The 2020 College Football National Championship Game will bring two teams from the same region of the country together to decide who is the best in the nation. A title will be awarded on the field to either Clemson or LSU on Monday, January 13. This is the matchup many wanted and the sportsbooks projectedm, but this year’s game is especially interesting for a variety of reasons.
Since the college football playoffs began, the No. 1 seed has never won it all. LSU will try to become the first after destroying Oklahoma in the semifinals. Joe Burrow, the Heisman trophy winning QB for LSU, will also try to become the first to win the Heisman and the playoffs in the same season. Clemson, the second seed, will try to become the first team in the playoff era to win back-to-back national championships after beating Alabama in the title game last year. With a combined record of 28-0, it’s hard to argue that these are not the two best teams in the country.
While we haven’t used many “leans” in our college football betting articles this season, I will use leans here when it’s appropriate. A lean is the direction I’m thinking the game will go but I’m not fully committed to backing it with a play. When I’m putting my own money down, that is what I call a “pick.”
LSU vs. Clemson moneyline
Let’s start with the location for this game. Louisiana State University will be playing for its first national title since 2007 in New Orleans, a city that will be overflowing with fans wearing purple and gold. It’s hard to imagine the Mercedes-Benz Superdome not giving LSU a homefield advantage for this game.
The question is, will that matter to the defending champs? I don’t think so.
Clemson and LSU both feature the top quarterbacks in the college game. Joe Burrow is going to go first overall in this year’s NFL Draft while Trevor Lawrence is going to go No. 1 next year. Both have amazing arms and complete control over the offenses that they run. Their stats are ridiculous. Their offensive lines are incredible and their skill players are nearly unstoppable. I think it’s safe to say that neither team has an advantage at the most important position.
So where is the big difference in this game? One area I’m looking at is run defense.
Lawrence led Clemson in rushing in the semifinals as Travis Etienne was held in check by the stellar Ohio State defense. If Clemson is going to repeat, it will need a lot more out of its ground game against LSU. And I think that’s exactly what the Tigers are going to get.
You can run on LSU. The Beaux Bengals gave up over 119 yards per game on the ground this season and I believe Oklahoma would have been smarter to run more in their game than it did. Alabama’s Najee Harris ran for 146 yards on LSU and Auburn’s D.J. Williams ran for 130. Now, the Tigers won both those games, but Etienne is a better back than those two, running behind a better offensive line as well.
Clemson went into the national semifinals against Ohio State believing it had one of the best rushing defenses in the country but got gashed by J.K. Dobbins. It nearly ended the Tigers’ season. Dobbins ran for 174 yards on 18 carries, an average of 9.7 yards per rush. You could easily make the case that LSU not having to play star running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire for more than a few snaps against Ohio State due to his injured hamstring was huge for this game. If he is close to 100 percent, LSU’s offense will add a huge weapon.
However, Clemson doesn’t need to stop the run. The Tigers just need to slow it down enough to focus on the outstanding LSU receiving core. In 13 games prior to the semis, Clemson had given up just 106.2 yards per game on the ground. I think their defense will have a better showing in the finals.
This environment is going to bring out the best in both teams but I don’t believe either defense will have much success slowing down these offenses. I believe this game will come down to experience and coaching and that’s why I’m leaning towards the team that has been here before and expected to be playing in this game before the season began.
LSU vs. Clemson point spread
The line for this game opened up at LSU -3 before Ohio State and Clemson finished their game to make it to the finals. That’s how dominant the Tigers were and how the books expected the betting action to go. As soon as the windows were open for business, the money came pouring in on LSU, driving this line to -5. It has continued to climb to its current position of -5.5 at the time of this column.
I do not believe this is where the line will land at kickoff, however. I believe there is more money to come in on LSU, as the public will continue to believe that the SEC Champs are unstoppable and Joe Burrow’s offense will crush the ACC Champs. As this line continues to climb, I see more and more value on Clemson.
The ACC champs have been a covering machine this year. Clemson went 11-3 ATS this season and has covered five straight and eight of its last nine. While some of the lines during this run have been as high as 52 points, Ohio State was only catching 2.5. The Buckeyes were the most talented opponent to date but Clemson was able to cover that line as well.
LSU has been a little more up and down ATS this season with a record of 9-5 against the number. The Tigers easily covered the 13.5 line against Oklahoma, winning by 35 points but they didn’t cover against Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, and Arkansas this season. The one game they were underdogs, against Alabama, they won outright by five. Only three times this season has LSU failed to win by double-digits.
It’s doubtful that the sportsbooks will make LSU a seven-point favorite but they might have to go that high to get professional bettors to take Clemson. There is no reason to take the points early in the week because the line is almost for sure going to climb. While I would love to get the key number of 7, I believe I will have to settle for 6.5. If you want to place a bet now, take the points.
This Clemson team knows how to handle big moments and even if they get down, they will rally. LSU is not scoring 63 points on Clemson and I have concerns about the LSU defense stopping Trevor Lawrence and company. Tee Higgins went out in the first half of the semifinal but came back and had a monster impact on the win. The Tigers in orange and white will be in the game until the end.
LSU vs. Clemson total (over/under)
LSU led the nation in scoring at 48.9 points per game. They just hung 63 on Oklahoma in the national semifinals with Joe Burrow throwing seven touchdown passes and rushing for another. This team isn’t just elite on offense, they appear nearly invincible. Alabama gave up 46 to them for goodness sake. Clemson hasn’t given up more than 23 points in any game this season but they will this one.
However, Clemson’s numbers on offense aren’t that far behind. The ACC Champs averaged 45.3 points per game, that’s 4th best in the country and just scored 29 points on Ohio State. That’s the most the Buckeyes gave up all season. QB Trevor Lawrence ran for 107 yards in that game, showing off his underappreciated athletic ability while throwing for 259 yards and two touchdowns as well. While LSU’s defense is good, it’s not Ohio State good. I expect Clemson to score with LSU.
The sportsbooks are predicting a ton of points in this game and most have hung a total around 70. That’s incredible given that this is the national championship game. This year, LSU had three games with totals of 69 or higher and the over went 2-1 in those games. Overall, nine of LSU’s 14 games went over the total this season.
Clemson is the opposite as the under has been the stronger play due to their defense and the offenses the Tigers were facing in the ACC. Only three games this year had a total of 62 or higher and all three went under, including the semifinal against Ohio State. If Clemson runs the ball well and steps up on defense, I think they would prefer to keep this game in the low 30s.
This article was originally published on Monday, Jan. 6. Lines subject to change.