Ninth-ranked Clemson begins its pursuit of a spot in the ACC title game when it visits winless Louisville on Thursday in the conference opener for both schools. The Tigers have rolled over two lesser opponents to begin the slate while Louisville lost to Auburn and Houston and is looking to avoid its first 0-3 start since 1984.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a broken hand early in an October contest against the Cardinals last season and the injury caused him to miss the following three games. “I wouldn’t say this game matters more,” Watson, a sophomore, said at a press conference. “Each game is the biggest game for me.” Louisville hasn’t announced a starting quarterback but is expected to turn to sophomore Kyle Bolin, who would represent the team’s third starting quarterback in three games. “He hit hands and he executed what we were asking him to do in that part of the (Houston) game and I think he’s had a good week of practice,” Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino told reporters.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY: Books opened the Cardinals as 5-point home dogs but that is now up to +6.5. The total opened at 54 and is down to 51.
INJURY REPORT: Clemson – OL Ryan Norton (Out, leg), WR Mike Williams (Out indefinitely, neck). Louisville – TE Cole Hikutini (Questionable, shoulder), WR Emonee Spence (Questionable, hamstring), QB Will Gardner (Questionable, ribs), DE Johnny Richardson (Questionable, knee), WR Alphonso Carter (Questionable, hamstring), WR Jamari Staples (Out, undisclosed), WR James Quick (Out, ankle).
WEATHER: Temperatures expected to be in the high-70s with wind blowing toward the north endzone at around five miles per hour.
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “Deshaun Watson threw for 248 yards and three TDs in a win over Appalachian State on Saturday. The Tigers will look to move to 3-0 as they face a struggling Louisville team on Thursday.” Covers Expert Jesse Schule.
ABOUT CLEMSON (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS, 1-1 O/U): Watson has completed 77.1 percent of his passes for five touchdowns in two games while displaying no lingering signs of the major knee injury he suffered last November. Sophomore receiver Artavis Scott has a team-best 12 catches — he had 10 receptions versus Louisville last season — as the Tigers deal with the loss of standout junior Mike Williams (fractured neck), who had 1,030 receiving yards in 2014. A strong defense is receiving stellar play from junior free safety T.J. Green (23 tackles), junior defensive end Shaq Lawson (4.5 tackles for losses) and junior strong safety Jayron Kearse (seven career interceptions).
ABOUT LOUISVILLE (0-2 SU, 1-1 ATS, 1-0-1 O/U): The Cardinals have dropped their first two games for the first time since 1998 and settling on a starting quarterback is becoming a necessity. Sophomore Reggie Bonnafon started the opener against Auburn and freshman Lamar Jackson started the second game before Bolin entered and passed for 157 yards and one touchdown in the final quarter against Houston to likely draw his starting opportunity. Defensively, junior strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons leads the squad with 24 tackles and two interceptions, junior outside linebacker Keith Kelsey has 23 tackles and team’s only two sacks and senior outside linebacker James Burgess has 18 tackles.
* Tigers are 6-0 ATS in their last six games in September.
* Tigers are 0-5 ATS in their last five conference games.
* Cardinals are 0-6 ATS in their last six home games.
* Over is 5-1-2 in Cardinals’ last eight games overall.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Fifty-eight percent of Covers users are backing Clemson.