We’ve talked at length over this weekend about the excellent value presented by the Clemson Tigers in Monday’s College Football National Championship game. Part of this is simple contrarian handicapping. When you see the ‘squares’ lining up on one side of a proposition with almost complete unanimity you can do pretty well for yourself just by going the other way. According to bookmakers in Nevada and elsewhere that is the situation that is happening here.
It’s almost inexplicable the lack of respect that Clemson is getting in this game. You think that a team that has run the table since 2017 would be taken seriously but that’s apparently not the case. The media and college football power structure has worked hard to diminish them all year long. Now the betting public is essentially ignoring the fact that this is a nasty team that with the exception of the narrow escape at North Carolina has done very little wrong this year.
They’ve had nasty weather in the New Orleans area over the weekend (so what else is new?) and as a result the two principals in the National Championship game were not able to practice outdoors. LSU conducted their practice in the New Orleans Saints’ posh indoor facility, reportedly at the invitation of the NFL team. Clemson, meanwhile, conducted their practice in a hotel ballroom. There is some question about whether Clemson practiced in the hotel out of choice or necessity. I can tell you the narrative that Dabo Swinney told his team and it doesn’t bode well for LSU.
As far as Dabo, he downplayed the ‘disadvantage’ of practicing in a hotel ballroom with his usual homespun positivity. He did suggest that Clemson ‘had the opportunity’ to practice at the Saints’ ‘palatial facility’:
“We might have had the best practice we had all year. We had the same opportunity to go to the palatial Saints facility. It’s just crazy how people put these narratives out there right away. We had the same exact opportunity to go there, but we were going to have to change our schedule and just didn’t want to do that, and obviously the weather was nasty.”
“This was a Thursday practice for us, and our Thursday practices are kind of jog-through anyway, and this was Practice 9, Day 10 in a row that we’ve been together, so it was even lighter than that. It was a lot of fun, it was great energy. Both these teams are ready to play. You can only practice so much. It was a great practice. It was a great day.”
Swinney’s ‘aw-shucks’ act is for public consumption. The real Dabo is a master motivator of the highest order. There’s nothing more difficult than keeping a defending champion ‘hungry’. Dabo has done that all year with the ‘us against the world’ narrative. To be sure, he got plenty of help–from the media and college football power brokers that fawned over Ohio State all season. From bookmakers who poured fuel on the fire for Dabo’s ‘disrepect’ narrative by making Clemson an underdog in this game. Throw in an assist from the betting ‘public’ taking their cue from the ESPN talking heads and throwing money at LSU as if the outcome was preordained.
Now Dabo has set it up so his team’s last memory before they take the field to face LSU is of practicing in a hotel ballroom while their adversary practiced in a NFL facility. If you think that Dabo just wanted to ‘stay on schedule’ you’re kidding yourself. He saw an opportunity to put his team into exactly the right mindset heading into the game.
This Clemson team–coaches and players–are just not ‘wired’ like the typical college football squad. They love being in an adversarial situation. They love being the ‘heel’ to use some pro wrestling parlance. They thrive on ripping opponents’ hearts out in front of their fans. There have been suggestions that Clemson is at another ‘disadvantage’ by playing so close to the LSU campus. Dabo pointed out that they faced the same situation against Ohio State where ‘80%’ of the crowd was cheering for the Buckeyes:
“It’s going to be like — we could have just played in Baton Rouge. It’s going to be like a road game. I know our fans will show up and they’ll be passionate just like they are everywhere we go on the road. But it’ll be an awesome, awesome atmosphere. I mean, this is two great teams, two undefeated teams. Again, they’re playing right here at home, and it’s exciting. It’s exciting to know you’re at this point. It’s been a lot of fun. But it’s been — it’s nice to know that, hey, man, let’s go let it all hang out and cut it loose.”
“We’ve had a wonderful year. We’ve had an unbelievable decade, and I’m excited to finish strong Monday night and then set our eyes on what’s next.”
Even if this is a completely even matchup–and I actually think Clemson has the edge in several components of the game especially on defense–the outcome will be determined by the team that ‘wants it more’. In that type of scenario, I’ll back the defending National Champions fresh off of their practice in a hotel ballroom getting a ton of points.