No. 18 Clemson Tigers @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons (+11.5)
ESPN – 7:30 p.m. Tonight
XM 91/85 – SIRIUS 91/85
ACC Football action returns to the featured game on Thursday Nights on ESPN in grand fashion tonight as the 18th-ranked Clemson Tigers travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to battle with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
It’s an ACC Football game on a Thursday night and its on ESPN! So what if its not a battle of two highly ranked BCS teams. It’s the emotion of Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney versus the stone cold poker face of Wake Head Coach Jim Grobe.
It’s the high flying offensive showcase of the Tigers versus the quietly solid Demon Deacon defense.
Ok, so maybe on paper it doesn’t look like the best of match ups to highlight the ACC on ESPN, but let’s take a deeper look.
Yes, Clemson is near the top in conference in almost every offensive category while Wake is near the middle to the bottom.
But there is an X-Factor here for the Demon Deacons as they will get the services of its best offensive playmaker in WR Michael Campanaro (pictured above) back tonight.
“I think he’s (Campanaro) going to play,” Grobe said during the ACC Weekly Media Conference Call Wednesday. “We didn’t do much with him. I really was just laughing about it a couple days ago. We started him out catching tennis balls. I didn’t know if he could catch a football because his hand is still pretty tender. But last night he looked so much better. We put him in practice. We were still careful with him. We tried not to do too much with him. He didn’t seem to have any problems. I think they’ve got the padding right. He caught the ball well last night. I think he’s going to play. How much he plays and how well he plays is yet to be determined. But I think if we get him out there, he knocks the rust off pretty quick, starts playing good, we’d be more apt to give him more work. I would say he’ll definitely play (Thursday) night.”
This is HUGE for Wake folks. Campanaro hasn’t played since fracturing his hand against the Duke Blue Devils on September 29. Despite missing two games, Campanaro is still the leading receiver on the team with 28 receptions for 489 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is also still 4th on the team in rushing with 63 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.
There is no doubt Campanaro will give the less than stellar Tigers defense fits.
Switching fields, Wake ranks out higher than Clemson in most every defensive category in conference action and has its best star, Nikita Whitlock, completely healthy as well.
“They do a great job on defense,” Swinney said during the ACC Media Call on Wednesday. ” They’re a little bit different. They’re an odd front most of the time, really good in the secondary. They’re active at linebacker. Up front, that No. 50 (Whitlock), the little nose guard they got, he is the heart and soul of their defense. There’s a lot of movement. They bring pressure. They just do a good job of executing their scheme. Like I said earlier, they are well-coached. They know what they’re doing. They rarely beat themselves. They do an excellent job of taking care of the football and creating turnovers. That’s been a big key for them.”
Clemson and Wake are No. 1 and No. 2 in the ACC in turnover margin at +7 and +5 respectively. What will be interesting to see in the game is how much of an impact Campanaro and Whitlock can be on 3rd-down. Clemson is the best team in the ACC on 3rd-downs converting 52% of the time, while Wake is allowing teams to convert 44% of the time.
The Demon Deacons are dead last in 3rd-down conversions at only 29%, while the Tigers are pretty stout holding teams to a 33% conversion rate. Folks, that is where the game will be won or lost. Campanaro will be a huge lift but Clemson just has way too many athletes on the both sides of the ball.
The Tigers are challenged early, but will win and cover 38-24.
M Shannon Smallwood has over 10 years of experience in broadcasting and journalism in professional baseball and college athletics and is the ACC Football Guru for Rant Sports.
Follow him @woodysmalls.