College Bowl Games
Wed, Jan 1 10:00 AM PT
Rotation: 265, Odds: Auburn -7, Total: 54.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Strong Opinion – Under (54.5) – Auburn (-7) 26 Minnesota 23
Lean – Minnesota (+7)
Minnesota certainly isn’t as good as their 10-2 record but Auburn’s mediocre offense should keep the Gophers in this game according to my math. However, the better play appears to be the under, as Minnesota’s games were randomly higher scoring that they should have been, which has elevated the Over/Under line in this game.
Minnesota struggled offensively at the beginning of the season (just 5.1 yppl in non-conference games against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average offense) but quarterback Tanner Morgan heated up after the week 4 bye week just in time for Big-10 play. From that point on the Gophers averaged 6.9 yards per play against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average attack and that unit played well against 4 good defensive teams in their final 4 regular season games (6.7 yppl against Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin, who would allow 4.8 yppl to an average offensive team). Auburn is the best defense that Minnesota has faced this season and the key to this game will be how well the Gophers’ big-play aerial attack (15.7 yards per completion) performs against an Auburn secondary that allowed a very low 10.3 yards per catch. Auburn faced 3 very good pass attacks this season in Florida, LSU, and Alabama (with Mac Jones at QB) and the Tigers allowed a reasonable 6.9 yards per pass play, which is 2.5 yppp less than the 9.4 yppp that those 3 quarterbacks would combine to average against an average defensive team. Auburn held Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow to just 6.8 yppp and also held Oregon’s Justin Herbert to only 5.5 yppp. Morgan did play relatively better against better pass defenses but Auburn’s defense was relatively better against better quarterbacks and my math projects 6.75 yppp for Minnesota in this game and only 3.8 yard per rushing play for a total of 324 yards at 5.15 yards per play.
Auburn’s offense averaged a modest 5.8 yards per play this season and the Tigers’ attack rates at just 0.1 yppl better than average after adjusting for quarterback Bo Nix’ positive outlier (13.3 yards per pass play against Miss State). Minnesota’s defense was 0.58 yppl better than average this season but I rate that unit at 0.41 yppl better than average without top tackler (on a per game basis) LB Kamal Martin, who is sitting this game out. Martin missed 4 games this season and the Gophers’ run defense rating was 0.3 yards per rushing play worse than their season rating in those 4 games. Minnesota still has an advantage when Auburn has the ball and the math projects 366 yards at 5.4 yppl for the Tigers in this game.
Overall my math favors Auburn by just 4.7 points and projects only 49.1 total points (with the good weather conditions factored in) and the main reason that the Over/Under in this game is higher is because it’s based on compensated scoring, which would project 55.7 total points. However, Minnesota’s games featured 7 defensive touchdowns and 5.55 points per red zone opportunity, as the Gophers’ offense averaged 5.6 points per red zone opportunity while their better than average defense allowed 5.4 points per red zone – both of which are extremely high given their statistics and added 4.2 points per game over their projected offensive and defensive points per red zone – most of which is variance. Auburn’s combined 5.0 ppRZ was also higher than what would be projected (4.8 ppRZ) and added about 1.8 points per game over expectations. If these teams continue to have higher than expected red zone efficiencies then the total on this game is about right but it’s unlikely that those high points per red zone numbers continue and that leads to value on the under. The Under is a Strong Opinion at 54 points or higher and I’d play the Under for 1-Star if the total goes up to 55 points (at -110 odds). And, I’ll lean with Minnesota plus the points, as that math leans their way and the Gophers apply to a 41-9-1 ATS bowl situation.
Wed, Jan 1 10:00 AM PT
Rotation: 263, Odds: Alabama -7.5, Total: 59
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Lean – Michigan (+7.5) 27 Alabama 30
I wonder how Alabama will respond to play a postseason game that is not a part of the playoffs. A couple of future NFL defenders decided it wasn’t important enough of a game to play, as DB Trevon Diggs and LB Terrell Lewis have opted not to play. Michigan, on the other hand, is desperate for a marquee win against a top team, which has eluded Jim Harbaugh during his tenure. Harbaugh’s Wolverines are 0-9 straight up and 3-6 ATS as an underdog but the last time Alabama was in a postseason game that was not a playoff or national championship game was a 14 point loss as a 16.5-point favorite to Oklahoma in January of 2014.
Michigan’s offense was horrible in the first two weeks of the season but excellent left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. made his debut in week 4 (game 3) and the Wolverines have been good ever since, averaging 6.1 yards per play against teams that would allow just 5.1 yppl to an average offense. Alabama’s defense was also 1.0 yppl better than average (5.0 yppl allowed by the starters to teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average defense). However, I calculate that the absence of Diggs and Lewis is worth close to 0.2 yppl, so the Wolverines’ attack has a slight advantage. Michigan’s offense was relatively just as good against good defensive teams and I project 403 yards at 5.9 yppl for the Wolverines in this game.
Alabama’s offense has obviously been hurt by the absence of injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but Mac Jones has done a pretty good job when he’s played with the first team receivers this season. Jones has averaged 8.4 yards per pass play since week 8 (before that he played in only garbage time with backup receivers) while facing teams that would allow 5.5 yppp to an average quarterback. Jones’ compensated yppp rating is 1.5 yppp worse than Tua’s but is still very, very good and Jones is projected to average a healthy 7.8 yppp in this game against a good Michigan pass defense that is 1.5 yppp better than average. The Wolverines are very tough to run against (4.0 yprp allowed to teams that would average 5.5 yprp) and they should shut down a Bama ground game that is just 0.4 yprp better than average this season. Alabama is projected to run for only 4.1 yprp and for 401 total yards at 6.1 yppl in this game.
Overall the math favors Alabama by just 3.3 points, with 57.3total points, and a good portion of that advantage comes from their excellent special teams, which accounted for 4 touchdowns this season. I expect a good effort from Michigan in this game while not being quite sure about how much Alabama was motivated during preparation for this game. I like the Wolverines plus the points in this game.
Wed, Jan 1 2:00 PM PT
Rotation: 267, Odds: Wisconsin -3, Total: 52
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Wisconsin (-3) 27 Oregon 24
Oregon was certainly impressive in the Pac-12 Championship game and the Ducks were likely just 1 play away from being the playoffs this season, as they lost late in the game to Auburn in their season opener and fell by just 3 points to Arizona State for their other loss.
Oregon’s offense is led by future NFL 1st-Round draft pick Justin Herbert, who completed 67% of his passes and averaged 7.4 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.3 yppp to an average QB) and didn’t fall off at all after losing explosive TE Jacob Breeland midway through the season. The Ducks are also a very good rushing team, as they average over 200 ground yards per game at 5.9 yards per rushing play (against teams that would allow 4.9 yprp). Overall, the Ducks have been 1.0 yards per play better than average offensively and are projected to gain 329 yards at 5.7 yppl against a Badgers’ defense that is 1.1 yppl better than average.
Oregon is also very good defensively, yielding just 4.9 yppl to teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average team but the Ducks are better against the pass (1.5 yppp better than average) than they are defending the run (0.7 yprp better than average) and the Badgers are a running team with Jonathan Taylor closing in on another 2000 yard season. Taylor averages 6.4 ypr and quarterback Jack Coan is very efficient with 70% completions while averaging 7.5 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 5.8 yppp to an average QB). Overall, the Badgers have been 1.4 yards per play better than average offensively and have an advantage over the Ducks’ strong defense. My math projects 418 total yards at 6.1 yppl for Wisconsin.
Overall, the math favors the Badgers by 6 points with 50.8 total points but Oregon applies to a 70-15-1 ATS bowl situation. I’ll pass.
Wed, Jan 1 5:45 PM PT
Rotation: 269, Odds: Baylor +4, Total: 41
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Georgia (-3.5) 22 Baylor 17
This game should be a defensive battle despite being played in perfect dome conditions. Georgia is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, as the Bulldogs have yielded just 12.1 points per game and 4.3 yards per play to a schedule of FBS opponents that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average defense. Baylor is good offensively (6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) but the math projects just 297 total yards at 4.9 yppl for the Bears tonight.
Baylor is nearly as good as Georgia on defense, as the Bears surrendered just 19.3 points and 4.8 yppl this season to teams that would combine to average 6.3 yppl against an average stop unit. Georgia was 0.9 yppl better than average offensively this season but the Bulldogs won’t be nearly that good heading into this game without their two most valuable receivers. Lawrence Cager has been out for a few games and remains out while Dominick Blaylock tore his ACL is also out for the Bulldogs. Those two combined to average 11.4 yards on 69 targets this season while the rest of the wide receivers combined for just 6.9 yards per target, which equates to a drop of 0.8 yards per pass play. NFL bound offensive tackle Andrew Thomas is sitting out and he’s considered a top 10 overall pick and the top tackle in the draft, so Baylor’s strong pass rush (3.3 sacks per game) should be able to get to Jake Fromm in this game. Georgia allowed just 3 total sacks in the first 7 games against FBS opponents this season but the Bulldogs gave up 9 sacks in their last 5 games and that trend will likely continue with Thomas out. Georgia’s aerial attack mostly struggled against good pass defenses this season, especially down the stretch without Cager, and I project just 5.0 yards per pass play for Fromm in this game, even in the perfect conditions for passing. Overall, I project just 331 yards at 4.8 yppl for the Bulldogs in this game.
The math favors Georgia by 5 points with a total of 39.7 points. Baylor coach Matt Rhule is 35-13 ATS as an underdog in his career, including 9 consecutive spread wins with this Baylor team. However, Baylor also applies to a 27-81-1 ATS bowl situation and teams that have covered the spread in 5 or more consecutive games heading into their bowl game are just 2-19-1 ATS in their bowl. I’ll pass on this game.
Thu, Jan 2 12:00 PM PT
Rotation: 271, Odds: Cincinnati -7.5, Total: 54.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Cincinnati (-7.5) 30 Boston College 22
It looks like nasty weather for this game in Birmingham with 15 mph winds and rain, but both of these teams prefer to run the ball anyway so the bad conditions won’t have as much affect as would normally be the case. Cincinnati’s only losses this season were to Ohio State and Memphis (twice) and the Bearcats are certainly the better team, but I don’t see much value in this game.
BC will be without their head coach, who was fired after they upset Pitt in their final game to get to this bowl and running back A.J. Dillon has decided to skip this game to prepare for the NFL combine. Hard to say how having an interim coach will affect the Eagles (they’ve been about 50% ATS in bowl games over many years) but losing Dillon is not an issue. Dillon’s 5.3 ypr can easily be replaced by David Bailey, who averaged 5.8 ypr this season (the top two backups combined for 5.6 ypr) and quarterback Dennis Grosel averaged 6.8 yards per run after taking over for starting quarterback Anthony Brown, who wasn’t a good runner. Brown was a better passer, however, and the play-action, deep-ball pass game was 1.4 yards per pass play worse with Grosel than it was with Brown (compensated for opposition faced) – although Grosel was still 0.6 yppp better than average. Cincy has a good defense that has been 0.7 yards per play better than average (5.3 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average team) and the Eagles are projected to gain a modest 368 yards at 5.2 yppl in this contest (adjusted for the inclement weather).
Cincinnati’s offense is 0.1 yppl worse than average and their run-oriented attack figures to get more run-heavy in the bad weather. That’s good for a BC defense that is average defending the run by horrible against the pass (7.9 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.2 yppp against an average defense). Cincy isn’t like to take full advantage of that bad pass defense and my math projects 403 yards at 6.1 yppl for the Bearcats.
Cincy has an edge from the line of scrimmage and the Bearcats should enjoy better field position given how good their special teams are. The 41.1 net punting average is among the best in the nation and will lead to a lot of long fields for the Eagles in this game, enhancing Cincy’s line of scrimmage advantage. Overall, the math favor Cincinnati by 7.9 points with 52.3 total points. I’d lean Under if the total gets up to 55 points.
Thu, Jan 2 4:00 PM PT
Rotation: 293, Odds: Tennessee -2.5, Total: 55.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Strong Opinion – Under (55.5) – Tennessee (-3) 27 Indiana 23
Thursday, January 2 – 4 pm Pacific
Tennessee’s only win in their first 5 games of the season was against an FCS team as a 31.5 point favorite and one of the losses was as a 25.5-point favorite against Georgia State. Tennessee was expected to be good this season and their poor start led to the Vols being underrated the rest of the season and they enter this game having won and covered the spread in 6 of their last 7 games, with their only loss being at Alabama.
The Volunteers have a good pass attack (7.5 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.3 yppp to an average team) and overall their offense rates at 0.3 yards per play better than average with Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback. That attack has a slight advantage over an Indiana defense that is 0.2 yppl better than average, having allowed 5.7 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.9 yppl against an average defense. Tennessee’s top receiver Jauan Jennings, who averages 11.0 yards per target, has been suspended for the first-half of this game, which is worth 0.4 points. My math projects 344 yards at 5.9 yppl for the Vols in this game.
Indiana’s offense was 0.6 yppl better than average during the regular season but quarterback Peyton Ramsey doesn’t throw the ball down the field as much as injured starter Michael Penix did and top running back Stevie Scott is listed as questionable for this game, which hurts the rush attack a bit if he can’t play (I’ll assume a 50% chance he plays). The Hoosiers’ offense rates at 0.3 yppl better than average entering this game and that unit is at a disadvantage against a solid Tennessee defense that is 0.6 yards per rushing play better than average, 0.8 yards per pass play better than average and 0.7 yards per play better than average overall (5.1 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average defense). I project 357 yards at 5.4 yppl for the Hoosiers in this game.
Overall, my math favors Tennessee by 3.7 points with a total of 49.5 points and the Under is a Strong Opinion at 55 points or higher.
Fri, Jan 3 12:30 PM PT
Rotation: 275, Odds: Nevada +7.5, Total: 62.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Note: This game was released as a Strong Opinion Under (60) but I upgraded it to a Best Bet when the line got up to 62.5. I also had Ohio as a lean at -7.5 and that line moved up to -10.
Best Bet – *Under (62.5) – Ohio 33 Nevada 21
My math liked Ohio in this game even before accounting for Nevada’s 4 suspended defensive starters, and I still like the under despite those suspensions, as I thought the line opened too high, was bet up a bit and then adjusted 2 more points after news of the suspensions broke (I also calculate a 2 point adjustment).
Ohio’s offense is good, even on a national scale, as veteran dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke led an attack that averaged 443 yards per game at 6.7 yards per play against a schedule of teams that would allow 6.3 yppl to an average team. Nevada’s defense has allowed an average of 6.2 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average defense (adjusted for facing Purdue with Sindelar at quarterback). The defense is going to be worse with 4 starters suspended for taking part in a brawl at the end of the UNLV game. Those players are LB Gabriel Sewell, S Austin Arnold, CB Daniel Brown, and DT Hausia Sekona. Brown led the team in passes defended with 9 despite missing 2 games and Sewell is second on the team in tackles for loss, Reserve CB Berdale Robins should be able to fill in nicely for Brown, as Robins defended 7 passes as a backup and had an interception in each of the two games that Brown missed. But, I still calculate that the Nevada will be 0.35 yards per play worse defensively, which equates to about 2 points. Ohio is projected to gain 425 yards at 6.9 yards per play.
Nevada’s offense is in the hands of Carson Strong, who tends to settle for short passes and averaged just 9.4 yards per completion and 5.2 yards per pass play despite facing teams that would allow 7.2 yppp to an average quarterback. Strong’s compensated numbers are 0.33 yppp worse than the team’s average and the Wolf Pack are 1.4 yards per play worse than average offensively with Strong behind center. Ohio’s defense struggled most of the season, allowing 6.0 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.2 yppl against an average defense, but the Bobcats are better with freshman linebacker Keye Thompson starting alongside top tackler (in tackles per game) Jared Dorsa. Thompson barely played the first half of the season but he filled in when Dorsa was injured (he missed nearly 3 full games) and the freshman was so good that he started the rest of the season and averaged 8 tackles per game in his 6 starts. Ohio’s run defense was 0.55 yards per rushing play worse than average for the season but the Bobcats were 1.7 yprp worse than average in the 3 games that Dorsa missed and were 0.5 yprp better than average against the run in the 4 games that Dorsa and Thompson both played after Dorsa returned from injury (4.0 yprp allowed to teams that would average 4.5 yprp against an average defense). To be conservative I just used the Bobcats’ run defense rating in the 9 games with Dorsa, which is 0.2 yprp worse than average, but there is certainly evidence to suggest that they are better than average against the run based on those last 4 games with their current set of starting linebackers. Nevada is a horrible running team and Strong’s short pass game isn’t well suited to fully exploit Ohio’s usually bad pass defense. The math projects 342 yards at 5.1 yppl for the Wolf Pack in this game.
Overall, the math favors Ohio by 13.3 points with a total of 54.1 points. I’ll just lean with Ohio given that favorites of more than 7 points in minor bowls are generally not good bets, but there is value on the under and teams that went over the total is their previous 3 games are 62-36-1 Under in their bowl game at totals of more than 45 points. Ohio comes into this game on an over streak that could be one of the reasons the total on this game is too high. I’ll consider the Under a 1-Star Best Bet at 61 points or higher.
Sat, Jan 4 8:30 AM PT
Rotation: 277, Odds: Tulane -7, Total: 57.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Tulane (-7.5) 33 Southern Miss 25
The Armed Forces bowl is living up to its name by making these teams and their fans get up at the crack of dawn to play football. Tulane is obviously the better team, as the Green Wave have been 0.3 yards per play better than average offensively with their run-oriented attack while being average defensively. Overall, Tulane’s line of scrimmage rating is 3.9 points better than an average due to the positive play differential they tend to have due to their style of offense. Southern Miss is a team that depends on the pass, as quarterback Jack Abraham completed 67.5% of his passes and averaged 8.0 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 7.3 yppp to an average quarterback) while the rushing attack was a dismal 1.1 yards per rushing play worse than average (4.3 yprp against teams that would allow 5.4 yprp). Overall, the Eagles are 0.1 yards per play worse than average offensively while the defense has been 0.4 yppl worse than average (5.8 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.4 yppl against an average defense). The Southern Miss defense tends to give up big plays, which led to the Eagles also having a positive play differential and overall their line of scrimmage rating was 5.0 points worse than average.
The math projects Tulane with a 447 yards at 6.5 yppl to 373 yards at 5.7 yppl advantage and an edge in projected turnovers. It all adds up to Tulane by 8.8 points with a total of 58.6 points. The situation favors Southern Miss a bit but Tulane applies to a 10-32 ATS bowl situation and I have no leans on this game.
Mon, Jan 6 4:30 PM PT
Rotation: 279, Odds: Miami Ohio +15.5, Total: 55
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Lean – Miami-Ohio (+15.5) 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 33
The final bowl game before the National Championship game pits the offensively potent Louisiana team against a stout Miami-Ohio defense, but the Ragin’ Cajuns have an edge in that matchup and Miami’s bad offense doesn’t figure to keep up against a solid ULL defense. However, the line looks a bit too high here – although not enough for me to be tempted to play this game.
Louisiana-Lafayette has three very good running backs that have all been named to the All-Sun Belt team at some point in their careers. The three-headed running monster of Mitchell, Calais, and Ragas have combined to run for 2755 yards at 6.8 yards per run and the #4 back added another 334 yard at 10.4 ypr. The rushing numbers are elite at a national level even after adjusting for schedule strength, as the Ragin’ Cajuns averaged 265 rushing yards at 6.6 yards per rushing play against teams that would combine to allow 5.3 yprp to an average team. Quarterback Levi Lewis averaged 7.1 yards per pass play against a schedule of teams that would allow 7.1 yppp to an average quarterback and overall ULL was 0.7 yards per play better than average (6.8 yppl against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl).
Miami-Ohio won the MAC on the strength of a defense that is 0.4 yppl better than average, having yielded 5.2 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average defensive team. The Redhawks are just average defending the run, so the Ragin’ Cajuns should run well (6.5 yprp projected) but Lewis will likely struggle against a very good Miami pass defense (5.3 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would average 6.1 yppp against an average defense) that is 1.5 yppp better than what Lewis faced on average this season. ULL averaged 35.8 points this season but Miami’s defense is much better than what they’ve faced on average this season and my math projects 461 yards at 6.2 yppl and 33.1 points for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
ULL was known for their offense but the Cajuns were much improved defensively this season and allowed just 5.8 yppl and 21.1 points per game against teams that would average 5.7 yppl against an average defense. That defense rates about the same as the average defense that Miami faced this season and averaged just 5.1 yppl and 22.8 points per game against. The Redhawks are 1.0 yards per rushing play worse than average and quarterback Brett Gabbert is 0.3 yppp worse than average. The math projects just 324 yards at 5.2 yppl and 21.2 points, which is in line with their season scoring average.
Mon, Jan 13 5:00 PM PT
Rotation: 283, Odds: LSU -5.5, Total: 69.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Strong Opinion – Clemson (+5.5) 33 Louisiana State 32
Strong Opinion – Under (69.5)
It appears as if there has been an overreaction to the results of the semifinal games, in which LSU looked unstoppable in their 63-28 win over Oklahoma while Clemson had to come from 16 points down to beat Ohio State. Prior to the semifinals most books had this potential matchup as a pick’em game and now LSU is favored by 5.5 points, which is too big of a swing for one impressive game against a good, but not great, Oklahoma defense that was missing some key starters. LSU has an incredible offense but Clemson’s defense is vastly better than what they faced in the semifinal and Dabo Swinney’s team tends to play their best against better competition due to a defense that is relatively better against better offensive teams. The fact that Clemson got down by 16 points to an elite Ohio State team and still won and covered the spread is pretty damn impressive too and Dabo’s team has been consistently underrated in these big games because the market overreacts to their relatively weak schedule. In fact, Clemson is 14-2 ATS in all post-season games since 2012 (that includes 4-1 ATS in the ACC Championship game) and the Tigers are 9-2 straight up and 10-1 ATS in bowl and playoff games despite being an underdog in 9 of those 11 games (they’ve covered the spread in all 8 as an underdog of more than 2 points).
Clemson Offense vs LSU Defense
Clemson’s offense is better than the 44.2 points per game and 7.4 yards per play, as the Tigers often had their starters in for less than 3 quarters. Overall, the Tigers were 1.6 yards per play better than average offensively (they faced teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) but they are 2.3 yppl better than average using only their stats with the starters in the game and that unit proved that they could perform against a very good defense by averaging 7.0 yards per play against an elite Ohio State defense that is better than the LSU defense that the Tigers will face in this game.
Clemson’s play really improved over the course of the season once quarterback Trevor Lawrence stopped being careless with his passes. Lawrence was intercepted 5 times in the first 3 games and 8 times in the first 7 games but has been nearly perfect over the Tigers’ last 7 games, completing 72% of his passes with 22 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
LSU’s defense rates at 1.1 yards per play better than average for the season but the Tigers had some injuries early in the season and defensive coordinator has his unit playing their best ball of the season at the right time. LSU was pretty much healthy from week 6 on and played well up until allowing 41 points and 8.5 yards per play to Alabama in week 11 and then allowing 614 yards at 8.6 yppl to Ole’ Miss the next week. I’ll chalk up that bad game against the Rebels as an anomaly brought on by being up big early and perhaps letting down emotionally after their breakthrough win over the Crimson Tide. From that point on the LSU defense has been very impressive and in their last 3 games the Tigers have limited Texas A&M, Georgia, and an historically good Oklahoma offense to a combined 15 points per game and 4.3 yards per play (with starters in). I don’t think that the LSU defense is as good as that 3 game sample but I rate the Tigers’ defense at 1.5 yppl better than average with their current lineup and dampening the affect of their negative outliers. The math projects 472 yards at 6.4 yppl and 31.6 points for Clemson in this game (adjusted for playing perfect dome conditions).
LSU Offense vs Clemson Defense
LSU has been 2.7 yppl better than average with Joe Burrow in the game (8.1 yppl against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl) and the attack should be a bit better with star RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (6.6 ypr) reportedly at 100% after carrying the ball just twice against Oklahoma before the coaching staff realized that they didn’t need him. LSU was relatively worse against the three best defensive teams that they faced, averaging 6.6 yppl against Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia, who would combine to allow 4.4 yppl to an average attack. The team that had the most success defending Joe Burrow and company was Auburn, who limited Clemson to just 23 points and 6.0 yards per play. Auburn played 7 defensive backs in that game, which they could do because their defensive line was good enough to stop the run without linebackers and get to the quarterback without the help of blitzing. Dabo Swinney and DC Brent Venables have had two weeks to go over film and I’m sure they noticed how well Auburn’s strategy worked. Clemson’s defensive line may once against be the best in the nation and they have the personnel to employ the same strategy that worked so well for Auburn. Whether they do or not is uncertain, but I have a feeling you’ll see 6 or 7 defensive backs more often than usual from Clemson’s defense.
Clemson’s defense didn’t face a truly elite offense until facing Ohio State in their 29-23 semifinal win but they were relatively better against better offensive teams this season. Part of that is a case of their starters playing more snaps against better offensive teams, although the Tigers’ defensive numbers before pulling starters were still a bit better, relatively, against better offensive teams. My math for this game only includes stats accumulated before the backups enter the game and Clemson’s defensive starters have been 2.0 yppl better than average (4.1 yppl allowed to teams that would average 6.1 yppl against an average defense) and the Tigers allowed an average of just 11.3 points to FBS teams despite their backups getting considerable playing time. Clemson was relatively better defending better quarterbacks this season, as they held the best 3 passing teams that they faced (North Carolina, Louisville and Ohio State) to just 5.2 yards per pass play, which is 3.6 yppp lower than what those teams would average against an average defensive team. Clemson was 3.0 yppp better than average overall, they were better against better passers and held Ohio State to just 5.8 yppp, which is 3.3 yppp lower than an average team would yield to the Buckeyes.
LSU averaged 35.3 points against the three best defenses that they faced and Clemson’s defense is 0.6 yards per play than the average of those 3 teams, so it’s reasonable to assume that the Tigers would score fewer than 35 points in this game and my math projects 430 yards and 6.4 yppl and 31.8 points for LSU.
Before making adjustments, the math model favored Clemson by 1.1 points but I adjusted for LSU’s recent improvement on defense and gave them a 1 point advantage for playing this game close to home in the Superdome in New Orleans. Some might think that the advantage is greater than that, but a lot of the tickets for this game are owned by corporate sponsors and vivid tickets projects that 62% of the fans will be rooting for LSU. If a normal home field, worth 3.4 points, has 90% home fans and 10% visiting fans and a neutral site has a 50-50 split then 62% equates to a 1 point advantage. LSU is 10-4 ATS this season but the Tigers may be a bit overrated after dismantling Oklahoma so easily and Clemson is always underrated. Clemson is not only great in postseason games under Dabo Swinney, but the Tigers are 25-0 straight up and 20-4 ATS with Trevor Lawrence as the starting quarterback against FBS teams and they won last year’s championship game 44-16 as a 5.5-point underdog to Alabama. That was the 6th consecutive year that the underdog had covered the spread in the National Championship game and I think that trend is likely to continue. Clemson is a Strong Opinion at +4 points or more and I’d play the Tigers as a 1-Star Best Bet at +6 points or more (at -110 odds).
I also see this game going under. My math model predicts just 63.4 total points based on the projected statistics, even with the extra 3.2 points for playing in a dome, and a points based model projects 66.7 total points. Clemson’s defense has been relatively better against better offensive teams, which is part of the reason that they are 10-2 Under the total the last 4 seasons when the over/under is 62 points or higher, which are games against good offensive teams. The Under is a Strong Opinion at 69 points or higher.