The 150th season of college football comes to its exciting conclusion Monday night in New Orleans. In this battle between 14-0 teams of Tigers (who play their home games in Death Valley), #1 LSU (-6.0) takes on defending national champion, #3 Clemson in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship. The winner will be crowned the sixth college football national champion of the Playoff era. Monday’s game should see offensive fireworks, NFL-level talent, and plenty of renditions of Tiger Rag.
LSU will essentially have a home game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, just like the previous three times the game was played in the Big Easy. The Bayou Bengals are hoping for a repeat of their 2004 and 2008 performances, after being shut out, 21-0, in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game by Alabama.
Clemson, meanwhile, will be returning to the scene of its last loss, in the 2017 College Football Semifinals. Since that night, a 24-6 thumping, also at the hands of Alabama, Clemson has run off 29 straight wins. That includes a 44-16 blowout of the Crimson Tide last year in Santa Clara.
Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow will be at the controls for LSU, fresh off of accounting for a bowl record eight touchdowns in their December 28 semifinal. Burrow threw seven touchdown passes, tying a bowl record, and ran for another, in the Tigers’ 63-28 whitewashing of the #4 Oklahoma Sooners, in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
LSU also gets its leading rusher, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, back after a two-week rest. Edwards-Helaire injured his hamstring in practice in the lead-up to the Peach Bowl, and saw only limited action. Meanwhile, Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was overshadowed by teammate Justin Jefferson, who caught four of Burrow’s touchdown passes, all in the first half.
For Clemson, it is not “welcome to the National Championship,” it is “welcome back.” Perhaps thanks to playing with a Dabo Swinney-implanted chip on their shoulder the whole season, the defending champions will be in a record-tying fourth College Football Playoff National Championship Game in five seasons. They almost didn’t make it, surviving by the skin of their teeth against #2 Ohio State, 29-23 in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl.
Sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence was able to remain unbeaten in college by unconventional means: he led the Tigers in rushing. He collected 107 yards on 16 carries, most of it on a 67-yard touchdown run just before halftime. Clemson’s defense also kept the Tigers in the game, holding the Buckeyes to three red zone field goals. They also collected two interceptions, one of which punched Clemson’s ticket to New Orleans in the final seconds.
In case you’re wondering, you are reading that correctly: the semifinals were December 28. That means the Tigers and Tigers will have to wait an unusually long 17 days to decide who gets to lift the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy. For context, the last week of the NFL’s regular season, and first two rounds of its own Playoffs, will have been played since. There are many reasons for this.
The Rose and Sugar Bowls, who will be hosting semifinal games next year, were unwilling to yield their traditional New Year’s Day slots. What’s more, the unpopularity of TV games (or TV anything) on New Year’s Eve pushed the Peach and Fiesta Bowl games back to the preceding Saturday. The playoff group did look at playing the National Championship on January 6, which would have been customary. However, scheduling conflicts in the Big Easy moved the event to this Monday night instead. “We want the city to be at its best,” said College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock.
After two weeks of buildup, hype, and anticipation, both the city and the game should be just that.