Though it took a while for the college football bowl bonanza to get rolling, the much-anticipated national semifinals are upon us.
Let’s study the market and a few key stats. We’ll look at national rankings on offense and defense, strength of schedule as ranked by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today, and turnover margin.
— LSU (-13.5) vs. Oklahoma (4 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN)
LSU: No. 1 offense, No. 22 defense, No. 10 schedule, 8 turnover margin
Oklahoma: No. 2 offense, No. 25 defense, No. 24 schedule, -7 turnover margin
It’s hard to understand why this point spread is so high until you get to turnover margin. LSU played cleanly against a very tough schedule in the nation’s best conference. Oklahoma was mistake-prone and erratic against a slightly softer slate.
LSU’s pro-style offense, led by Heisman Trophy winner and projected No. 1 draft pick Joe Burrow, will move the ball and score, and it will likely turn any OU miscues into bonus touchdowns.
An early line of LSU -11 was bet hard up to -13 right away. It subsequently rose to -14 after news broke of player suspensions for Oklahoma. Dog lovers have taken a bite of 14, which dropped the line to 13.5 entering the week. For now, sharps clearly like LSU at -13 or less, but the percentages (and bets) flip when the key number of 14 comes into play.
Picking the winner could come down to properly gauging Oklahoma’s turnover issues. The Sooners can cover if they play relatively cleanly. If not, the Tigers will run away and hide, as they did in beating Georgia 37-10 and Texas A&M 50-7 in their last two tests against bowl-caliber opponents.
— Clemson (-2/63.5) vs. Ohio State (8 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN)
Ohio State: No. 5 offense, No. 2 defense, No. 18 schedule, 11 turnover margin
Clemson: No. 3 offense, No. 1 defense, No. 61 schedule, 14 turnover margin
The big mystery here is how much of a factor Clemson’s soft schedule played in shaping the defending national champion’s dominant season. Clemson has earned the benefit of the doubt. For now.
Sharps immediately bet up Clemson from an opener of -1 to -2. And that was after media discussion that Ohio State might open as a small favorite. Certainly the Buckeyes would get pounded were the public to drive the line up to Clemson -3. But given OSU’s national profile, recreational bettors could just as easily move the number back toward pick-’em.
Given team quality, it’s basically a national championship-caliber matchup. And the winner will have to do it all again Jan. 13 in the Superdome, probably vs. LSU.