LSU vs. Clemson: We predict who will win the National Championship Game
Last spring, I wrote that Clemson had surpassed Alabama and Dabo Swinney had supplanted Nick Saban as the best coach in college football.
Not forever. For now.
As you can imagine, that opinion didn’t go over well in Tuscaloosa. During rebuttal, I learned a few new words and new usages for some familiar words.
This all went down a couple of months after Clemson blasted an undefeated Tide team for the 2nd time in 3 years in the national title game. It was a couple of months before the Tigers ripped through another unbeaten regular season, won another ACC title, extended their winning streak to 29 games and reached their 4th championship game in 5 seasons.
I wonder what Tide fans think now? Do they dare cheer for LSU on Monday night, knowing that if Clemson wins another national title — it would be 2 in a row and 3 in 4 years — everybody will be writing and saying what I wrote 9 months ago.
Essentially, it’s Dabo’s world. What kind of pizza do you like?
Can Clemson do it? Can the Tigers become the 1st repeat champion since Alabama went back-to-back in 2011 and 2012?
Or will LSU’s historic season continue?
That’s something we’ve been debating since the Playoff semifinals.
Connor O’Gara: LSU 38, Clemson 31
There’s one thing that I keep coming back to whenever I think about this matchup — this is the year of the Tiger. And to be clear, that’s the purple and gold tiger, not the orange and purple tiger. I’ve loved LSU’s “we’ll play anybody, anywhere” attitude this postseason. That group is understandably confident, and I have to think 16 days to prep for this coaching staff is going to yield the moment that LSU has been trending toward.
No, I don’t think that LSU’s receivers can be contained. Not in this offense. And even if they aren’t at Oklahoma-levels of dominant, a healthy Clyde Edwards-Helaire is more than capable of taking over if and when Clemson sells out to stop the pass. This LSU defensive improvement the past 4 games is also significant (43% passing allowed). And in their first game against a top 20 defense all year in the Playoff semifinal against Ohio State, we actually saw Clemson’s wideouts struggle to get separation. Trevor Lawrence will make plays, but not at the level that Burrow and Co. will.
It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Clemson came out firing and led early. You know that Dabo Swinney has that team buying into the belief that nobody thinks they can win. But I trust this LSU coaching staff to make the right adjustments because that’s what they’ve been doing all year, regardless of the opponent or stakes involved.
Burrow caps his all-time great season by completing the toughest college football hat trick there is (SEC Championship, Heisman Trophy, undefeated national champs). More important, LSU closes the book on one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen in the sport. Just as they did 12 years ago, the Tigers stand atop the college football world in New Orleans.
Connor O’Gara is a senior national columnist for SDS.
Neil Blackmon: LSU 41, Clemson 27
Why are we overcomplicating this?
LSU is the best football team in the country. They have been since at least October, and probably longer. They’ve trailed in the 2nd half twice all season (Florida, Auburn) and been pushed in the 4th quarter once all season — maybe twice, if you count Alabama’s late charge at Bryant-Denny. They’ll be the best team Monday, too.
Sure, Clemson rolled the ACC after nearly stubbing its toe at North Carolina, but if JK Dobbins simply catches a screen pass, the Tigers aren’t even in this football game. Believe it or not, I think the Bourbon Street environment actually helps Clemson, who want so badly to maintain the plucky, little-old-Clemson label. The fact they have to go play LSU in their backyard to win back-to-back national championships does Dabo’s job on that front for him. The truth is, though, Clemson isn’t Luke Skywalker anymore. They are Darth Vader to Joe Burrow and LSU’s Skywalker.
This is a game between 2 great football teams, but ultimately, give me the more battle-tested one.
LSU will be only the 2nd top 20 offense Clemson has played and the second top 15 quarterback (Justin Fields). On the contrary, Trevor Lawrence will be the 4th top 15 QB this LSU defense has faced (Tua, Kyle Trask, Jalen Hurts) and the 4th top 20 offense (Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida). LSU’s defense has improved dramatically since the season’s first month and they’ll make enough plays in the Superdome to slow the Tigers down for spells. Clemson’s defense will play valiantly and challenge LSU up front a little bit, but I don’t think they can consistently get pressure with 4 and I don’t think they can slow Burrow and LSU for 4 quarters. I like LSU to pull away late and finish the storybook season with the school’s 4th national championship.
Neil Blackmon covers Florida for SDS.
Al Blanton: LSU 38, Clemson 37
I learned last year to not judge Clemson on its cupcake schedule, so I won’t make that mistake again this year.
Clemson is still as strong to very strong as Kevin’s portfolio in the movie Meet the Parents, regardless of how battle-tested or not battle-tested they are. And we can’t say the Tigers haven’t played anybody — they’ve played Earth, Wind, and Ohio State.
I don’t have any stats to back this prediction up here, guys. I’m going on feel. But one of the primary reasons I’m going with LSU, however, is that it’s hard to win it 2 years in a row. If anyone is capable of it, it’s Clemson, but I bet a dollar to a doughnut that on a given night, this LSU team is as good as any Alabama put on the field in the 2010s. What I’m saying is that in my mind a championship-weary, a 29-or-however-many-games-they’ve-won-in-a-row-weary Clemson is not going to beat a confident, refreshed, hungry LSU team.
Burrow is a special player and LSU is a special team enjoying a special year. I just don’t see this fairy tale ending in a loss.
Al Blanton writes takeouts and SEC 360 for SDS.
Michael Bratton: LSU 42, Clemson 28
It’s understandable that the storyline heading into this epic matchup is the outstanding offenses each team features, headlined by quarterbacks projected to be selected No. 1 in their respective NFL Drafts, but for me, the game really comes down to LSU’s defense.
Based on the way Clemson’s matchup against Ohio State played out, it felt like the Tigers were hoping to hold back Trevor Lawrence from running the ball until the championship game. However, had Lawrence not saved Clemson with a late rally led by his legs and not his arms, the Tigers would have likely lost to Ohio State.
After studying that game, several LSU defenders have come out and noted they were unaware that Lawrence was that big of a threat with his legs. Clemson might have tipped its hand too early.
LSU’s offense is going to do what it does best and score in bunches, leaving this game to be won by its defense. I like that to happen with the Tigers winning it all at home in New Orleans.
Michael Bratton is a news editor for SDS.
Joe Cox: LSU 28, Clemson 21
I do feel like most of the nation is entirely too willing to forget how good this Clemson team really is, especially on defense. Their defense was the difference in last year’s title game when everybody and their grandma expected Alabama to win a shootout. Everybody seems to be expecting a shootout again, and while Clemson hasn’t faced an offense like LSU, LSU also hasn’t faced a defense like Clemson.
Now, all of that said, I picked LSU. I did that because every time this offense has been backed into a corner, it has answered the call. With 99% of the teams in America, if Clemson got them in a situation where, say, it’s 21-21 late, and if they go 3-and-out, Clemson may well win the title, those offenses would go 3-and-out. LSU won’t do that. Clemson will confuse them early, will keep them from putting up outrageous numbers like the Oklahoma debacle. But when the chips are down, the LSU offense (Edwards-Helaire will be key) will overtake the Clemson defense as the story of this season. Just be aware it may not be pretty for the first 3+ quarters until that happens.
Joe Cox covers Kentucky and the SEC for SDS.
David Wasson: LSU 41, Clemson 24
Since the minute Clemson clinched its trip to New Orleans, I’ve been trying to figure out how the Tigers will come up with enough offense to keep up with LSU.
The short answer? They won’t.
Powered by Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, LSU’s offense is just too strong and too good to stumble — even against a talented Clemson defense. LSU will be even more multi-faceted than it was when it blew out Oklahoma in the CFP semifinal, as running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (1,304 rushing yards, 16 TDs) is likely to be at full bloom after a hamstring injury hampered him in the Peach Bowl.
Clemson has to lose sometime, and doing so on LSU’s de facto home field in the Superdome is a virtual lock. Shoot, even getting 5.5 points isn’t enough to take Clemson. Inexplicably, Ed Orgeron looks like a genius as LSU rolls …
David Wasson covers Alabama for SDS.
Adam Spencer: LSU 35, Clemson 20
Ohio State showed how to slow down Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl — stop RB Travis Etienne. The star runner only had 36 yards on 10 carries. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes’ secondary managed to keep QB Trevor Lawrence from making too many big plays through the air. In fact, you could argue that Lawrence was more effective as a rusher, running for 107 yards and a score.
Clemson only scored 29 points in the win over Ohio State, and that simply won’t be enough to beat LSU. Let’s not kid ourselves here. If Clyde Edwards-Helaire is fully healthy Monday night, LSU’s offense is better than Ohio State’s. Justin Fields wasn’t ready for the spotlight (don’t worry, he’ll get there soon). Joe Burrow is.
I think Clemson takes a lead early before LSU settles in and starts to do what LSU does — pick apart opposing defenses. They did it to Alabama, Texas, Florida and Texas A&M this season. Only Auburn had success, limiting LSU to 23 points in a 23-20 loss, but Clemson’s defensive line isn’t as good as Auburn’s was this year.
Look for this to be 10-0 Clemson at the end of the 1st quarter before LSU settles in on both sides of the ball and starts to dominate.
Adam Spencer covers Mizzou and writes a college football newsletter for SDS.
Chris Wright: LSU 37, Clemson 34
I didn’t even think it was particularly bold to suggest months after last year’s championship blowout that Clemson and Dabo had supplanted Alabama and Saban. It seemed fairly obvious, and given all of the skill-position talent returning and the improving recruiting classes, it also seemed fairly obvious the Tigers’ run would continue.
I didn’t necessarily expect Alabama to lose 2 regular-season games to further tilt Dabo vs. Saban in Swinney’s favor, but I wholly expected Clemson to get back to the Playoff.
I saw Clemson 2016-2019 as an almost exact replica of Alabama 2009-2012. The Tide won 3 titles in 4 years. They went back-to-back in 2011 and 2012. The recruiting was in dominating mode.
Clemson is replicating all of that, or at least in position to. Heck, Dabo just landed his best class ever, the first time he’s ever topped Saban in recruiting. Clearly, the Tigers still are trending up.
But here’s the rub: As much as I lauded the Tigers in the spring and defended them after the great escape at Chapel Hill for simply being bored, as much as I corrected the false narrative that 2019 Clemson was 2014 FSU in purple and orange (please, people), this LSU team is the best I’ve seen.
It has won 14 games in seemingly 10 ways. Now it’s winning with defense, too.
Every time Joe Burrow has needed to make a play, he has made it. Logic suggests at some point, that trend has to end. But there’s nothing logical about a QB potentially throwing more TDs in one season than his program did in the 4 previous years combined.
But that’s where we are with LSU. Burrow has been utterly unstoppable. He already has 55 TD passes (LSU threw 59 from 2015-2018).
This is historic. This is as dominant an offense as this sport has seen, proven not only by the production but also the competition.
Stats reflect your schedule. Analysts have talked about Clemson’s national rankings in defense — No. 1 in scoring defense (11.5 points per game), No. 2 in total defense. My reaction? Whatever. It’s critical to also realize what LSU did to Georgia’s defense — which is No. 2 in scoring defense (12.6) and No. 4 in total defense.
Barring an early, game-changing injury to Burrow, I can’t see any way LSU fails to score 35 points.
Clemson was built for this moment and I’ll be more impressed than surprised if it wins, but I’m not convinced Dabo’s Tigers are built to shut down this particular juggernaut. I’m not sure there’s ever been a defense capable of shutting down this once-in-a-lifetime LSU offense. I think LSU presses pause on Clemson’s dynasty-in-process (but a pause is all it will be. Clemson will be back in the Playoff next year, too. Sometimes the better team beats the better program. Ask Alabama, circa 2010.)
Monday night, LSU, behind its favorite son and adopted son — Coach O and Burreaux — will finish the greatest season in SEC history.
Party safely, y’all.