Syracuse vs. Clemson Picks & Predictions: Our Bettors Debate Saturday’s ACC Spread

Syracuse vs. Clemson Picks & Predictions: Our Bettors Debate Saturday’s ACC Spread article feature image

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  • Syracuse and Clemson meet in an early Saturday college football battle between undefeated ACC teams.
  • Our bettors, Mike Ianniello and Tanner McGrath, are going against each other on the spread and explain why below.
  • Check out both sides of their arguments for this ACC contest below.

Syracuse vs. Clemson Odds

Syracuse Odds
-110 / -110
Clemson Odds
-110 / -110
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

Why You Should Bet Clemson

By Mike Ianniello

I bet you didn’t expect me to start this game between Clemson and Syracuse talking about the quarterbacks.

But, oh am I going to. Because it is not often that the Tigers have this clear of an advantage under center.

After his play was called into question for the majority of last season, DJ Uiagalelei has bounced back and silenced the haters and losers, like Tanner.

The former No. 1 quarterback recruit has thrown 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions this year. He is second in the ACC with 20 Big Time Throws and has just three Turnover Worthy Plays.

He has doubled his Big Time Throw Rate and has already eclipsed last year’s total. Uiagalelei is the third-highest graded passer in the ACC.

For Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader, he has just seven Big Time Throws and eight Turnover Worthy Plays. In his entire three-year career between Syracuse and Mississippi State, Shrader has just 24 Big Time Throws, with 30 Turnover Worthy Plays.

Another huge area that DJ has stepped his game up this year is his willingness and ability to use his legs more and run the ball. He has doubled his yards per game on the ground this year, averaging 48.1 yards per game with four rushing scores.

He is one of the quarterbacks who can match Shrader’s production on the ground.

Syracuse is going to look pretty good from a numbers standpoint, but look who it has played.

The Orange have faced just two teams with a winning record this season. They beat a Purdue team that outgained them by 180 yards — plus, the Orange were benefactors of like four ridiculous penalties late in the game. Then, they beat NC State’s backup quarterback.

I’m not buying it.

This is a team that won just five games last season, and sure, the Orange are much improved, but they are in for a rude awakening against the Clemson buzzsaw that is on its path back to a College Football Playoff berth.

Why You Should Bet Syracuse

By Tanner McGrath

The Orange are for real, folks.

Shrader and offensive coordinator Robert Anae have turned Syracuse into a different animal this season. Shrader is averaging almost 10 YPA with a 12:3 TD-to-INT ratio.

He’s also backed up by a much-improved offensive line and All-American running back Sean Tucker (644 yards, six TDs, 5.2 YPC).

All-in-all, Shrader leads the nation’s second-best aerial attack by Success Rate. And he’s one of the nation’s better dual-threat options.

Garrett Shrader takes it himself💨

🍊 takes the early lead!

— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 23, 2022

The defense is a bit problematic on the line, but the Orange are superb at tackling, in coverage and at forcing Havoc. With PFF’s fifth-ranked Coverage grade led by four veteran defensive backs, Syracuse is the nation’s fourth-best pass defense by Success Rate.

They say pass rush and coverage go hand in hand, so the defense has been exceptional overall — especially when it matters most, considering Syracuse doesn’t give up chunk plays (fourth in Explosive plays allowed) or breaks in the red zone (seventh in Finishing Drives on defense).

Clemson looks fine and has managed a 7-0 record, but Dabo Swinney’s squad is still just 4-3 ATS. Plus, coach Dino Babers has covered four of the last five meetings against coach Swinney.

Clemson managed just a three-point victory against the 5-7 Orange last season. Now Mike expects it to cover two touchdowns against an opponent that has made monumental strides on both sides of the football.

I don’t buy it.

Syracuse is too good to catch this many points, even against “Big Bad” Dabo.

Tigers Refutation

Ianniello: The Orange are not for real. They are big fat frauds, just like that stupid mascot of theirs.

I’m not buying Shrader actually being as good as his numbers have looked to this point.

However, I will fully admit that Tucker is very good.

Regardless, Will Shipley is even better for Clemson.

Tucker might have more yards because he has 26 more carries. Shipley is averaging 5.9 yards per carry to Tucker’s 5.1. Shipley bests him in yards per carry after contact (3.8-2.7), he has more runs of 10+ yards and he has eight touchdowns to Tucker’s six.

Tucker will have to run the ball against a Clemson defense that is fifth in the country, allowing just 84 yards per game on the ground and has yielded just 2.8 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Shipley gets to run against a unit that ranks 87th in Line Yards.

Syracuse has great numbers against the pass this season, but it has played one quarterback capable of completing a forward pass.

The only team the Orange has faced that ranks inside the top 80 in passing was Purdue, and Aidan O’Connell torched them for 424 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

Orange Refutation

McGrath: There’s just not that big of a difference between Uiagalelei and Shrader. That’s ludicrous to say.

Both have rushed for 300 yards on 78 and 81 attempts, respectively. Shrader has rushed for five scores while DJ has picked up four. Shrader’s adjusted completion percentage is four points higher than DJ’s. While the two have the same aDOT (10.1), Shrader’s YPA is nearly two yards higher.

Mike's argument hinges on the fact that DJ has way more Big Time Throws while Shrader has way more Turnover Worthy Plays. But someone’s BTT-to-TWP ratio is not a universal stat, and it’s not enough to claim this is Bryce Young playing against Graham Mertz.

Also, let’s talk about Clemson’s offense overall.

Yeah, I agree with Mike. The Clemson numbers only look worse because its played “defensive powerhouses” like Florida State (91st in Success Rate), Boston College (60th in EPA per Play allowed), Wake Forest (42nd in Success Rate), Louisiana Tech (101st in Success Rate) and Georgia Tech (101st in Success Rate).

Through that gauntlet, the Tigers could only finish 74th in Pass Success Rate while averaging 4.5 YPC. They have slightly better rush efficiency metrics, but they can’t touch Syracuse’s numbers because Dabo has to scheme against the ’85 Bears weekly.

A pause on the sarcastic tone: DJ did play NC State, a team that I think has one of the best defenses in the nation. He threw for only 200 yards and one score, with his lowest PFF Passing grade of the season.

Let’s cool it on the love for DJ and this Clemson offense. The Tigers are not two touchdowns better than the Orange on that end.

And I sure wouldn’t be optimistic that DJ cuts through a Syracuse 3-3-5 that grades out as one of the best coverage squads in college football.

Tigers Rebuttal

Ianniello: I guess paragraph No. 3 would be a good time to start talking about this Clemson defense, huh?

The Tigers' defense ranks in the top 31 against both the run and the pass and is loaded with five-star talent.

The Clemson defensive line is one of the best in the country and leads a team that ranks fourth at creating Havoc. Bryan Bresee is one of the best players in college football and has dealt with a ton over the last couple of weeks.

Between the loss of his sister and a medical issue, Bresee has been very limited over the last three games. He was eased back in last week, and Clemson hopes he can be back to full strength this week.

He is a game-wrecker along that front with Tyler Davis, Myles Murphy and K.J. Henry. The Tigers are fifth in the country in pressure grade, and Henry has the second-most quarterback hurries in the Power Five.

With Bresee, edge rusher Xavier Thomas, cornerback Sheridan Jones and safety Andrew Mukuba all working back to 100%, we can finally see this defense at full strength for the first time all season.

The biggest weakness for the Syracuse defense has been getting after the passer. It ranks 102nd in the country in pass rush and Uiagalelei has completed 71.2% of his passes when kept clean this season, with 16 Big Time Throws and zero Turnover Worthy Plays.

This defense is going to make life extremely difficult for Shrader, while DJ should have all day in the pocket to find Beaux Collins or Joseph Ngata on the outside, or Antonio Williams in the slot.

Orange Rebuttal

McGrath: Well, we can agree to disagree on the Orange. And we can agree to disagree on Shrader.

Syracuse’s rush defense has been slightly weaker, but still ranks among the top-50 FBS teams in Success Rate. The Orange also haven’t allowed any Explosive running plays (25th in that metric) and are the nation’s 20th-best tackling team.

So what, Mike expects Shipley to just ground-and-pound his way to a 17-point victory?

I’m not buying that game script at all. Uiagalelei will have to throw the ball down the field if Clemson wants to blow out the Orange, and there’s no way he does it against Syracuse’s top-notch pass defense.

Syracuse has posted numbers against lower-level passing attacks.

Unfortunately for Mike, Clemson is a lower-level passing attack. The Tigers are 74th in Pass Success Rate and 50th in Pass EPA per Play. Syracuse will post the same numbers against Clemson as it has against everyone else.

And don’t fall in love with the Clemson defensive line. The Tigers can rush the passer, but are outside the top 30 in Stuff Rate and outside the top 50 in Line Yards.

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Closing Arguments

Ianniello: Bet Clemson -14

Syracuse came into this season with a win total of just five. It has already eclipsed that total and racked up more wins in any season since 2018.

But thank god it got off to such a hot start. Because it's about to enter a gauntlet over the next five weeks.

Clemson might have had a down year last season, but it's back and on an inevitable path back to the College Football Playoff. Uiagalelei has been one of the most improved players in the entire country and is not fully getting the credit he deserves.

This Tigers defense has battled injuries and lost key players in every game this year, but is finally looking like it could be 100% for this one. This was expected to be one of the best defenses in the country, and it finally gets to show it.

Don’t be fooled by Syracuse shutting down a bunch of teams that can’t complete a forward pass. Look for Uiagalelei and Shipley to put up the best performance against the Orange this season, and this healthy defense to lock down Shrader and the Orange.

It is Homecoming week in Death Valley, followed by a bye week. The Tigers will flex their muscles here.

Pick: Clemson -14

I’m just not that scared of the Clemson defense. Syracuse has been too good at protecting the passer (second in PFF’s Pass Blocking grades) and avoiding Havoc (31st in Havoc allowed) to let Dabo and Co. overwhelm it.

Sam Hartman was able to cook the Clemson defense via a one-dimensional aerial attack, and I think Shrader can do the same while also adding a dimension with his legs.

Hartman covered 7.5 points in that game, and Shrader is catching 14.

Meanwhile, don’t overlook what the “The Mob” has done defensively this season. Watch out for Marlowe Wax and Mikel Jones. And remember that Syracuse has allowed just 17 opponent drives to cross its own 40-yard-line.

Read that again: Syracuse has allowed only 17 opponent drives to cross its own 40-yard-line.

Of those 17 drives, 12 have gotten into the red zone and only six have been converted into touchdowns. Finishing Drives is one of the stats most correlated with covering spreads, and this defense is catching two touchdowns.

Do you want to lay 14 points with Dabo in a game between two undefeated teams? This is too many points. SP+ makes this spread Syracuse +9.3, and I’ll happily play the Orange at this number.

Pick: Syracuse +14

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