ATLANTA — Championship Saturday is in the books, and the College Football Playoff National Championship matchup is officially set. It’ll be No. 1 LSU vs. No. 3 Clemson squaring off at 8 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 13 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans for all of the marbles.
LSU reached the title game after an emphatic 63-28 win over No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Heisman Trophy winner and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow totalled an FBS bowl-record eight touchdowns, and wide receiver Justin Jefferson caught four of his seven TD passes in the rout over the Sooners. Clemson got a late touchdown pass from QB Trevor Lawrence to running back Travis Etienne late in the fourth quarter to secure a come-from-behind 29-23 win over No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Early oddsmakers have the LSU as a 3.5-point favorite in what will be a de facto home game. Those are the basic details. Let’s break down some of the key storylines.
1. Dabo Swinney’s dynasty: Clemson is looking for its second consecutive national championship and its third over a four-year span. Swinney’s crew has supplanted Alabama as the true dynasty in college football, and it can further cement its spot atop the college football world win a win over LSU. After all, only one family can rule the land … and right now, it’s the team with the paws on their helmets.
The knock against Clemson all season is that it hasn’t played any team of worth. Well, it did on Saturday, digging out of a 16-point hole to find a way to get the job done at the end of a Fiesta Bowl for the ages. “I think we passed that test,” Lawrence said after the Fiesta Bowl on ESPN.
Erase “they haven’t played anybody” from the pregame talking points. What’s even scarier is that Swinney can sell the underdog card to his team despite the fact that it has won 29 straight games. We could be on the verge of a seismic shift in the college football world with Clemson running away from the field like Usain Bolt in the Olympics.
2. LSU a team of destiny? This LSU season has been magical, and it has the chance to cap it off in style in its own backyard in New Orleans — a place where it won its last two national titles (2003, 2007). Burrow’s magical ride to stardom, complete with his father quitting his FBS defensive coordinator job at Ohio to follow his son during his final year, can come to the perfect ending with the same state that has adopted “Burreaux” as one of its own. Coach Ed Orgeron, a native of Louisiana, knows how much this would mean.
“Great story,” he said after the Peach Bowl. “Obviously, it’s going to be a great day, going to be a purple and gold crowd in that Superdome. The state of Louisiana is going to be on fire.”
Orgeron fought for this job, changed his philosophy to a more wide open offense to take advantage of the athletes on his roster, hired a staff that he trusts, and delegated responsibility like a seasoned CEO. The national title game is his Super Bowl. Based on the way this season is gone, expect him to cook up something special on the bayou.
3. A quarterback battle for the ages: Can you script a better matchup? Sure, there could be more personal quarterback stories — especially if Burrow got to square off against his former squad Ohio State rather than Clemson. What fun is that? This is better. The matchup between Burrow and Lawrence — one of the favorites to win the Heisman before the season — is one of the best matchups we’ve seen in a title game this century. The two players have thrown 91 combined touchdowns this season. Ninety-one. That seems impossible. It’s a quarterback-driven sport, so it’s only fitting that we get the two best quarterbacks in the country on the game’s biggest stage.
It’s also a tale of two quarterbacks who have taken different paths. Burrow is the underdog who couldn’t find a way to start at Ohio State, transferred, and was decent as a junior before exploding onto the scene in his final year. Lawrence, on the other hand, was the five-star stud. He was a superstar and the next big thing since he committed to Clemson when he was in high school. He’s the guy who wasn’t startled by the bright lights and led his team to a national title as a true freshman. Bring it on.