LSU, Clemson favored in College Football Playoff semifinals

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This year’s College Football Playoff looks like the Big 3, Little 1.

The CFP committee ranked LSU, Ohio State and Clemson first, second and third ahead of No. 4 Oklahoma.

Las Vegas oddsmakers disagree slightly on the Fiesta Bowl Saturday, making Clemson a 2.5-favorite over the Buckeyes. In the other Saturday semifinal, the Peach Bowl, LSU is favored by almost two touchdowns over the Sooners. Most of Las Vegas seems to have settled on 13.5.

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Jeff Sagarin’s College Football Ratings have Ohio State as a strong No. 1, Clemson slightly ahead of LSU for the second spot, and Oklahoma fifth overall (behind Alabama). 

ESPN’s Football Power Index has Ohio State No. 1 with the best chance of winning the national title (35.2 percent). Clemson is No. 2, just ahead of LSU, but the FPI gives LSU (28.7 percent) a slightly better shot at the title (Clemson: 27.8 percent). Oklahoma which is ninth in the FPI is given an 8.4 percent chance to win it all. 

On paper, Ohio State and Clemson look very similar. The Buckeyes and Tigers are first and fourth in scoring offense, first (Clemson) and third in scoring defense, and they’re the top two teams in total defense. The Tigers are allowing about three fewer yards per contest.

Since avoiding a disastrous upset in a 21-20 late-September win over North Carolina (FPI No. 39), Clemson has been dominant in eight blowout wins. The Tigers’ closest game during that stretch was a 45-14 rout of Florida State.  

In the ACC title game, Clemson piled up 619 total yards and beat then-No. 22 Virginia 62-17. Trevor Lawrence was 16-of-22 and tossed four touchdown passes. Travis Etienne rushed for 114 while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt. 

It was all enough to make oddsmakers and, presumably, bettors enamored with Clemson’s chances. 

But the Tigers had an easier schedule (No. 61, according to Sagarin) than Ohio State (No. 18). 

During that eight-game stretch, the Buckeyes had wins over five teams who were ranked at the time, including Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin (twice). 

In its Nov. 23 win over Penn State, Ohio State committed turnovers that allowed the Nittany Lions to cut a 21-0 deficit to 21-17 in the fourth quarter, and the Buckeyes trailed Wisconsin 21-7 in the Big Ten title game before roaring back and winning 34-21. 

To some, this was an indication that the nation’s “most complete team” wasn’t exactly perfect. But those Ohio State wins didn’t come against the likes of Wofford and Boston College. OHIO STATE 

Peach Bowl — Oklahoma vs. LSU -13.5: The Tigers finished the season with their two best defensive efforts in wins over Texas A&M (50-7) and Georgia (37-10). While the Tigers offense, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, has been unstoppable, those wins were key for a unit that had been leaky earlier in the season: LSU surrendered 38 points to both Texas and Vanderbilt and 37 to Mississippi. 

Defense had also been Oklahoma’s weak point. The Sooners were beaten 48-41 by Kansas State in October and, in the following game, had to stop a 2-point try in the closing seconds to beat Iowa State 42-41. 

But Oklahoma, too, has shown signs of improvement on defense of late, including holding high-powered Baylor to 265 yards in the Big 12 title game. The Sooners probably can’t beat LSU, but they can keep it close. OKLAHOMA

Here are two other bowl games to consider:

Friday

Texas Bowl — Oklahoma State +6.5 vs. Texas A&M: The Aggies beat the seven teams they were expected to and lost the five games in which they were underdogs.

To be fair, the losses came against Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and LSU. Still, Texas A&M was not competitive in most of those games.

It wasn’t a typical Oklahoma State offense in 2019, but the Cowboys finished the regular season with four straight wins before a loss to Oklahoma in the finale. The Cowboys went 8-3-1 ATS. OKLAHOMA STATE

Tuesday

Alamo Bowl — Texas +7 vs. Utah: The outcomes of bowl games often come down to: Who wants to be there?

No team took a tougher loss than the Utes in their no-show 37-13 defeat to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Gone was a ticket to the CFP. Gone also was a berth in the Rose Bowl.

Now, they travel to San Antonio to face a hostile crowd.

The Longhorns enter the Alamodome off their best offensive performance of 2019: 610 total yards in a 49-24 win over Texas Tech. TEXAS

Last week: 3-0

Season: 31-30-1

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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