It’s a ballad of Tigers vs “Tigahs” in the College Football Playoff National Championship come Monday night, and it serves as one of it not the best championship matchups since the playoff format began in the 2014 season.
Ed Orgeron and #1 ranked LSU are currently 6-point favorites over Dabo Swinney and #3 Clemson. In a contest that will pit future NFL talent all over the field against each other, it also serves as a reflection of where college football currently is as a sport.
While the game can be dissected in endless ways, the personnel matchups that both squads bring to the table makes this the best possible meeting of any of the four teams who were able to make the playoffs this season; and the hardest to gauge.
Both undefeated, conference champions who buy into their respective coach’s established culture, LSU and Clemson impressed (albeit in different ways) in their semifinal appearances.
LSU’s blow out over Oklahoma quickly had college football enthusiasts second guessing the choice to put the Sooners in the mix yet again, while Clemson had to fight its way out of a hole against the formidable and immensely talented Ohio State to advance to where they sit now.
|#1 LSU (14-0)||-6||-220||69.5 (-110)|
|#3 Clemson (14-0)||+6||+190||69.5 (-110)|
Given what they have done all season and their dominant showing in their last outing, it is a no brainer why LSU gets the chalk in this one. The line has seen slight movement throughout the week going from 5.5 to 6 in the past few days while the total has seen the same fate, with it currently settled at 69.5.
With the game going down in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, many are projecting a substantial home field advantage for LSU, who makes the hour and a half trek to the “Big Easy” from Baton Rouge.
But what Swinney and Clemson lack in proximity they make up for in experience and talent, and as good as LSU has been all year long, they have not faced a team even remotely as balanced or well-equipped as Clemson.
In a game that has so much to analyze, one handicapping the game must be aware of the true significance of all the moving parts.
To help shine some light, let’s look at the three factors that all bettors and fans should keep in mind when tuning in to LSU vs Clemson.
Whatever Quarterback Uses His Legs More Will Have the Superior Performance
Joe Burrow is a name that has not been used in moderation this season, and for very good reason. The former Ohio State transfer was nothing short of brilliant this year, winning the Heisman Trophy in a landslide and rewriting every passing record an SEC quarterback could.
With exceptional deep ball accuracy and incredible poise both in and out of the pocket, Burrow did more than just throw the ball better than anyone in the history of the conference, he made it look easy. So easy in fact that I still sit here not entirely sure if Burrow and his arsenal of elite receiving talent have even been tested this season (and yes, that includes the monster road win over Alabama).
The story for his opposition is much different in terms of the 2019 campaign, as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence struggled to pick up the momentum off his national title performance nearly a year ago on the dot. Facing issues with interceptions, questionable decisions, and forced throws, it appeared that the true sophomore was in store for a disappointing slump.
Then, a one-point scare happened which saw the Tigers barely escape from North Carolina. At this moment, the college football community seemed to write off Lawrence and his teammates. It would turn out to be the best thing for Swinney and his crew, as with the exception of LSU, no team looked more unstoppable down the final stretch of the regular season than the pawprint.
Clemson has won 29 straight games, with Lawrence 25-0 at the helm. Perhaps the most refined quarterback prospect ever, Lawrence demonstrated a new tool in his belt in the battle against the Buckeyes: his legs.
Rushing for more than 100 yards and notching a 67-yard touchdown, the athleticism Lawrence brings to the table will have to be on display in order to find balance against an LSU defense that has not been stellar as a whole, but has been steadily improving at the right time with the help of K’Lavon Chaisson’s pass rush.
Burrow, who is unanimously expected to be the #1 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, is far from robotic in his own right, as the senior has shown the ability to scramble, escape, and improvise while still keeping his eyes downfield to deliver the ball to his elite receivers.Both Burrow and Lawrence will make multiple big throws and attempt to stretch the field, but whoever has more of an impact incorporating their rushing and mobile ability will outshine the other.
Travis Etienne vs Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the Most Important Matchup in the Game
With the Burrow and Lawrence duel showcasing the likely number one overall draft pick in 2020 and 2021 respectively, this quarterback encounter has the makings to be one of college football’s greatest ever, and on paper is the best face off in a title game since Vince Young and Matt Leinart threw down in the now-legendary 2006 Rose Bowl.
Yet, it is not the most important comparison in the contest interestingly enough. While both passers will find their spots and bring something to the table for their offensive units, the make or break comes in the form of the men who share the backfield with them: Clemson running back Travis Etienne and LSU rusher Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Etienne has been Swinney’ secret weapon for the past two seasons, with his performance in the national title win versus Alabama and ensuing consistency in 2019 being the backbone for the program’s offense.
A Louisiana native in his own right, Etienne has all the tools that make a top 10 NFL running back let alone a Division I FBS standout. With the field vision of a savvy vet and breakaway stride of a track star, Etienne fits the bill for the modern-day NFL running back prototype the same way his teammate Lawrence has for quarterbacks.
Edwards-Helaire has proven to play a similar role in LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady’s system, and had his biggest moments in the biggest games. His performances against ranked Florida, Auburn, and Alabama helped spearhead LSU’s victories and put the junior on the map, as he totaled seven touchdowns alone between those three opponents.
His contributions to the aerial attack with underneath routes and check downs have helped Burrow immensely all year long, giving the quarterback a constant security blanket. Edwards-Helaire’s open field skills and tackle breaking ability gives Brady’s scheme a receiving threat at every level of the offense.
His limited time in the semifinal due to injury paired with additional time off since will only help the Baton Rouge native, and if Burrow and company feed him early it will open up everything else for the wideouts and tight ends.
The same formula applies for Etienne and his dynamic with Lawrence, Ross, and Higgins. With so much focus on each team’s signal callers and perimeter threats, many may expect both backs to play merely a supplemental role, but it will in fact be the opposite.
LSU’s Receivers are Uncannily Good, But They Haven’t Met Clemson’s Defense
I do not live in a world of absolutes, especially when it comes to football as the game is far too volatile and imperfect in its nature; but something has got to give here.
Simply put, LSU’s wide receiving corps is one of the best units we have ever seen in college football. Conversely, the same can be said about Clemson defensively, whose run of dominance far predates what the LSU offense has done this year.
That being said, LSU will get their shots in and it is nearly impossible for me to see Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall Jr. and the rest of the bunch not making any kind of impact at all.
You won’t hear me utter a peep about this crop being shut down by Clemson but being slowed down by them is a different story.
There are no moral victories in football, but defensive guru Brent Venables game plans as good as anybody in the country; and no not just defensive coordinators, all coaches period. If he concocts a strategy to at the very least contain the LSU passing targets, that difference alone is enough to directly impact the game’s outcome.
Has LSU been hindered in their offensive dominance thus far? Not even close. But if one defense exists in college football who can at least delay them a bit, it is Clemson.
So, what’s the move?
This is the antithesis of my pick last year, where I had so much conviction that Clemson would topple ‘Bama due to their edge at quarterback and mismatches on both sides of the ball people looked at me like I was forgetting just how good the Tide were.
While my confidence in Clemson as a program is clear with me so big on Swinney and his regime, I can assure you that I have not forgotten how good, or even great, LSU is. For all the confidence I had in my pick a year ago, this one has me bouncing back and forth simply due to how threatening LSU is offensively and how spectacular “Coach O” has been.
While I do still believe Clemson is the better team overall, LSU hasn’t shown any reason to fade them, and while you can’t handicap emotion, everything has seemed to click for Orgeron’s squad this season. Sometimes, it is just your year, and that seems to be the case for LSU. But that of course is talking about winning and losing, not covers, and in a match up that is as razor thin as this one featuring two of the best coaches and QBs in the sport, a deficit of more than a touchdown is hard to envision.
Plus, for all the emotion and energy LSU feeds off of, Clemson brings an equally valuable intangible in the form of experience on this very stage.
PICK: Clemson (+6)
Clemson’s well-rounded roster and dynamic play at quarterback will allow them to stay neck and neck with Burrow and staff, and while LSU will find the end zone on multiple occasions, it won’t be enough to cover the posted 6 points.
Prop It Up
If the spread, total, or money line doesn’t do much for you, here are a few props via BetOnline that I am eyeing heading into Monday night:
- First Touchdown Scorer: Travis Etienne (+500)
- First Turnover of Game Will Be: Fumble (+130)
- First Score of Game: LSU Field Goal (+400)