College Football Playoff Championship Between LSU and Clemson Has Everything In It

LSU breezed past Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. Clemson fought tooth and nail to defeat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. When the pair meet on Jan. 13 in New Orleans for the College Football Playoff national championship, it will represent a fitting close to a season that saw an elite few lap the rest of the Bowl Subdivision.

Four years ago, when Clemson lost to Alabama during its first playoff run, the Tigers viewed themselves as a team of destiny matching wits against the Alabama dynasty. That time, dynasty won out. This time, Clemson is a program one win away from securing a third championship under coach Dabo Swinney and being viewed as the latest college football dynasty to etch its place into the sport’s history.

Come the second Monday in January, Clemson will have gone more than two years since its last loss. The two-season run has seen few close games, the latest in Saturday night’s thrilling 29-23 win against the once-unbeaten Buckeyes. Down 16-0 in the first half, the Tigers scratched out two touchdowns in the second quarter and then marched on the game-winning scoring drive with less than two minutes left.

This year, at least, LSU has had it even easier. Just one team, Auburn, has held the LSU offense under 30 points. Even games that seemed close by the scoreboard, such as the 46-41 win at Alabama that justified the Tigers’ growing hype, never seemed much in doubt — against Alabama and others, LSU and its offense always had an answer.

And LSU is coming off a wickedly devastating 63-28 win against Oklahoma, with nearly 700 yards of total offense as a team and a bowl-record eight total touchdowns from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow. As hard  as it may be to believe, given how the team has fared since September, the LSU offense is getting better even as the competition grows more difficult.

“We have improved every week,” said former Southern California coach John Robinson, who serves as a senior consultant for LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “The offensive line has become dominant. Nobody gets close to Joe.”

Home-field advantage, of a sort, lies in LSU’s corner. New Orleans will be flooded with LSU fans quick to make the short hop from Baton Rouge and crowd along the city’s narrow backstreets, and the Superdome will have a decidedly purple-and-gold feel.

“The state of Louisiana is going to be on fire,” said Orgeron. “But all those things doesn’t win the football game for you. We have to prepare. We have to study. We have to be ready to play our best football game.”

What Clemson has is experience, and now in the Fiesta Bowl a reminder of the increase in tension when ACC opponents are replaced by fellow members of the nation’s best. Whether Clemson’s defense is up to the challenge of handling Burrow, the LSU receiver corps and a likely healthy running back in Clyde Edwards-Helaire will determine whether the program can cinch its fourth national championship.

Ohio State’s scheme provided a solid barometer. The Buckeyes and LSU are equally athletic with nearly equal difference-making skill players, though LSU is stronger under center and more proven at wide receiver. In terms of tempo and ability to place strain on an opposing defense, however, the Buckeyes and LSU are cut from a similar cloth. Clemson will have some time to prepare, but it may not be enough.

Maybe the attention should be reversed: LSU may have the offense, but Clemson has the defense. That matchup is just one of several story lines worth evaluating before the teams meet in two weeks:

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SOURCE: USA Today, Paul Myerberg