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Virginia Tech

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This matchup was expected to be a big one before the season, but not many had this pegged as a game between two teams ranked in the AP Poll’s top 12. In fact, no matter how this game plays out, there could be a rematch between them in the ACC title game if all goes well for them. Clemson was seen as a -7 point road favorite early Monday at 5Dimes Sportsbook.

For a time, it looked like Clemson reverted back to last season’s way of playing. While the Tigers won the national title, they had a number of regular season games that finished too close for comfort and if it wasn't for a 27-point fourth quarter last week against Boston College, that would’ve been the case again. While they didn’t cover, Clemson still turned it up a notch and showed that can turn it on when needed. Virginia Tech has been impressive, but they haven’t been challenged since taking down West Virginia in the first week. While the Hokies have dominated competition, they haven’t played a defense like Clemson’s, mainly because it’s one of the best in the nation again.

It was a fun game when these teams faced off in the ACC title game last season, but it was Deshaun Watson that made the ultimate difference for Clemson in a 42-35 win. He threw three touchdowns, while running for two more and leading the team with 85 rushing yards. And while the final score was close, it was 35-14 at a time and the Hokies needed some late scores to make it look more competitive.

But without Watson, this game could be a little more interesting. Of course, Virginia Tech also lost Jerod Evans, its starting quarterback from that game. Freshman Josh Jackson has been great for the Hokies under center with 11 TDs and just one pick, but beating up on Delaware and Old Dominion isn’t exactly a good warm-up for this game. The Tigers may have a better defense than a year ago and there’s no question they’ll come to play in this one. More worrying for VT is that their ground game is still only at 4.5 yards per carry, despite a number of blowouts. Travon McMillian and the rest could have some trouble moving the ball against the Clemson front and if that’s the case, Jackson will have a lot on his shoulders.

The other side of the field could be just as interesting, though, as Kelly Bryant is not Watson. He threw two picks against Boston College last week, although still ran for 106 yards. Against the only decent offense they’ve seen, the Hokies gave up 24 points to WVU, which included 371 passing yards and 221 yards on the ground. As they’ve done early on, Clemson will focus on the running game with Bryant as well as backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster. Virginia Tech’s goal will be to stop the ground game and if not, Clemson will have a leg up. And after allowing 6.3 yards per carry against the Mountaineers, there’s no reason to believe VT can stop Bryant and company.

This should be a better game than last year, but it’ll be hard to bet against Clemson. They’ve had a much more difficult schedule up to now and have the best unit in this game on the defensive side. Jackson could have some issues against this front and that will be all the Tigers need to get an early lead and keep building from there.

Our Pick - Neither team is the same team from a year ago and no doubt Clemson lost the better talent. With that in mind, have to side with the home dog in prime time with a chance at revenge against the National Champs. Virginia Tech +7

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