When No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson face off Monday in New Orleans, it won’t merely be a Tiger vs. Tiger showdown for the College Football Playoff national championship.
It will be one of the biggest quarterback battles in college football history.
Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is the most decorated passer LSU has ever had and will likely go to the Bengals as this spring’s No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. Clemson sophomore Trevor Lawrence is 25-0 as a starter and might end up as the No. 1 overall pick next year.
“You've got potentially the first two picks overall in the next two drafts going head-to-head,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “I don't know if we've ever had two quarterbacks in a championship game that you could say that about.”
Not that I could find, but there are at least two other notable comparisons. When Oregon blew out Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl semifinal, it was a meeting of the top two picks in the 2015 draft (the Bucs’ Jameis Winston and the Titans’ Marcus Mariota). Peyton Manning and Tim Couch both set school single-game passing records in their 1997 regular-season meeting (Tennessee’s 59-31 win over Kentucky); Manning was the top pick in 1998, and Couch went No. 1 in 1999.
Both of those games were blowouts. Here’s hoping the final game of the 2019 season isn’t.
Burrow and the best
However Monday goes, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has produced one of the best seasons by a quarterback in college football history:
Passing touchdowns: 55 (second all time)
Total touchdowns: 55 passing, 4 rushing (third)
Passing yards: 5,208 (seventh)
Passing efficiency: 204.6 (first)
Completion percentage: 77.6 (first)
Yards per pass: 10.9 (eighth)
Matchup to watch: Clemson’s receivers vs. LSU’s secondary
Clemson has one of the most talented receiving corps in the country. Tee Higgins’ 27 career touchdown catches are tied with Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins for the most in program history. Justyn Ross (17) is also in the program’s top 10, and Amari Rodgers is dangerous, too. But LSU might have the defensive backs to hang with them. In addition to Delpit at safety, cornerback Derek Stingley was No. 2 nationally in passes defended (21), and Kristian Fulton earned all-SEC and All-America consideration. Whoever wins this star-studded matchup will likely win it all.
X-Factor: LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Burrow and the passing attack deserves its attention, but don’t overlook Edwards-Helaire. The 1,300-yard rusher ran for 16 touchdowns and ripped off 14 carries of at least 20 yards —only two fewer than Clemson’s Travis Etienne. Edwards-Helaire was limited in the semifinal with a hamstring injury, but assuming he’s close to 100 percent, he adds an important wrinkle to LSU’s high-powered offense.
By the numbers
25 Career catches for Clemson receiver T.J. Chase (Plant City High)
25 Consecutive quarters in which LSU has not trailed
18 Touchdown catches for LSU receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. They tied for the most in the country and the Tigers’ single-season record
3-8 Clemson’s record in the state of Louisiana
22-0 Clemson’s record against undefeated teams since 2015
5.5 Yards per rush by Trevor Lawrence, the highest by a Clemson quarterback in more than 60 years