilliman eclipsed the 100-yard rushing barrier against Notre Dame, the Clemson front seven is a whole different animal. Quarterback Anthony Brown has played admirably in his first three games as a starter, but, again, he's never seen anything like what Clemson will bring to the table. The Tigers will control both lines of scrimmage, even with Eagles defensive end Harold Landry patrolling one end, and Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant will continue his progression as one of the best emerging signal-callers in the ACC and country. The Tigers should roll here, and they will.
Prediction: Clemson 52, Boston College 10
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.