It’s a battle of the Tigers in this year’s college football national championship game as the no. 1 LSU Tigers of the SEC take on the no. 3 Clemson Tigers of the ACC. Kickoff is set for 8:00 EST on Monday, January 13 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Current betting odds have LSU favored by 5.5 points in a de-facto home game for the Bayou Bengals. The over/under for the game is set at 5.5 points.
Over the last handful of years, Clemson has become the pre-eminent program in college football. Dabo Swinney’s team enters Monday’s championship game on a 29-game winning streak and is on the verge of a genuine dynasty if they can capture their second straight national championship and third in the last four years.
Clemson has been to the College Football Playoff in each of the past five seasons, going 6-2 during that span. That includes their Fiesta Bowl victory over Ohio State. The Tigers didn’t play their best game and had to come from behind. However, Clemson found a way to beat a team that many fancied as the best in the country for most of the season.
As for LSU, they appear to be peaking at the end of the season. They obliterated Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and followed it up with an even more impressive win over Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. The Tigers enter the title game a perfect 14-0 under Ed Orgeron and outside of games against rivals Alabama and Auburn, the Bayou Bengals have won every game by at least 14 points.
The Tigers now have their sights set on their first national championship since the 2007 season. LSU has had a hard time getting over the hump that is Alabama, which is why this is their first-ever trip to the CFP. Now that they’ve gotten this far, the Tigers will look to capture their third national championship of the century.
Monday’s game will be the fourth all-time meeting between Clemson and LSU, with the three previous games being decided by a total of 11 points. LSU beat Clemson in both the 1959 Sugar Bowl and the 1996 Peach Bowl. However, Clemson won the most recent meeting, scoring 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl to beat LSU 25-24. Fans can only hope the fourth all-time meeting between the two Tigers is just as close.
Based on how they played against Georgia and Oklahoma, it’s going to take something special to beat LSU. However, Clemson might have that something special that could match up against the Bayou Bengals. You don’t win 29 straight games by accident, especially by the margins that Clemson has defeated teams this season. I’m not brave enough to pick against LSU straight up. But I think this will be a close game, which has me leaning toward Clemson to at least beat the 5.5-point spread.
It’s not a stretch to say that Heisman winner Joe Burrow looked unstoppable in the national semi-final against Oklahoma. He threw for nearly 500 yards and seven touchdowns against an OU defense that some gave a fighting chance to slow down the LSU offense. Even more impressive is that Burrow did it without much help from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who should be close to full health for Monday’s championship and more of a factor than he was against Oklahoma.
However, LSU will likely be up against the best defense they’ve seen all season. Clemson allowed more than 14 points just twice in 14 games this season. One of those games was the national semifinal against an Ohio State team that was nearly as potent as the LSU offense in 2019. In fairness, Clemson allowed over 500 yards of offense against the Buckeyes. But they were able to play bend-but-don’t-break defense, stuffing Ohio State in the red zone and forcing them to settle for field goals.
Outside of one long touchdown run by J.K. Dobbins, the Clemson defense was able to hold the Ohio State running game in check. They also forced two interceptions from OSU quarterback Justin Fields, who only threw one during the regular season. Clemson’s secondary is full of playmakers, most notably safety Isaiah Simmons, who could force Burrow to throw into tight windows and could create a turnover or two.
On the other side of the ball, the Clemson offense could create trouble for an LSU defense that is not without holes. Receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross were held in check against the OSU secondary. But that will be difficult for LSU to replicate. Both have great size and can create mismatches on the outside. Clemson also has a running back in Travis Etienne who might be the biggest home run threat in the country, turning any mistake by the defense into a long run.
We also saw in the national semifinal that quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a threat with his legs. Clemson isn’t likely to use him as much in the run as they did against Ohio State. But they can if they need him. Lawrence has also played mistake-free football for most of the season and it will be hard for the LSU defense to throw off rhythm given his experience in big games.
All things considered, it’s hard to envision LSU building enough of a cushion to cover the spread in this game. As dominant as the Bayou Bengals have been late in the season, Clemson has been doing the same for the past two seasons. Swinney’s team has experience on its side and is arguably the better-coached team. While I understand why LSU is favored, this game is almost too close to call straight-up. That’s why I favor Clemson to at least beat the spread and possibly take home a second straight national championship.