The top-ranked Clemson Tigers will get their first big test of the 2019 season this week when they welcome the no. 12 Texas A&M Aggies to Death Valley. Kickoff is set for 3:30 EST on Saturday, September 7 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina. The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.
According to our Week 2 odds, the Tigers are a hefty 18.5-point favorite over the Aggies. The over/under for the game is set at 61 points.
Clemson, the reigning national champions, made quick work of ACC rival Georgia Tech in their season opener. The Tigers were up 35-0 before losing the shutout, ultimately cruising to a 52-14 win in which they more than doubled Georgia Tech in total yards. Despite being an ACC opponent, the Yellow Jackets are starting over with a new coach, so it’s tough to draw too many conclusions about Clemson from the game. However, the Tigers had no hangover from last year’s championship and didn’t take the win for granted, both of which are positive signs.
Texas A&M was also impressive in their season opener, albeit against a weak opponent in Texas State. The Aggies, to their credit, also took care of business and didn’t overlook an inferior team. Texas A&M more than doubled Texas State in total yards and were actually 36 seconds away from keeping a shutout before conceding a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of their 41-7 win.
As many folks remember, these two teams got together in College Station early in the 2018 season. The Tigers were out-gained by nearly 100 yards in that game and didn’t cover the 12.5-point spread, but they escaped with a two-point win. Texas A&M scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter but couldn’t convert a two-point conversion in the final minute to force overtime, giving the Tigers a 28-26 win.
Of course, while these teams have a little familiarity with one another from that game, the two head coaches will be a lot more familiar with one another. A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher was at Florida State from 2010 to 2017, meaning yearly matchups with Clemson and Dabo Swinney during that span. The two coaches split their eight head-to-head meetings while Fisher was at Florida State. But Clemson and Swinney won the last three, as well as last year’s meeting after Fisher had moved to Texas A&M, giving Swinney four straight wins over Fisher.
I won’t deny that Clemson has a serious chance to win another national championship. But I don’t like that this spread is so big, even if the Tigers are at home. Despite Texas A&M offensive lineman Jared Hocker guaranteeing an upset, I’d be surprised if Clemson lost. However, winning is different from covering a spread that’s nearly three touchdowns. I’ll take my chances with the Aggies beating the spread.
The biggest key for Texas A&M in this game is quarterback Kellen Mond. He had his ups and downs last season, but he threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns against a Clemson defense that few teams had any kind of success against in 2018. Despite throwing an interception against Texas State, Mond looked sharp in the season opener and appears to have good chemistry with receivers Jhamon Ausbon and Quartney Davis.
Another strength for Texas A&M in this game could be their offensive line. The Aggies return a lot of experience up front and had no trouble running the ball last week. On the other side, the Tigers are still working out how they’re going to replace four starters on their defensive line last season who are all in the NFL right now. The way Clemson recruits, I don’t doubt that there’s talent on the new-look defensive line. But that unit is still unproven and will be facing a Texas A&M offensive line that has the muscle and experience to win the battle in the trenches.
Of course, the Texas A&M defense still has a lot of questions to answer. They dominated Texas State last week, but that doesn’t prove anything, especially with Clemson up next. The Aggies are young and inexperienced in the front-7, and that could mean big trouble against Clemson.
A year ago, the Aggies saw a little bit of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But he’s come a long way over the past year and could turn into a bonafide Heisman candidate with a big game on Saturday. On top of that, the Tigers have a potential Heisman contender at running back in Travis Etienne, who went off for over 200 yards against Georgia Tech last week. Etienne is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. While the Texas A&M defense held him in check last season, that may not be the case with so much turnover in their front-7.
All things considered, I’d be surprised if Clemson lost this game. Texas A&M just doesn’t have the balance to pull off the road upset. But I think Mond and the Aggies will be able to score points, and that will keep the Tigers from getting too comfortable. Much like last season, Clemson will get the win, but they won’t cover.