The regular season for both college football and the NFL is long behind us, Bowl Season is over and we’re down to the Conference Championships in the NFL. And for the most part, we have been pre-occupied with the New York Giants setting the stage for their 2020 off-season.
But there is still one more college football game to be played: The 2020 National Championship between LSU and Clemson.
And if there is one thing we can say for sure, it is that the Tigers will be hoisting the championship trophy at the end of the night.
If the Tigers of Clemson win tonight, they will be the first repeat winners of the College Football Playoff National Championship (which really needs an acronym) since the format was introduced in 2015.
If the Tigers of LSU come away victorious at the end of the night, they will be the first team other than Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State to win a Championship, and just the fourth team besides Alabama or Clemson to win a championship dating back to 2009 and the BCS.
College Football Playoff National Championship
(1) LSU vs. (4) Clemson
ESPN - 8 p.m.
There are a bunch of layers to this game after an exciting season that saw perennial contenders fall by the wayside, an unlikely emergence, and surprising upsets.
At the beginning of the season this was expected to be the Alabama and Clemson show, with Ohio State’s stacked roster figuring to be a factor. With Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence, ‘Bama and Clemson boasted the two best quarterbacks in the nation and supported them with NFL talent at just about every level.
Ohio State was always known to be loaded and were dominant all season long, thanks to the play of Chase Young, Jeffery Okudah, and a whole host of other players destined to suit up on Sundays.
The only question was who the last team in would be. Would it be Oklahoma? Lincoln Riley remains one of the, if not the, finest offensive minds in at any level, and Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts blossomed at OU. Oregon was a threat too. Not only do they have one of the best offensive lines in the country and a quarterback in Justin Herbert who might have been playing for Giants right now, had he not decided to return to school to play with his little brother.
Clemson ultimately turned out to be the “last team in” and Alabama missed the playoffs completely, as LSU spun up into a purple and yellow buzzsaw which tore through the SEC.
LSU was expected to be a good and talented player in the SEC, but not a threat to the Alabama-Clemson rivalry which has defined the championship picture over the last four years. But pre-season expectations didn’t (couldn’t) take into account Joe Burrow exploding onto the scene.
A transfer from Ohio State, Burrow has become the nation’s best quarterback and is a virtual lock to be drafted at first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. But if it weren’t for LSU head coach Ed Orgeron giving Joe Brady free rein to remake LSU’s offense from a “run first, run second, then run some more” scheme to a full-throttle, wide-open receiver-centric spread offense, Burrow might never have emerged and another team might be playing today.
And it is difficult to overstate just how good Burrow has been this year.
Among the six best quarterbacks of the last two seasons (using ESPN’s Total QBR), Burrow’s completion percentage is six points better than the next best against man coverage and eight points better than the next best against zone.
Burrow also completed 73.9 percent of his passes when pressured (9.5 percent better than anyone else), and has thrown 19 touchdowns when under pressure (far more than any other QB in the nation).
And despite completing passes at such a ludicrously high rate, Burrow has had 22 touchdowns travel at least 18 yards in the air.
So yeah, Clemson has their work cut out for them when it comes to slowing down Burreaux and LSU’s prolific offense.
Of course, Clemson has a quarterback of their own in Trevor Lawrence. And where Burrow is a relatively unremarkable physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, lacking more than functional athleticism and an adequate arm, Lawrence is bigger (6-foot-6, 220 pounds), far more athletic, and has the kind of arm talent that scouts and game announcers love to talk about. Lawrence also has experience, setting the college world on fire with his play last year and performing well beyond what is expected of a true freshman to power Clemson past Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama a year ago. Clemson also has one of the nation’s best defensive minds in DC Brent Venables. Venables has taken their traditional 4-3 defense and transformed it into a modern, innovative “multiple” defense which has been their hallmark through a remarkable run over the last five years.
This game will also be a “Must Watch” for NFL scouts, as there will be highly drafted players on both sides of the ball for both teams.
For the Giants in particular, pay attention to LSU. Lloyd Cusheberry III could help fill a hole on the offensive line and Justin Jefferson could help complete the Giants’ receiving corps. Meanwhile Grant Delpit could be the safety the Giants have been looking for since Kenny Phillips knee problems began or K’Lavon Chaisson could be the young edge rusher the Giants need.
Clemson has a very talented roster, though not many of their players are draft eligible yet, but they still have their share of players to watch from a draft perspective.
At the top of this list are LB Isaiah Simmons and safety K’Von Wallace, either of whom could interest the Giants if new DC Patrick Graham wants to really lean in to being a multiple, versatile defense. Also, keep an eye on WR Tee Higgins, who is a big, long, former basketball player who could contrast Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton nicely, or CB A.J. Terrell, an athletic press corner who could help the Giants’ secondary if they aren’t happy with DeAndre Baker or Sam Beal.
Any way you want to approach the game, there is a reason to watch.
Players To Watch
- Trevor Lawrence (QB) *Note: Lawrence is a true sophomore and not draft-eligible, but still worth watching
- Travis Etienne (RB)
- Tee Higgins (WR)
- Isaiah Simmons (Off-Ball LB)
- K’Von Wallace (S)
- Joe Burrow (QB)
- Lloyd Cushenberry III (OC)
- Justin Jefferson (WR)
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB)
- Rashard Lawrence (iDL)
- K’Lavon Chaisson (EDGE)
- Jacob Phillips (LB)
- Kristian Fulton (CB)
- Grant Delpit (S)