LSU vs. Clemson spread, odds, line: Predictions, picks and props for national championship 2020
There is one game remaining on the 2019 college football schedule, and it’s the contest that will decide the national champion. Monday night in New Orleans, No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson will take the field inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as the two undefeated giants battle it out for the biggest prize in the sport with the Bayou Bengals from Louisiana seen as the consensus favorite.
Remember, as mentioned above, this is the final college football game of the season. We won’t see teenagers hitting each other in anger again until August. That’s seven months away! That means we won’t have the chance to bet on angry teenagers taking out their feelings on one another in a football game for seven months, either!
So, we can’t just bet on the spread. Thankfully, I’m here to help guide us through how to bet the national championship beyond the line. It’s time to go all out because, again … seven months, people. We could have flying cars by then.
Spread: No. 1 LSU (-5.5) vs. No. 3 Clemson
If we were to look at the metrics, most of them would tell us to take Clemson and the points in this spot. The two teams, based on their performances this season, are about equal, depending where you look. Some give LSU an edge; others prefer Clemson. None like one significantly more than the other.
But metrics have their limitations. For one, as I said at the start of this story, this is a de facto home game for LSU. Playing in the Superdome is nothing new for the Bayou Bengals. And while Clemson will get the same share of tickets to the game as LSU, we all know it’s going to be a pro-LSU crowd in attendance. That pushes the scales a bit further in LSU’s direction, but that’s not the deciding factor here for me.
It sounds stupid, but the real reason I like LSU here is this: If it’s not a team of destiny, then what ever could be? LSU has been the story of the 2019 college football season. It’s won every award. It’s passed every test. It’s scored every touchdown. I’m tired of being the person who expects the other shoe to drop. I’m no longer waiting for Godot (or is it Godeaux).
Clemson is a fantastic team, and it’s good enough to beat LSU, while nearly nobody else has been this season. It has a great quarterback of its own and plenty of weapons elsewhere. But Clemson doesn’t have the sense of destiny around it this year. It’s been too much of a background character in college football’s story of 2019. I’m taking LSU because, like a “John Wick” movie, sometimes we need to enjoy the ride and not worry about plot holes. Pick: LSU -5.5
Total: Over/under 69.5 points
Putting destiny aside, let’s get to the numbers. This total is too high, and it’s this high thanks in large part to what LSU was able to do to Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl semifinal. Clemson’s defense is not Oklahoma’s, however. It’s quite the opposite. Granted, Clemson hasn’t had a chance to go up against many offenses like that of LSU, but Ohio State had one of the most prolific offenses in the country this year. In fact, the Buckeyes scored more points per game during the regular season than LSU did.
Clemson’s defense held Ohio State’s to 23 points. It was the most Clemson had allowed to an opponent all season. Don’t get me wrong, Clemson isn’t going to stop LSU’s offense. There isn’t a defense at the college level that could even imagine doing so. It will slow it down a bit, though. At least, a lot more than Oklahoma had any chance of doing. We’ve seen LSU’s offense struggle at times against top defenses, and Clemson’s defense is one of the best in the country.
On the other side, LSU’s defense is often overlooked because of its offense, but while it’s not an elite unit, it’s better than most believe. It also has a secondary full of NFL players like Ohio State, and that will come in handy trying to slow down Clemson’s passing attack. Just like Ohio State did. I think 35 points is enough to win this game, which would suggest the under is the smart play. Pick: Under 69.5 points
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LSU QB Joe Burrow: O/U 365.5 yards passing — On the season, the Heisman Trophy winner is averaging 372 yards passing per game, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We often think of the SEC has a strong defensive conference, but Burrow and LSU did not face a lot of great passing defenses in 2019. The average rank of the 13 FBS pass defenses LSU faced in defensive passing efficiency was 67th, and even that rank is a bit misleading because Alabama and Georgia skew it. Those two were the only two opponents that even finished in the top 25. Eight of LSU’s opponents finished in the bottom 50.
LSU did face five opponents that finished in the top 35 (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and Texas A&M). In those five games, Burrow averaged 341.6 yards per game. That’s still awesome (turns out the guy won the Heisman for a reason), but it’s a full 30 yards below his season totals as he averaged 390.8 yards per game in the other eight. So, given that Burrow hasn’t been as prolific against better defenses, there’s value on the under here. We should take advantage of it. Pick: Under 365.5 yards
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence: Will he score a TD? — Keep in mind that, as a quarterback, this prop only hits if Lawrence scores a rushing or receiving touchdown. Passing TDs do not count. If only it were that easy, right? Still, running for a TD wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary for Lawrence this season. He has eight rushing scores, though they aren’t all from 67 yards out like his TD against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Like the Ohio State game, I expect LSU’s defense to try to take running back Travis Etienne out of the run game as much as possible and force Lawrence to be a ball carrier. Etienne is extremely dangerous, and when the QB is running, you get to hit the QB. It’s the best of both worlds for the LSU defense.
Still, the LSU defense is vulnerable to the run game, at least when it comes to allowing touchdowns. LSU’s defense allowed only 3.6 yards per carry this season, which ranks 28th nationally. It also allowed 16 rushing touchdowns in 14 games (1.14 per), which, on the whole, isn’t bad at all. Still, compare that to a Clemson defense that’s allowing 0.64 rushing TDs per game, and you can see that it’s not great, either. The odds suggest that Clemson will get at least one rushing TD in this game, and while Etienne is priced at -450, I think the payout on a Lawrence rushing TD is much better value. Pick: Yes (-110)
LSU TE Thaddeus Moss: O/U 45.5 yards receiving — Moss, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss (maybe you’ve heard of him?), is a matchup problem for a lot of defenses, the same way LSU’s other receiving options have been this season. We’re talking about a kid who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 249 pounds but with remarkable athleticism. He is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. The problem is he’s fifth in the pecking order among LSU receiving options. Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall and Clyde Edwards-Helaire all have more receptions this season than Moss. While Moss is averaging 3.2 receptions per game, that total is a bit skewed. During a three-game stretch against Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss, Moss caught 18 passes for 154 yards. If we remove those three games, Moss averaged 2.4 receptions per game in LSU’s other 10 games.
While this is a yards prop, the reception totals are important because opportunity leads to yards, and Moss doesn’t get as many chances. When it comes to yards, he’s averaging 41.08 yards receiving per game, which is below the total on this prop. In the 13 games Moss has played this season, he’s finished with 46 yards or more in six of them, but in LSU’s five games against the top passing defenses LSU has faced (mentioned above in the Burrow prop), Moss has averaged 3.6 receptions and 28.2 yards per game. All of which suggests this total is higher than it should be. Pick: Under 45.5 yards