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  • LSU QB Joe Burrow faces a tall task in his first career start, as he and the Tigers are 3.5-point underdogs in their season opener against the Hurricanes. Which team is the smartest bet?
By Scott Gramling
August 29, 2018

When the LSU Tigers take the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday night, they’ll be in a building in which they’ve experienced a good deal of success in recent seasons. Not only has LSU won all three of its games played at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, but the Tigers have done so in impressive fashion—winning all three by double digits while outscoring ranked opponents by an average margin of more than 13 points per game. They beat No. 18 Texas A&M 41-24 as a small favorite in the 2011 Cotton Bowl, they triumphed 40-27 as a small underdog against No. 3 Oregon in the 2011 season opener and they beat No. 20 TCU 37-27 as a four-point underdog in the 2013 season opener.

It would be surprising if LSU found a way to surpass 35 points for a fourth consecutive game at AT&T Stadium. Miami was one of only 22 FBS teams to allow an average of fewer than 20 points per game during the 2017 regular season, and the Hurricanes were the only FBS team to force an average of more than 2.6 turnovers per game. Miami returns seven starters from that aggressive unit—including a pair of standout performers in linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and safety Jaquan Johnson—so it’s reasonable to expect the Hurricanes to once again be formidable on that side of the ball.

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LSU, meanwhile, comes into this one with a slew of questions on the offensive side of the ball, including a line that battled injuries throughout the offseason, and a tailback rotation of senior Nick Brossette, sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire and redshirt junior Lanard Fournette that has yet to score a collegiate touchdown. There’s also a new quarterback in Joe Burrow, a transfer who spent two seasons as a backup at Ohio State and wasn’t announced as LSU’s starter until earlier this week, after he’d beaten out sophomore Myles Brennan for the position. Then there’s new offensive coordinator with Steve Ensminger, who has installed more of a conventional pro-style approach as a replacement for the motion-filled schemes Matt Canada oversaw in his lone season in the position.

Even in recent seasons when LSU has had at least some continuity on offense—this is a team that has started each of the past four seasons with a current NFL player at running back between Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice—the Tigers haven’t exactly stormed out of the gates. LSU is 2-10 ATS in games played during the month of September since the start of the 2015 season, while Miami is 7-1-1 ATS in September games over that same time frame. Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier is back to lead Mark Richt’s offense after an up-and-down season in 2017. While Rosier isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to light up the stat sheet against quality defenses (he averaged fewer than 175 passing yards per game over Miami’s final six games last season), he does have the experience that Burrow lacks. Combine that with the return of running back Travis Homer, a second-team All-ACC selection last season despite the fact that he carried the ball only 25 times over his team’s first four games, and it appears as if Miami should be in a good position to cover the spread here with relative ease.

Pick: Miami -3.5

Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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