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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

The opening line of LSU favored by 3.5 points over Clemson in the national championship game in New Orleans on Jan. 13 didn’t last long.

Minutes after it hit the market, it went up. Entering this weekend, some books have it LSU favored by 5 or 5.5, while Bovada sportsbook has the Bayou Bengals a 6.5-point favorite over the Tigers from the Palmetto State.

The underdog role is one Dabo Swinney's teams are more familiar with than some might think. 

“I guess you could say we're pretty comfortable with it; We don't really look too much to the outside noise, whether we're an underdog or whether we're the team to beat in a particular game,” Clemson senior linebacker Chad Smith said. “We just focus on what we can control, focus on our preparation, and know that LSU is a great team.”

Despite all of its success, the program of the orange-and-white Tigers really has been here before.

While Clemson hasn’t been an underdog in a regular-season game since Oct. 1, 2016, against Louisville, the Tigers have never been the favorite in their now four trips to the national title game in the College Football Playoff era.

They’ve also closed as a favorite in just two of their eight playoff games overall.

Clemson was -2.5 over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl when the Tigers won 29-23. They were also favored by 10.5 points against Notre Dame in last year’s Cotton Bowl, which Clemson won by 27 points.

That’s it.

Going back to the 2015 Orange Bowl, Clemson was a 3.5-point underdog when it drilled Oklahoma 37-17 to capture the first playoff win in school history. The Tigers went on to lose, 45-40, to Alabama, which was favored by 6, in the national championship game in Glendale, Ariz.

In 2016, Clemson was a 1-point underdog to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Tigers blasted the Buckeyes, 31-0. They followed that up by defeating Alabama 35-31 as a 6.5-point underdog in the national title game in Tampa, Florida.

Alabama got revenge as a 3.5-point favorite in the 2017 Sugar Bowl with a 24-6 victory in New Orleans.

The Tigers then won their third national championship in school history by defeating the Crimson Tide, 44-16, despite being a 5-point underdog in Santa Clara, Calif., a year ago.

“Being here two years now and playing in a few games, you just see how much it doesn't really matter who's the favorite, and I think we as a team really understand that,” Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “Not necessarily that we take offense to it, it's just like it really doesn't matter who the favorite is.

"You've got to go play the game.”

Being the betting underdog certainly fits the script for Swinney, who has proven to be a master motivator, capable of keeping his team focused no matter the situation. Swinney questioned why his Tigers, which have now won 29 consecutive games, weren’t getting more publicity for their dominance after the South Carolina game in November.

Now he’s got an easy disrespect card to use if he wants it: Clemson really is the underdog with another title on the line.

“We can hear all the outside noise or we can really focus on what we can do," Smith said. "(Choose to) have a narrow focus, put those blinders on, get ready to go back to work here soon in the next few days, and prepare ourselves to the best of our ability to have that chance to be national champions again.”

Clemson has shown it isn’t a typical underdog, winning two of the last three national titles playing that exact role. This team knows how to handle the big stage against LSU, which is in its first national championship game of the CFP era, no matter what the betting market dictates from past season successes.

“The game is going to be won on Jan. 13. It's not won before, when all the odds come out,” Lawrence said.” You've got to play it. You have to prepare, and whoever prepares the best and plays the best that Monday is going to win the game.”

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io

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