College Football Playoff National Championship (Clemson Tigers vs. LSU Tigers): Matchup Preview and Bets
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Clemson took a lot of criticism early in the season and the majority of it was because of their offense. A 52-14 blowout against an eventual 3-9 Georgia Tech team to open the season was an expected result. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence throwing for two interceptions, was not. Only putting up 24 points against Texas A&M in their second game wasn’t very impressive as Lawrence threw another pick. The Tigers put up 41 points in their third game of the season against a subpar Syracuse team with Lawrence against throwing two interceptions. Three games and five interceptions for Lawrence, many began to doubt both him and the potential of the Clemson program this season.
Clemson almost lost their undefeated streak at the end of the September when they edged out North Carolina 21-20 thanks to a failed 2-pt attempt by the Tar Heels. The doubt of Clemson and their offense continued. Then, the Tigers showed the country why they are the reigning champs and are looking for another title in back-to-back seasons. Lawrence, after throwing five interceptions in his first three games, closed out the season with seven straight games with no picks. He also had 3+ passing touchdowns in eight straight games before throwing for just two against Ohio State in the CFP Semis.
Now the Clemson offense is fourth in the country in points scored per game (45.3) and they have scored 50+ points in half of their games this season. Lawrence and the Tigers passing offense are 19th in the country in passing yards per game. Running back Travis Etienne had another great season on the ground as the Tigers were 12th in rushing yards per game. Clemson had one of the most explosive offenses in the country as they were fourth in the country in yards per play.
Traditionally a defensive team, the LSU Tigers are now an offensive powerhouse. An offense that features Heisman winning quarterback Joe Burrow finished the season first in points scored per game (48.9). The Tigers only scored fewer than 36 points in a single game just once this season, a 23-20 win against Auburn. Burrow threw for seven touchdowns in the semi-final against Oklahoma, making that his fifth game this season with at least five passing touchdowns.
While Clemson thrashed mostly weak competition this season, LSU has a number of quality wins. The Tigers took down a solid Texas team 45-38 in their second game of the season. Their next big win came against a Top 10 team in Florida (42-28). A close 23-20 win against Auburn, another close win against Alabama (46-41), a blowout against a very good Georgia team in the SEC Championship game (37-10) and then a blowout win against Oklahoma (63-28) gave LSU their sixth win against a Top 10 opponent this season.
Burrow and the LSU passing attack finished the season second in passing yards per game (397.2). The success of their passing attack led them to being second in the country in yards per play at 7.9 yards per play. The LSU rushing attack hasn’t been elite, just 61st in the country at 166.9 yards per game, but it also hasn’t had to be. Despite their average team rushing numbers, Clyde Edwards-Helaire had an excellent season on the ground. Edwards-Helaire was 17th in the country with 1,304 yards and 11th with 16 rushing touchdowns. His 6.6 yards per carry average was 18th in the country.
Despite losing a lot of talent to the NFL last season, the Clemson defense was just as elite this season, possibly even better. The Tigers led the nation in points allowed per game (11.5). Before their semi-final matchup against Ohio State, a game in which they allowed just 23 points to one of the nation’s best offenses, the Tigers only allowed more than 17 points once when they allowed 20 to UNC. The Tigers allowed 10 or fewer points in eight of their games this season. Their schedule may not have been the toughest but the Tigers did take on some solid offenses this season. One of their best performances of the season was when they allowed just three points to a high-powered Wake Forest offense.
It will be 1 v 1 when the Clemson’s top-ranked pass defense, which allowed just 151.5 passing yards per game, takes on the LSU top-ranked pass offense. The Tigers’ rush defense was nothing to ignore either as they were 15th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (112.6). Clemson was second in the country in yards allowed per play (4.2).
The LSU defense hasn’t been as standout as it has in the past. However, LSU still put together solid defensive numbers this season but they were overshadowed by their elite offense. The Tigers were still 28th in the country in points allowed per game (21.6). While the SEC doesn’t have a ton of offensive juggernauts, the Tigers still faced some tough offenses this season in Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma.
Rounding out the rest of their defensive numbers, nothing stands out for good or for bad. LSU was slightly above average against the pass, ranking 55th in the country allowing 221.9 yards per game. Their rush defense was better as they were 21st in the country allowing just 118 rushing yards per game. Although, a big reason they allowed such few rushing yards per game was due to teams constantly having to play catch-up against the LSU high-scoring offense. The Tigers did well to limit big plays as they were 27th in the country in yards per play allowed (5.1).
- Clemson is 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games.
- Clemson is 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games.
- Clemson is 14-0 SU in their last 14 games this season.
- Clemson is 5-0 SU in their last 5 games against an opponent in the SEC.
- Clemson is 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games when playing as the underdog.
- LSU is 11-3-2 ATS in their last 16 games.
- LSU is 14-0 SU in their last 14 games this season.
- LSU is 10-1 SU in their last 11 games against an opponent in the ACC.
- The total has gone OVER in 12 of LSU’s last 17 games.
- The total has gone OVER in 10 of LSUs last 15 games when playing as the favorite.
Spread, Total and Other Bets
The spread in this game opened up at LSU -4.5 across most books. As of this article (Thursday, January 2nd), LSU is now a 5.5-point favorite. The Total has stayed strong at 69.5 up until now. The spread is climbing in LSU’s favor and that appears to be the right move. LSU managed to be the nation’s top-scoring team in the toughest conference in the SEC. Scoring that many points against SEC defenses is remarkable. While the Clemson defense was the best in the country on paper, their numbers are more favorable than they probably should be due to the majority of their schedule being so easy. The Clemson defense is certainly elite, but perhaps not exactly the best in the country if they have the schedule LSU did. For that, I have to roll with LSU -5.5 and would take them on anything -7 or less.
Spread Pick: LSU-5.5
As for the total, anything below 70 is a great spot for the Over. “Only” needing 10 touchdowns, anything less than 70 points I am siding with the Over. We know how good the LSU offense is and they will be looking for repeat their last performance against Oklahoma when they put up 63 points. While they may not score that many, I expect LSU and Burrow to have a big offensive day as I see them scoring at least 42 points in this game. The Clemson offense is very good as well and they shouldn’t have any issues keeping up with LSU for most of this game. Anything 70 or lower is certainly worth an Over bet.
Total Pick: Over 69.5
CFP Prop Bets
Joe Burrow Total Passing Yards: Under 365.5
Burrow has surpassed 365 passing yards six times this season. The defenses he did it against weren’t exactly the toughest (Texas, Northwestern State, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Ole Miss and Oklahoma). He has only accomplished that feat three times in the last 10 games. While I do expect him to have a big game and possibly five passing touchdowns, 366 passing yards is a little on the high side as I expect him to be closer to the 330 mark.
Trevor Lawrence Total Passing Yards: Over 295.5
Lawrence has only passed for more than 295 yards twice this season (South Carolina and Syracuse). However, he will need to have a huge day if Clemson is going to win this game. Lawrence will be forced to throw more this game than he has all season. His season high attempts is 39 and he had to throw 33 times against Ohio State in the semis. Odds are he will have to throw 40+ times in this game so I expect him to have a big yardage day. Lawrence should pass the 300 yard mark in this game.