Matt Connolly

Final thoughts on Clemson-Auburn, including a prediction

Clemson has one of the toughest opening months of the season in college football with three games, including two on the road, against top 20 teams.

That stretch gets underway this week as No. 13 Auburn comes to town.

No. 3 Clemson then travels to No. 17 Louisville before hosting ACC foe Boston College. The Tigers go back on the road and travel to No. 18 Virginia Tech to close out the month.

If Clemson can survive September undefeated, the Tigers will likely be favored to earn another berth in the College Football Playoff, but doing so won’t be easy.

Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech gave Clemson all it wanted last year with the Tigers winning each game by a touchdown or less.

This Auburn team should be better than the one that lost 19-13 to Clemson in 2016.

Auburn has a capable quarterback in Jarrett Stidham to go along with one of the best running games in college football. Auburn star running back Kamryn Pettway did not get a carry in last year’s game before going on to lead the SEC in rushing yards per game.

Auburn also has a veteran defense with eight of the 11 starters being upperclassmen, and it finished No. 7 nationally in scoring defense a season ago.

Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who was fired by Dabo Swinney at Clemson, would love nothing more than to upset his former team in Death Valley.

Steele has plenty of talent on defense, especially in the front seven, and will try to force Kelly Bryant and Clemson’s passing game to beat him.

I’m still not sure Bryant is ready to beat a capable defense with his arm, and I think Clemson will struggle to move the ball through the air, although the passing game should improve as the season goes along.

But I think Clemson’s defense will be the difference. While Stidham is an upgrade at quarterback for Auburn, he didn’t face defenses like the one Clemson has when he was playing for Baylor in the Big 12.

Clemson, behind a stout defense and an insane crowd in Death Valley, should win a low scoring game.

Prediction: Clemson 24, Auburn 20.