After five months of waiting — 14 weeks of football — we’ve finally come down to this: #1 LSU vs #3 Clemson for the National Championship. Burrow vs Lawrence. Dabo vs. Coach O. Tiger vs Tiger. Death Valley vs. Death Valley. However you want to look at this matchup only one thing is for sure: someone’s gotta lose. Will Joe Burrow cap off his magical year leading LSU to it’s first title in over a decade or will Trevor Lawrence remind everyone that his Clemson team is still the top dog in college football? Before we kick off, I’d like to say a few things about this game…
A New Dynasty
The Clemson Tigers have won 29 straight games. They’d like you to know that before you pick this game, because apparently folks have forgotten just how dominant they’ve been over the last decade. For the fourth time in five years, Dabo Swinney’s team will be playing in the title game. They haven’t lost a game since Dec. 29, 2018. In fact, their quarterback hasn’t lost a game since high school.
That’s right, Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence hasn’t lost a game since 2017, when he as a senior at Cartersville High in Georgia. It was a Georgia 4A State Championship Playoff Game and it was the last time the long haired phenom would feel defeat on a football field. He’s won 70 of 71 games that he’s been a part of. Plain and simple, the guy knows how to win.
One of the reasons why some college football fans might have felt underwhelmed by Clemson’s start to the season may have been the uncharacteristic play of Lawrence. Having only thrown three interceptions a year before, Lawrence started off with five in his first three games. His accuracy was down as well, barely pushing 65% over the first half of the season. He had only one 300 yard game and one 3 TD game over the course of that time. It didn’t look like the same kid who torched Alabama in championship game.
From the month of October on — a week removed from a near upset against unranked North Carolina — the Tigers found new life. Lawrence has thrown at least three touchdowns in every game since, and has limited his turnovers to just three since that time. The team averages 45.3 points per game on 538 yards of total offense. Weapons such as RB Travis Etienne (1,936 all purpose yards and 22 total touchdowns) and future first round WR Tee Higgins (1,115 yards and 13 touchdowns) provide Lawrence the firepower they need on offense.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson is top notch. They have one of the best defenses in the country and their 10 points per game gives them the best point differential in all of college football. LB Isaiah Simmons is a potential top 10 pick in the draft and is one of the most versatile players at his position. He’s a very effective pass rusher (6 sacks on the year) and can drop back into coverage if necessary (3 INTs, including one in the Fiesta Bowl). Along with Simmons, the Tigers boast just as much talent on their defense as they do offense, if not more.
The idea that Clemson wasn’t any good because they had a weak schedule feels like a bogus argument at this point. Anyone who watched this team against Ohio State had flashbacks to the 2019 Championship game, where Lawrence stared down a top defense and picked them apart in the second half. The defense shut down Ohio State when it mattered most, and did something that no other team could do: beat them. They also picked off QB Justin Fields twice, and that kid had only threw one all year.
Clemson is no stranger to the bright lights and the big stage that awaits them come Monday. This team has been here before, and frankly, they just might very well be here again a year from now. Lawrence is set to return under center for 2021 and Dabo ain’t goin’ anywhere anytime soon. Having already taken down Alabama’s dynasty a year before, the Tigers have a chance to set up a dynasty of their own for the foreseeable future.
The Legend of Cool Joe
Let’s play a little bit of college football trivia! Who was the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy? If you guessed Trevor Lawrence, you were correct as the Clemson QB and National Champion was everyone’s top choice for the award with 5/2 odds in Vegas. Next question… what were the preseason odds that Joe Burrow, a fifth year senior at LSU, would win? 50/1? 100/1? 200/1? All great answers but all wrong. Because Joe Burrow wasn’t even a thought on anyone’s mind.
After the first week of the season, Burrow managed to make his way on the odds list — as a 200-1 long shot to win the award. Hell, I even wrote about it back in November. In regards to a Back to the Future Part 2 scenario where I go back in time and place bets… “Among the bets I would place: the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl (twice), the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series (999-1 odds!) and if it stands, Joe Burrow winning the Heisman”.
Since that article, Burrow has not only won the award but has done things that seemed impossible. Like dropping 345 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia’s stingy defense in the SEC Championship game and following it up with a historic 8 touchdown performance in the Peach Bowl against Oklahoma, 7 of which he had in the first half. That’s insane. It’s also cool. Really cool, if you ask me.
A year ago, Joe Burrow was a decent starter for a pretty good LSU team. He surpassed his 2018 totals through 8 games this year and his current totals — 55 TDs to 6 INTs on 5,208 yards, with a completion rating above 77% — is arguably the best single season any SEC QB has ever had. He has a chance to have over 5,500 yards and 60 total touchdowns on the year, something no other college quarterback has ever done.
Every once in a while we get a team that runs the table thanks to the unbelievable play of their star. We saw it in 2010 with Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers and again in 2013 with Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles. Both players won the Heisman and led their teams to undefeated seasons, capped off with a championship win. Both players also went on to be the first overall pick in the NFL draft (coincidentally, both for NFC South teams). Will Joe Burrow be the next to join that list?
It’s not inconceivable for Burrow to repeat what he did against Oklahoma, although eight touchdowns seems like it won’t happen again. The Sooners are not a defensive juggernaut; Clemson is definitely that. However, Burrow has played his fair share of tough defenses this season having taken down Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Georgia in convincing fashion. The 37 points the Tigers put up on the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship was the only time Georgia ever gave up more than 17 points all season, and Burrow barely broke a sweat. That’s cool.
The Legend of Cool Joe has been my favorite story all season. He’s a graduate transfer, in his fifth year of eligibility, playing for a chance to win a national title after running away with a Heisman trophy. No one saw this coming at the beginning of the year, yet here we are. With each passing week he has solidified why he should be the first overall pick in this year’s draft and I have no reason to doubt that Joe Burrow is going to show up for this game.
Who Wins The Battle of Death Valley?
That’s what I’m calling this: The Death Valley Bowl. Both teams play in “Death Valley” and while it’s pretty confusing to some, but it just adds to the fun of this game. And boy is this game going to be fun! Aside from last year’s thumping, these championship games have been pretty good from an entertainment standpoint and this year we have some well matched competition.
Both Tiger teams are at the top of the list when it comes to offensive and defensive efficiency. LSU has arguably the best offense in the country, led by a historic Heisman winning season from Burrow. Clemson, meanwhile, is at the top of the list in nearly every defensive scoring category you can think of and just held high-flying Ohio State to its lowest totals of the season.
Burrow thrives in this RPO-led offense and has plenty of weapons on the outside to move the ball downfield in the event that Clemson takes out the running game. WRs Jamarr Chase (1,558 yards, 2nd nationally) and Justin Jefferson (1,434 yards, 3rd nationally) lead the country with 18 touchdowns each and present a nightmare matchup for opposing secondaries. On the season, Clemson has only given up 138 yards a game to opposing quarterbacks however they did give up 320 yards to Justin Fields, just the third time the Buckeyes QB hit the mark all season.
What I think this game really comes down to is LSU’s defense vs. Trevor Lawrence. LSU has playmakers on the outside in SS Grant Delpit and will be getting LB Michael Divinity back to help with the pass rush, but they are beatable at times. Especially if they get comfortable. If the Fiesta Bowl was any indication, don’t count out Lawrence when the team is behind. After taking a nasty hit in the first half, Lawrence put together two TD drives to take the lead at the half and Clemson never lost momentum.
Lawrence also has the weapons available to him at his disposal and the key weapon here is Travis Etienne, the multi-faceted playmaker who can kill you out of the backfield or lined up in the slot. If Clemson can get Etienne some space in the open field, good luck trying to catch him. To me, he’s the most important player on the field for Clemson and if LSU can contain him then it becomes a shootout between two future number one overall quarterbacks.
At the time of this writing, LSU is currently a -6 favorite to win the game. After what we witnessed in the first round, that makes sense. As hard as it is to pick this game one thing I do know is that whichever QB has the ball in his hand at the end of this game is going to lead a drive down field to seal the win. Personally, I’m torn between this pick.
On one hand, Clemson feels like the right pick because we’ve seen this team before and no matter how many times we count them out they continue to prove doubters wrong in spectacular fashion. Dabo Swinney has put together a dynasty, and this win would be the 30th straight win for his program. Is he the new Nick Saban? It’s up for debate, that’s for sure. They have become synonymous with winning, so much so that when they win by only 25 it’s considered a bad game. That’s greatness.
On the other hand, you have a team that has also defied the odds to get to this point. Yes, Joe Burrow was a 200-1 long shot to win the Heisman, but what about Coach O? Ed Orgeron was always known as the perfect interim coach, a guy who could pick up the pieces of a broken team and get them to believe in themselves. Hell, he was the interim coach for LSU and the team banded around him so much that the school had no choice but to bring him back. Look where they are now. Look what a little trust and belief can do for a team.
LSU believed in Coach O. Coach O believed in Cool Joe. And dammit, LSU made a believer out of me.