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Jim Barnes’ college forecast: Clemson’s woes point toward bet on total

Clemson’s sharp decline has been one of the stories of the college football season.

It’s not just that the Tigers are having a down year at 4-2. They haven’t played a single game to the standard they’ve set over the past six seasons, when they reached the College Football Playoff every year and won two national titles.

It’s shocking to see Clemson as a 3½-point underdog at Pittsburgh on Saturday, but that reflects what the Tigers have been this season: an average Atlantic Coast Conference team.

An opening 10-3 loss to now-No. 1 Georgia sure looks like Clemson’s best game this season. The Tigers got a perfunctory 49-3 win over South Carolina State, then have played four straight squeakers in ACC play.

None of Clemson’s wins has been by more than six points (14-8 over Georgia Tech, 19-13 over Boston College and 17-14 over Syracuse), and the Tigers had chances to lose all three. Clemson also lost 27-21 in double overtime to North Carolina State.

Pittsburgh is a tempting play, but the better spot is under 48. Look at the results of those ACC games; none went over 32 in regulation (N.C. State was 14-14).

And this could be just the spot when Clemson rises up and throws everything it has against the Panthers, who are feeling good at 5-1 and ranked No. 23.

If Clemson shows up, this should be a tight, low-scoring, grinding game. Play under 48.

Four more plays for Saturday:

— Northwestern-Michigan U51: The Wolverines have a huge showdown with Michigan State on deck, and I don’t think they’ll have their foot to the gas against Northwestern. The Wildcats got a 21-7 win over Rutgers last week, but they can’t score on anyone. Look for Michigan to get a lead and cruise to a victory in the neighborhood of 27-7.

— Army +3: Wake Forest is off to a 6-0 start and is No. 16 in The Associated Press rankings, but the Demon Deacons can’t be happy to see Army and its triple-option attack on the schedule this week. The public sees an unbeaten Power Five team laying only a field goal to a service academy, but yet the line remains stuck at 3. Take the Black Knights, who could very well pull off the upset.

— Iowa State -7: The Cyclones’ national title hopes are gone after losses to Iowa and Baylor, but they still have a chance to be in the thick of the Big 12 race. This is another game where the line tells you what you need to know. Unbeaten No. 8 Oklahoma State is a touchdown underdog to an unranked team? Yes, sir, and for a reason. Give me the Cyclones.

— Wisconsin -3½: Another “this line doesn’t look right” situation with Purdue coming off a 24-7 upset of then-No. 2 Iowa. Wisconsin hasn’t played its best game yet this season, and now would be the time to start. The Badgers have beaten Purdue 14 straight times, all but three by double digits.

— Last week: 2-3

— Season: 16-18-1

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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