Well, the 2019 college football national championship is decided tonight: LSU meets Clemson in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, a 7 p.m. Central time start on ESPN (with various broadcasts on all the ESPN networks).
Clemson can repeat as national champions. LSU is playing for their first one since 2007. South Carolina-recipe pulled pork and crawfish boils will be at CFP parties across the south. Tonight is the official end of the 2019 season.
The College Football Playoff’s semifinal round – LSU over Oklahoma and Clemson over Ohio State – was back on Dec. 28. Now, that’s only 16 days ago. But it feels like forever.
I'll be honest: it does seem as though not as many people care about this game as in recent years. I’ll watch, for sure. It’s football and it’s for the national title, so if I can be in front of the TV, I plan to. But I make no bones about it: I respect Clemson and LSU. Respect them both greatly. Dabo Swinney has built a mini-dynasty at Clemson and Ed Orgeron is kind of a funny character, a Louisiana-born guy who’s hard edge seems to be perfect for the LSU Tigers.
If, like me, your team is out, who you’ll root for tonight depends upon a number of factors, I guess: your disposition, the company you’ll watch the game with tonight; heck, it might even depend upon if you’re the houseguest or the host. But we can look at the game a bit.
Clemson is 14-0. They beat a good but not great Ohio State team to get to the finals. Swinney’s Tigers are the defending national champions, which means as much to me in this season as that 50 cents buying the old proverbial cup of coffee (now that would be more like $5).
Clemson plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference, otherwise known as that Basketball Conference With North Carolina and Duke In It. This season, Clemson has played about three teams that had any remote chance to beat them (before they faced Ohio State): Texas A&M, Louisville, and North Carolina. And normally I wouldn’t include North Carolina, but they were a two-point conversion away from beating Clemson.
The Tigers are led by quarterback Thor – er, Trevor Lawrence – in his sophomore season. Lawrence is an excellent quarterback who’s tall, a threat to run and has a big and accurate arm. He’s completed 67 percent of his passes (250-of-370) for 3,431 yards, 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and he’s been sacked 15 times, which is about once a game.
People who have watched Clemson, though, know that how running back Travis Etienne goes, so goes Clemson. And Etienne is very good – 1,536 yards and 18 touchdowns on 192 carries, about 8 yards a carry, which is ridiculous in college.
Here’s the real deal: Clemson’s defense ranks number one – that’s first, for those of you who were educated at Auburn University – in the entire nation in total defense. They’re only allowing 10 points a game. I realize that that’s a bi-product of a VERY weak schedule. But, due to Alabama being a bit off defensively this year, Clemson might be the best defense that LSU will have faced all year. It certainly was NOT Oklahoma.
One familiar name to college football fans is Brent Venables. He’s Clemson’s defensive coordinator, and I guarantee you he will have some sort of game plan to slow down LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and that wide-open Bayou Bengal offense.
But, as Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody’s got a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”
Burrow, the well-documented transfer from Ohio State, had a pedestrian year at best in 2018 in his first season in Baton Rouge. But he’s re-written the school’s record books this season. He’s completed a ridiculous 77 percent of his passes for 5,208 yards, 55 touchdowns and six interceptions. And I can’t even name all his weapons.
LSU is 14-0, the Southeastern Conference champion, and has wins this season over Texas (ranked ninth when they played in Austin), Florida (ranked seventh when they visited LSU on Oct. 12), Auburn (ranked ninth when LSU beat them on Oct. 26), Alabama (ranked third at the time), and Georgia (ranked fourth) in the SEC championship game.
Like Clemson, one big factor in the game will be LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (16 touchdowns, 1,300-plus yards this year) and how Clemson chooses to defend him, compared to Burrow and the passing game.
It is true that LSU’s defense hasn’t been LSU-like this year, but they have played much better down the stretch, since their game against Ole Miss.
Of course, this game is in New Orleans and the crowd should be largely LSU-leaning (that didn’t do them any good when they lost the national title game in the 2011 season at the Superdome).
Here’s my pick: I’m thinking the LSU defense ups its game, feeds off the crowd, and finally disrupts Clemson’s offense. LSU pops a few big passes and, although Clemson will probably get to Burrow a bit, I think LSU does enough to win. LSU 31, Clemson 17.