Clemson vs. LSU: Expert Picks for the 2020 National Championship Game

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2020

Clemson vs. LSU: Expert Picks for the 2020 National Championship Game

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The national champion will be crowned Monday night when Clemson and LSU square off at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

    Bleacher Report's college football experts have convened once again to provide insight and analysis for the upcoming showdown. Previously, the group discussed LSU's home-field advantage and the challenges both defensive backfields will encounter, among other topics.

    This time around, the panelDavid Kenyon, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepardare battling the numbers. Save for a question involving receivers, all lines are courtesy of Caesars and accurate as of Thursday afternoon.

    For every angle of the national championship, B/R has you covered.

1st-Half Total Points: Over/Under 35?

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    As usual, let me preface with saying I'm pulling for the over. I enjoy watching great offense, and both Clemson and LSU have that. However, I believe it'll be under 35 with LSU holding a slim advantage heading into the locker room. I anticipate Clemson will make a couple of red-zone stops, which should be rather important later in the game.

                  

    Kerry Miller

    Under, though not by much. I think for both teams, the early stages of this game will be about establishing the run, probing the opposing defense for weak points and trying not to commit the game-altering turnover. That doesn't mean it's going to be a boring 6-3 type of game at halftime, but I do think most of the fireworks will come in the second half, similar to the Alabama-Clemson national championships in January 2016 and 2017. Neither of those games reached 30 by halftime, but they each had at least 45 points after the break.

               

    Joel Reuter

    Over. LSU had 33 points in the first half against Alabama earlier this year and 49 in the first half against Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. They know how to come out hot. Both teams could look to take some shots early before the defenses gets their bearings, so I'd expect plenty of early fireworks.

            

    Brad Shepard

    Over. Both teams are going to come out swinging, and it's the type of showdown in which both sides are going to feel like they have to trade punches. LSU's haymaker is Joe Burrow and the passing game, of course, and that group puts so much pressure on you that Clemson will open it up early, too. I do not think Dabo's team will start nearly as slowly as it did against Ohio State. If Clemson does, it'll get blown out of the water.

1st-Half Point Spread: LSU -3.5 or Clemson +3.5?

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    I'll take LSU -3.5. To me, the decisive matchup is LSU's offense vs. Clemson's defense, and both coordinators will be attempting to execute a specific game plan. LSU's explosiveness should have success early, though I have considerably high expectations for Clemson DC Brent Venables to make smart adjustments at halftime as he's repeatedly done in CFP games.

             

    Kerry Miller

    Clemson +3.5. Not sure which team will have the one-point lead, but I see this being a 14-13 white-knuckle affair at halftime. It hasn't happened often for either team, though. Clemson was tied with North Carolina after two quarters in September and trailed Ohio State by two at halftime two weeks ago. LSU was all knotted up with both Florida and Auburn in those October battles. In the other 24 games they've played, both sets of Tigers had a relatively comfortable lead by the intermission. But a virtual tie seems more likely than one of these teams digging itself an inescapable hole.

               

    Joel Reuter

    LSU -3.5. I fully expect this one to be close throughout, with the two teams trading points in a high-scoring first half. LSU has shown a knack for lighting it up early in big games, but Clemson has the weapons to answer and keep things within striking distance heading into the break. I'll say LSU 24-17 at the half.

               

    Brad Shepard

    LSU -3.5. I think Burrow will lead an early touchdown drive and the two sides will trade punches. It wouldn't surprise me for the halftime score to be around 24-14 Bayou Bengals—and then for things to perhaps settle down throughout the third when adjustments are made.

Over/Under 139.5 Yards for the Top Receiver?

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Over, mostly because I think Clemson will contain Justin Jefferson's impact from the slot. Isaiah Simmons is a critical piece of that task, but his versatility will be on full display. As Burrow looks elsewhere, Ja'Marr Chase stands to benefit. He's averaging 119.9 yards this season anyway with six showings of 140-plus. Make it seven.

                

    Kerry Miller

    Even though Chase had at least 140 yards in all four games played in November, and even though Jefferson had well over 200 yards in the Peach Bowl, I'm saying under. Both quarterbacks will have good days, but I don't envision a receiver putting on a clinic. Clemson has the best secondary in the country and LSU is probably going to put Derek Stingley Jr. on Tee Higgins more often than not. If someone does reach 140 yards, though, my guess is it'll be Thaddeus Moss doing his best O.J. Howard impersonation against Clemson's secondary.

               

    Joel Reuter

    Over. All due respect to Tee Higgins, who had 56 catches for 1,115 yards and 13 touchdowns as Clemson's top target in the passing game, but the smart money is someone from LSU's stable of wide receivers finishing as the game's top receiver. Chase has already topped 140 yards six times this season. Jefferson has eclipsed that mark three times, including a season-high 227 yards against Oklahoma last game. And don't sleep on a healthy Terrace Marshall Jr., who has quietly racked up 169 yards and four touchdowns in the team's last two games. Someone from that group will go off on Monday.

             

    Brad Shepard

    Over. There are just too many weapons on both sides of the ball, and you can't cover them all. The way Jefferson has been piling up catches and yards with extra attention on Chase, he's a good candidate. Marshall is a game-breaker, too. Then there are the field-stretching stars on Clemson like Higgins and Justyn Ross. There are going to be some monster numbers in this game.

Over/Under 69.5 Total Points?

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Fully regretting this: under. Again, I'm hoping for the opposite. But if Clemson is going to winwhich, spoiler alert, that's my pickthe defense will force LSU to settle for three on several drives instead of scoring touchdowns on every red-zone trip. That's arguably the most important part in pulling off the upset against this offense.

              

    Kerry Miller

    Over, but again, not by much. It's going to be 14-13 at halftime, but things will start to open up in the second half for a few quick-strike touchdowns, culminating in a 38-35—aka 73 total points—final to an instant classic. Maybe I'm confusing what I'm hoping happens with what I expect to happen. Oh well. A man can dream.

               

    Joel Reuter

    Under. As you'll see shortly, I'm predicting 66 points combined for the two teams, so I have to go with the under here. The 63 points that LSU hung on Oklahoma has no doubt played a role in inflating the over/under for the title game. The combined point totals in the last three title games have been 66, 49 and 60 points, and there was no shortage of offensive firepower on the field in those games. It's never fun to take the under, but it seems like the right move here.

              

    Brad Shepard

    Over. Both of these defenses are capable, but both of these offenses are elite. LSU puts so much offensive pressure on you that it's tough to envision there not being a ton of points, and Clemson is capable of posting big numbers, too. This has all the trappings of everything we want. Excitement abounds!

Make Your Pick: LSU -6 or Clemson +6?

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    This prediction is unnerving because I believe the most likely results are either a tight Clemson win or blowout LSU victory. That's only a massive difference, so the potential of being laughably wrong is evident. Nevertheless, I'm riding with Clemson +6. I have LSU leading early but Clemson's defense making the second-half stops LSU's previous opponents couldn't quite do.

                

    Kerry Miller

    Clemson +6. In fact, that 38-35 score I mentioned in the previous question? I've got Clemson penciled in for the 38. So getting six points on the team I think will win outright is a no-brainer. Here's hoping Clemson doesn't plan on saving the field goal for the final score, though, because I have no faith in B.T. Potter to come through with a clutch kick.

                

    Joel Reuter

    Clemson +6. In the earlier prediction article, I went with a final score of LSU 35, Clemson 31. LSU has been on another level all season, but this Clemson team has been here before and has the weapons on both sides of the ball to make this a back-and-forth game. So LSU to win, but Clemson to cover.

                

    Brad Shepard

    LSU -6. Ultimately, I think the Bayou Bengals are going to make a play or two on defense, and Burrow is going to turn it into points. Those pile-on scores cannot be overcome against LSU because Ed Orgeron's team simply doesn't have a lot of empty possessions. I think LSU will win 45-34.

Which Player Will Be the Offensive MVP?

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Kerry offers a perfect explanation for the background of my answer, which is Trevor Lawrence. Especially in a game that has included such immense (and deserved praise) for LSU's offense, if Clemson wins, it's likely a product of Lawrence having a terrific showing. He's done nothing but thrive in three previous CFP appearances, and Lawrence's positional value is too great to ignore.

               

    Kerry Miller

    This question might as well be: Which quarterback's team will win the game? That's what these MVPs usually boil down to. Trevor Lawrence got it last year, Tua Tagovailoa the year before that and Deshaun Watson in January 2017. Thus, I feel obligated to pick Lawrence here, even though I believe Travis Etienne will actually be the game's most valuable player. But unless the running back has 200 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns—which I don't imagine he'll pull off—it'll be Lawrence receiving the honor.

            

    Joel Reuter

    Joe Burrow. He's been the best player in college football all season on his way to 5,208 passing yards, 55 passing touchdowns and one Heisman Trophy. He stepped up against Alabama. He shined against Georgia. He steamrolled Oklahoma. There's no reason to expect anything but more of the same in the biggest game of his career.

             

    Brad Shepard

    Joe Burrow. This is the boring answer, but it's the right one. Look at what he's done this year in his Heisman season. Look at how far he's come. Look at the weapons around him like Chase, Jefferson, Marshall, Moss, Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He's the maestro who makes it all tick.

Who Will Be the Defensive MVP?

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    David Kenyon

    In a Clemson win, the most likely choice is Isaiah Simmons. In fairness, the recent attention given to Simmons has created an expectation of wide-ranging production that probably won't be matched. He's not going to have 15 tackles and three sacks and two interceptions andyou get it. But reputation and timely plays matter for this award; his impact as a blitzer off the edge, downhill run-stopper and in coverage will be very noticeable.

                 

    Kerry Miller

    The correct answer is "the guy who forces the final momentum-shifting turnover." In lieu of having that information, I'll take Simmons, Clemson's Jabrill Peppers-esque Swiss Army knife. He led the Tigers in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles and tied for second in passes defended. Put it this way: If he doesn't play well, Clemson isn't slowing down Joe Burrow in the slightest.

              

    Joel Reuter

    Grant Delpit. The Thorpe Award winner took home that hardware more for his three-year body of work than his 2019 numbers, and he has something to prove as he takes the field for possibly the final time in his college career. After tallying 9.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and five interceptions as a sophomore, he has just 3.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and two interceptions this season. He can solidify his case as a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft with a standout performance Monday.

              

    Brad Shepard

    Derek Stingley Jr. Part of me wants to roll the dice that Delpit is going to have a massive game in what's expected to be his final one. I also like Simmons to rise to the occasion. But Stingley is going to have a monster interception or perhaps even a score that helps swing this in LSU's favor.