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LSU aims to reclaim SEC dominance

LSU will try to make it 10 national championships in the last 14 seasons for the Southeastern Conference when it clashes with Clemson on Monday night (8 p.m., ESPN). 

The Bayou Bengals won after the 2007 season, the second of seven straight for the SEC from 2006-12. Alabama reclaimed supremacy for the league after the 2015 and ‘17 seasons. 

For Monday’s Tiger tussle, betting markets made LSU the clear favorite. An opener of LSU -3, posted at Circa Sports in Las Vegas during the Clemson-Ohio State national semifinal, was bet up quickly to -5.5 and -6. It might get higher. Driving that rise are:

— Recreational bettors who love taking favorites in big TV games because it’s more fun than sweating underdogs. It became much easier for squares to lay the points with the potent LSU offense after Clemson’s defense allowed 516 total yards against Ohio State. 

— Mathematical modelers who emphasize recent form, because the Tigers had been seemingly scoring at will over quality opponents like Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia and Oklahoma. 

A contingent of sharps is trying to time the apex with the underdog. No reason to bet Clemson at plus-5.5 early if the number is going to rise. And no reason to settle for plus-6 if you think plus-7 might be available before kickoff. Be sure you monitor market prices through the weekend to spot when sentiment reverses. 

For moneyline bettors, it’s likely LSU will close near -220 to win straight up (risk $220 to win $100, or anything in that ratio). Clemson should close near plus-180 to spring the upset (risk $100 to win $180). Those numbers suggest the market is saying LSU is 67% to lift the trophy. 

Statistical analysis for LSU-Clemson can get dicey because they didn’t play schedules of similar strength. Jeff Sagarin’s market-respected ratings at USA Today show LSU playing the No. 10-ranked schedule through the season. Clemson, from the very soft Atlantic Coast Conference, ranked down at No. 61. With that handicapping hindrance in mind, let’s try to get a quick read on skill sets: 

— Better on offense: LSU was No. 1 in the country in yards per game despite facing a tough schedule. And the Tigers were peaking late. Late in the regular season, they were playing at a level rarely seen in the sport. Clemson is terrific, too, but wouldn’t seem as potent vs. the same schedule strength. 

— Better on defense: Clemson was No. 1 in the nation on this side of the ball. The poor showing in the middle of the field vs. Ohio State suggests a drop if the ACC entry had played a tougher slate. LSU’s defense was prone to play shootouts earlier in the season but toughened up vs. A&M and Georgia. The nod probably goes to Clemson, but it could be close. 

— Turnover differential: Both played the percentage game well (plus-8 for LSU, plus-14 for Clemson) and probably would have been close to even vs. more similar schedules. Clemson didn’t turn the ball over vs. Ohio State despite playing from behind much of the night. No clear edge.

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