Clemson vs LSU National Championship CFB Betting Preview
This game is a fantastic example of the eye test vs. analytics. Check out WagerTalk’s YouTube page for a variety of breakdowns and opinions on what will hopefully be a very entertaining contest between LSU and Clemson.
Let’s start with the analytics side. You will not find a widely-used, respected power rankings service that has LSU as six points better than Clemson on a neutral field. Even if you generously give LSU some points for home field advantage in the Superdome, it’s still a struggle to get them anywhere near -6.
Jeff Sagarin’s College Football Ratings has Clemson -1 on a neutral field. Each week during the regular season, the oddsmakers at Circa Sports in Las Vegas released their top-25 power rankings. Heading into the College Football Playoff, they had Clemson -1 on a neutral field. Was LSU’s win over Oklahoma worth a seven-point boost? Short answer: No.
So if you are playing LSU minus the points in this contest, you are laying a premium price. It’s pretty amazing to see the market react against a Clemson team that went 11-2 against the spread vs. FBS opponents this season, and 10-1 against the spread in their last 11 bowl/playoff game appearances.
Clemson has participated in each of the last five College Football Playoffs, with a 6-2 record in those contests. Since appearing in the 2011 National Championship Game, LSU has appearances in the Outback Bowl, Music City Bowl, and Texas Bowl. Quite the difference in playoff experience and expectations.
Yet with all of that being said, we’re still not in a rush to grab a ticket on Clemson. That’s where the eye test comes into play.
Auburn is the only team that’s come close to slowing down LSU’s offense this season. LSU leads the country in points per game, is second in yards per play and second in points per play. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is averaging 10.9 yards per pass attempt.
LSU has covered the spread over their last three contests (against Texas A&M, Georgia and Oklahoma) by 25, 20, and 23 points. That’s a train that we’re not in a rush to step in front of.
So if the analytics say Clemson but the eye test says LSU, then what’s the play? We’re looking at the over.
We are in an age of college football where elite offenses are nearly impossible to slow down. The skill position athletes that teams like LSU, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are attracting are NFL-ready as freshmen. Great offenses are simply overpowering good defenses.
LSU scored 37+ on Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia and Oklahoma. Four of those teams rank in the top-40 in defensive efficiency. Ohio State scored 56 on Michigan, then 34 and 38 against Wisconsin in their two meetings. Both of them are in the top-10 in in yards per play allowed. Clemson scored 40+ against ten opponents this season. Alabama was involved in seven games that saw 69+ points.
Between Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins and Travis Etienne with Clemson and Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Justin Jefferson with LSU, there’s enough offensive talent in this game to fill an all-conference team. LSU’s offense has generated 49 plays of 30 yards or more this season. Clemson’s offense has created 43 such plays. LSU’s defense has given up 28 plays of 30 yards or more.
Don’t be fooled by the final score of the Clemson-Ohio State game. It fell ten points shy of the total, but there were 49 first downs and 933 yards of offense. Both teams averaged over 5.0 yards per carry. Don’t be fooled by Clemson holding Alabama to 16 points in last year’s title game. The Crimson Tide had 23 first downs and 443 yards of offense. Alabama gained 172 yards in their final four drives and didn’t score a single point. Pretty hard to do.
Dating back to the end of last season, the over is 11-5 in LSU’s last 16 games. There should be some more offensive fireworks in the Superdome on Monday night. We are looking at over 69.5 to conclude the college football season.