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It feels like yesterday that Florida and Miami were kicking off the college football season, but now the end is near. The bowl games are set, including the College Football Playoff semifinals. On Dec. 28, LSU, Ohio State, Clemson, and Oklahoma will take the first step in deciding this year's national champion.
Here's a look at the opening odds for the two College Football Playoff semifinal matchups and early leans for each game.
Oklahoma earned the final berth in the playoffs and the Sooners' reward is facing likely Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and the explosive LSU offense. There's been a lot of talk about Oklahoma's defense being improved under Alex Grinch, and while that's true, keep in mind the Sooners' last three games came against offensively challenged TCU (62nd in total offense), Oklahoma State with a backup quarterback, and Baylor with a backup quarterback for two quarters. Now Oklahoma's defense will face an LSU offense in the Peach Bowl that ranks second in yards (560.5) and points (48.7).
While the national media is gushing over the Sooners' defense, their path to an upset is to outscore LSU. The Tigers have recorded at least 36 points in every game but one this season, so it's doubtful Oklahoma will slow them down. The Sooners enter with the nation's top-ranked offense and are putting up 44.3 points per contest themselves.
LSU's defense has been exploited at times this season, allowing 38 points to Texas, 41 to Alabama, and 37 to Ole Miss. For Oklahoma to cover 10 points and be in a position to pull a potential upset, quarterback Jalen Hurts will need to have a big game and avoid turnovers. For as good as Hurts has been this year, he's turned the ball over five times in his last three contests.
This is the first time all season the Sooners will be underdogs. LSU has been a favorite in all but one game (Alabama), going 8-5 against the spread. One key stat to watch in this matchup: Oklahoma's defense allows opponents to score 90.6% of the time in the red zone, while the Tigers score 96% of the time inside the 20-yard line. LSU will move the football but the Sooners will have to force some field goals to stay in the game. I don't see it happening. The Tigers' offense will have its way and while Oklahoma will score, LSU will score more. The Tigers at -10 and LSU's team total over should be in play here.
Oklahoma-LSU will be the appetizer Dec. 28, while Ohio State-Clemson will unquestionably be the main course. This is arguably the best semifinal matchup since the current College Football Playoff system was installed.
Any stat or trend you look at points to Clemson and Ohio State being two of the most dominant teams in the country this year. The Buckeyes rank first in scoring offense (49.9), third in scoring defense (11.8), fifth in total offense (534.3), and first in total defense (232.3). Meanwhile, the Tigers rank fourth (45.3), first (10.1), third (541.8), and second (232.8) in those respective categories. It really is a battle of the titans.
Clemson has been untouchable since needing a failed two-point conversion to hold off North Carolina. Over their last eight games, the Tigers have outscored opponents 415-78 and have tallied more than 50 points five times over that span. Even in a down ACC, that kind of dominance is impressive.
Ohio State has been just as strong over the course of the season. The Buckeyes' resume includes double-digit wins over Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin twice. One thing to note about Ohio State is after not being tested all year, the Buckeyes fell behind both Michigan and Wisconsin but still won both games by double digits. Being tested late in the season could help Ohio State in what's expected to be a tight contest in the Fiesta Bowl.
I still believe Clemson is the best team in the country. The Tigers have the most overall talent, the best coach, and a future No. 1 pick at quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. This game is going to be a war, but Clemson's experience and skill-position players will prove to be too much for Ohio State. I'm strongly leaning toward Clemson at -2.
Thomas Casale is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. He's been following the sports betting industry for almost 30 years. A devoted fan of the wishbone offense, Thomas bets on all sports but specializes in college football, NFL, and college basketball. Find him on Twitter @TheTomCasale.