It’s finally here!
After a long buildup, the much-anticipated national championship clash between Clemson and LSU is set for Monday night at the Superdome in New Orleans.
— LSU (-6) vs. Clemson (8 p.m., ESPN)
LSU: No. 1 offense, No. 22 defense, No. 10 schedule, plus-8 turnover margin
Clemson: No. 3 offense, No. 1 defense, No. 61 schedule, plus-14 turnover margin
(Stat rankings are from the regular season. Strength-of-schedule rankings are from Jeff Sagarin’s market-respected data at USA Today).
First, let’s deal with the site. Pundits are talking about the unfairness of LSU getting to play in New Orleans. How much “home-field advantage” is that worth? The New Orleans Saints play all of their home games there and couldn’t even get past Minnesota in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
LSU plays its home games outdoors on grass. Monday’s title tilt will be indoors on synthetic turf. Yes, it’s a shorter trip. But both teams have been in the Big Easy in plenty of time to prepare. Sharps aren’t considering this a home game for LSU. You shouldn’t either.
Statistical comparisons are tricky for LSU-Clemson because of diverse schedule strengths. LSU is truly battle-tested and had the best offense in the nation vs. that tough schedule. Clemson is great, but we don’t know how it would have rated vs. an SEC schedule.
What we do know is that Clemson’s defense had trouble vs. Ohio State. It allowed a stunning 516 yards on 6.1 yards per play. Clemson did step up late in multiple drives to force field-goal attempts. Joe Burrow of LSU has been fantastic at finishing drives. Clemson can’t count on the same model working.
— The case for LSU: Betting markets have trailed this team all season, particularly in litmus tests over the final two months. LSU (plus-5) covered by 10 points in a 46-41 win at Alabama. LSU (-18) covered by 25 points in a 50-7 rout of Texas A&M. LSU (-7.5) covered by 19.5 in a 37-10 demolition of Georgia (and ‘Bama, A&M and Georgia won their bowl games). Then, in the national semifinal, LSU (-14) covered by 22.5 points in a 63-28 crushing of Oklahoma.
— The case for Clemson: Are you kidding? The talent-rich defending national champions and their future No. 1 draft pick at quarterback are getting this many points?
Trevor Lawrence proved he was a gamer in the second half vs. the Buckeyes. His multi-dimensional skill set gives Clemson a chance to win outright, cover clean or score late in garbage time if it falls behind by 10-13 points.
From betting markets, sharps getting gradings to LSU are already in at -5.5 or less. Those considering Clemson as a value underdog are waiting to see what they can get before kickoff. Recreational bettors usually want favorites in big TV games. But that’s not always true in championship scenarios when “public” teams are getting points.
Game-day market dynamics will be fascinating to watch.