In my opinion, the most intriguing overall bowl matchup of the year outside of the Alabama-Notre Dame national title game and perhaps the Oregon-Kansas State Fiesta Bowl is the No. 14 Clemson vs. No. 8 LSU showdown in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve night at the Georgia Dome. You could have told me before the season this would have been the national title matchup and I would have been more than sold.
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While the Chick-fil-A Bowl is now considered one of the top non-BCS bowls – rumors are it will be among the six semifinal sites when the new NCAA playoff begins in 2014 – certainly neither Clemson nor LSU is going to be too happy to be there. The orange Tigers (10-2) weren’t able to defend their ACC Championship, blowing a game at Florida State early in the season. Clemson was still in good shape for a BCS at-large bid before it was rather shockingly beaten soundly by South Carolina and its backup QB in the regular-season finale.
LSU (10-2) opened the preseason at No. 1 in the polls but took a hit early with the dismissal of the “Honey Badger,” Tyrann Mathieu. Still, the defense was among the nation’s best, and LSU just might be playing for a national title if not for a stellar final-minute drive by Alabama QB A.J. McCarron in the classic 21-17 Tide win on Nov. 3. LSU got a bit of a scare when it was announced shortly after the season that coach Les Miles had talked to Arkansas about its head coaching job, but Miles seems to talk to someone every year (Michigan twice). He got his nice new extension.
Clemson vs. LSU Betting Storylines
These two couldn’t be much more different. The Clemson offense is one of the best in the nation – so good that coordinator Chad Morris got a few interviews for head coaching jobs and still might be hired at Texas Tech. Behind ACC Offensive Player of the Year and quarterback Tajh Boyd, Clemson set school records (again) and led the ACC in scoring (42.3, No. 5 nationally), total offense (518.3, No. 9) and passing (319.6, No. 13). The Tigers had a whopping six first-team All-ACC players on offense. This could be the final college game for Boyd and stud receiver DeAndre Hopkins as both might declare for the NFL. At least receiver/return man Sammy Watkins has to stay one more year.
LSU, meanwhile, didn’t get the season expected out of highly-touted QB Zach Mettenberger, although he definitely did get better as the season went on. He was actually better than McCarron in that Alabama game and completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 298 yards and no turnovers against the top-ranked Tide defense. Still, the Tigers ranked No. 106 in passing. They did find a future star running back in freshman Jeremy Hill (631 yards, 10 TDs).
But being as LSU is in the SEC, its defense is the calling card. There are multiple NFL Draft picks on the roster, especially up front. That unit was eighth in the country in yards allowed (296.2), ninth in rushing yards allowed (101.8) and in pass defense efficiency (101.43), and 11th in fewest points allowed (16.9). It was eighth in turnover margin (plus-15) and 10th in interceptions (18).
This is the third meeting between Death Valley Tigers. The first was on Jan. 1, 1959, when No. 1 LSU beat Clemson for the national title. And the last was in the 1996 Chick-fil-A Bowl. It’s the highest-ranked team Clemson has faced in a bowl game since the 2003 season when the Tigers upset No. 6 Tennessee at the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Clemson vs. LSU Betting Odds and Trends
On WagerWeb, LSU is a four-point favorite with the total at 58.5. LSU was 5-7 ATS this season and 5-6 “over/under”. Clemson was 8-4 ATS and 6-5 O/U.
LSU is 5-2 ATS in its past seven bowl games. It is 2-5 ATS in its past seven after a win and 1-4 ATS in its past five after an ATS loss. Clemson is 1-6 ATS in its past seven bowl games. The Tigers are 1-5 ATS in their past six outside the ACC. The over is 6-2 in LSU’s past eight nonconference games. The under is 6-1 in Clemson’s past seven against the SEC.
2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl Picks: Clemson vs. LSU Predictions
Clemson scored less than 37 points just twice all year and it was against its two SEC opponents: Auburn and South Carolina. So as good as the Tigers offense is, it clearly can be neutralized by the speed and physicality of SEC teams. LSU has allowed more than 22 points just once, a typical letdown game win over Mississippi.
I’m sure both LSU and Clemson want to put last year’s bowl disappointments behind them, with LSU looking offensively inept in the national title loss to Alabama and Clemson looking defensively atrocious in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia.
Both teams know this building well and the crowd should be about split. I still remember how the SEC treated the ACC like a little sister on the final weekend of the regular season. So I thus have to take LSU here, which is 5-0 all-time in this game. And the under.
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