In scanning the odds board for the ACC and top-25 action for this weekend in college football, no game stands out more than No. 1 Clemson hosting Syracuse. As of Wednesday, the Tigers are listed as 46-point favorites.
To barely cover that massive spread would actually be a step back from the 66-point win Clemson just had against Georgia Tech on Saturday. In fact, the Tigers were nearly covering that number with their 52-7 halftime lead, allowing the second half to be dominated by the backups to the point of having a listed punter in at quarterback before the conclusion of the game. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said after the game the goal is "score every time we have the ball," and so while Clemson will apparently dig deeper and deeper on the depth chart as games get out of hand, there is no changing the team's aggressiveness on offense.
Speaking of depth, Clemson's willingness to continue to pour it on with backups is only half of the reason you see this nearly seven-touchdown spread on the board. These are the kind of spreads you see when top power conference programs take on FCS teams, and Syracuse is working with the depth of an FCS team right now.
According to Syracuse.com, fewer than 60 scholarship players are suiting up for the Orange right now and "nearly half are freshmen." Based on preseason projections, the combination of injuries and opt-outs have taken more than a dozen starters out of the lineup, including All-American safety Andre Cisco.
Known for his pass defense thanks to starting the year as the FBS career leader in interceptions, Cisco was also a huge part of the run defense. However, Cisco was lost for the year to injury and in the three games since, Syracuse has allowed 976 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns to Georgia Tech, Duke and Liberty.
Syracuse has not been this big of an underdog since 1983 when it played No. 1 Nebraska in Lincoln as a 38-point underdog. It's also the largest spread as an ACC member since being a 37.5-point underdog to eventual national champion Florida State in 2013. It lost both games by 56 points.
Even with the knowledge of the depth issues and Clemson's relentless pursuit of perfection, it's still wild to see Dino Babers, the last ACC coach to record a win against the Tigers, and his Orange as historic underdogs. Syracuse nearly followed up that 27-24 win in 2017 with another upset in 2018, only to see Chase Brice enter the game for the injured Trevor Lawrence and pull off a 27-23 win en route to a 15-0 season and national championship. We are just two years removed from that classic in Death Valley, and while Clemson is on a similar path and trajectory, the Orange could not be further from that giant-killer status.
Week 8 ACC odds, picks
Syracuse at No. 1 Clemson (-46): I understand there are several reasons outlined above to make picking Syracuse a bad idea, but we are principled here at Chip Shots Inc. and we will not be picking a team to cover more than 40 daggum points in a conference game. Pick: Syracuse +46
No. 23 NC State at No. 14 North Carolina (-17): Both teams are in the AP Top 25 poll for only the third time in the 110 meetings of this rivalry, and the first time since 1993. The historic nature of this moment in a rivalry packed with hate and history leads me to believe we will operate on the extremes. Either North Carolina wins by 20, or NC State gets the outright upset. There is no in between, there is only heartbreak. Pick: North Carolina -17
Florida State at Louisville (-5): Last week's 12-7 baseball score against Notre Dame actually includes some positives for Louisville, especially considering the team's defensive struggles for much of the season. Winds impacted both teams' ability to pass the football, but to stand tall against the Irish offensive line and potent ground game shows improvement from the Cardinals' defense. Florida State got its best win of the season last week thanks to an explosive first half against North Carolina and I think could be in a bit of letdown spot. I'm taking the Cardinals to win their first ACC game and cover the number. Pick: Louisville -5
No. 3 Notre Dame (-10.5) at Pitt: The Panthers are going to make Ian Book try to beat them with a run defense that has done a good job against everyone it has played. That strength-on-strength puts the Irish passing attack in the spotlight, but it also puts the onus on Pitt to put some points on the board to cover the spread. I think the latter struggles more than the former, and the Irish get the win and the cover. Pick: Notre Dame -10.5
No. 19 Virginia Tech at Wake Forest: Both of these teams are doing a great job of moving the ball, with Khalil Herbert and Hendon Hooker anchoring one of the best rushing attacks in the country, and Wake Forest running back Kenneth Walker III coming off a 128-yard performance against Virginia. Sam Hartman also got the downfield passing attack going against the Wahoos and I think will have the opportunity to hit some explosive plays against the Virginia Tech secondary. Have I mentioned the word "defense" yet? Nope. Buckle up and root for points. Pick: Over 68.5
Georgia Tech at Boston College (-3): Wild line and wild game here. Has Boston College's bubble burst? Georgia Tech has gotten some top-level effort in its 2-3 start but showed in losses against UCF and Clemson that it can be picked by a hot quarterback and elite passing attack. The question is whether we think Phil Jurkovec can be that hot quarterback after going 28 of 51 for 345 yards, two touchdowns and two picks against Virginia Tech. I'll take Georgia Tech in the bounce back opportunity after the Clemson embarrassment, because that's how these things go sometimes. Pick: Georgia Tech +3
Virginia at No. 11 Miami (-11.5): Keep your eye on the status of starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who remains in the concussion protocol as the Cavaliers prepare for the Hurricanes. Virginia is on a three-game losing streak with two straight losses by 17 points. The consistent thread here is how the Virginia offense has lacked for consistency in the passing game with Armstrong sidelined and if he's not in the game, there's no reason to expect Lindell Stone to go blow-for-blow with D'Eriq King and the Miami offense. Even if Armstrong is cleared to play, I think the confidence comes from Miami's defense, which has stepped up as King and Co. had a bit of a step-back game against Pitt. Pick: Miami -11.5
Last week: 3-5 | 2020 season: 18-20
Each week, we'll be offering these top-half power rankings for the 15-team, one-division ACC. Results matter, but won't match the standings necessarily as we look to identify the teams that have the best chance to contend for one of the top two spots (by winning percentage) and play for the conference championship in December.
1. Clemson (Last week -- 1): The Tigers made Georgia Tech look like an FCS team and used the game to work on their depth like teams do in regular seasons with nonconference games on the schedule. The rich get richer in situations like this, as Clemson will now be even better thanks to an advantage that most teams won't have in a 10-game ACC schedule.
2. Miami (2): There is no doubt that Saturday's noon kick against Pitt had all the makings of a classic Canes' letdown spot, and to avoid the potential upset even on an off day shows this is a team that's ducking the worst habits of its predecessors.
3. Notre Dame (3): There appear to be some limitations with Ian Book and the Irish passing attack, but we'll hold off on offering too many judgements because of the aforementioned wind issues in the game against Louisville.
4. Virginia Tech (5): If the Hokies are taking steps forward on defense, they're going to find themselves looking like one of the more well-rounded teams in the conference. They did a good job of slowing Boston College's passing attack, but tougher challenges await with Miami and Clemson coming to Lane Stadium later in the season.
5. North Carolina (4): I know the Tar Heels have the head-to-head win against the Hokies, but they were also outscored 76-42 over a five-quarter stretch from the start of the second quarter against Virginia Tech to halftime of the Florida State loss. It's nitpicking, for sure, but the team looks less dominant than it did early on.
6. NC State (6): The loss of Devin Leary is arguably one of the most significant injuries so far in the 2020 ACC season. Out 4-to-8 weeks, the Wolfpack will now turn to Bailey Hockman, and maybe even Ben Finley, to guide an offense that found its rhythm in back-to-back road wins against Pitt and Virginia.
7. Pitt (NR): Even without Kenny Pickett in the lineup, the Panthers were able to find ways to move the ball on Miami. The issue was converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns. Pitt reached the red zone on five-of-six possessions in the second and third quarter of Saturday's loss, but settled for short field goals on four of those trips. That's 16 potential points left on the field in a 12 point loss against one of the best teams in the conference. I'm still a believer in the Pitt defense, but falling to punch the ball into the end zone in scoring opportunities is keeping the Panthers from their ceiling.
8. Boston College (7): Did the Eagles hit a surging Hokies squad or has the bubble burst now that there is a little bit of tape on Jeff Hafley's first year in Chestnut Hill? Saturday's showdown with Georgia Tech will add to the conversation as to whether Boston College is one of the eight best teams in the league in 2020.
Dropped from the rankings: Georgia Tech (8)