After all the debate about who deserved the opportunity, LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma get their chance Saturday to play themselves into the National Championship Game when the College Football Playoff takes place.
The Playstation Fiesta Bowl pits Ohio State vs. Clemson. Both teams are undefeated; Ohio State is 13-0 and winners of the Big Ten Conference, Clemson is also 13-0 and winners of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl features LSU vs. Oklahoma. SEC champion LSU (13-0) is the top-ranked team in the nation with wins over Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and Florida. The Big 12 champion Sooners are the only team in the tournament with a loss, Oct. 26 to Kansas State.
Here’s a few things about the day you might find interesting:
Top quarterbacks abound
Never in the history of the College Playoff have all four teams been basically defined by their standout quarterbacks. But that’s the case this season.
Seriously, does anyone doubt the best QBs in the nation were LSU’s Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence? Didn’t think so. And it all sets up to be two classic match-ups.
Hurts will become the first QB in college football history to start a College Football Playoff game for two teams – Alabama and Oklahoma. He has 3,634 passing yards and 32 touchdown passes. He also has 1,255 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns this season. Burrow set SEC records for yards passing (4,715) and TD passes (48). Fields has 2,953 passing yards, 40 touchdown passes and just one interception. And Lawrence leads the Clemson offense with 3,172 passing yards and 34 touchdown passes.
LSU, which is playing in its first Playoff, leads the nation is total offense (555.4 yards per game) ranks second in passing and is third in scoring. Among Burrow’s receivers is Ja’Marr Chase, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner. Tigers safety Grant Delpit won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., has six interceptions.
Oklahoma, which averages 555.2 yards, has lost all three of its national semifinals, including losses to Alabama and Georgia the last two seasons. Even though Chase won what’s essentially the Heisman Trophy for receivers, the Sooners counter with CeeDee Lamb, who had 14 touchdown catches in 12 games this season. The junior already has six career games with at least 160 yards receiving.
Running back J.K. Dobbins leads Ohio State with 1,829 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Chris Olave is its top receiver with 45 catches for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns. And defensive end Chase Young, likely a top three pick in the NFL Draft, leads the defense with 16 1/2 sacks.
Of course, Clemson is the defending national champions and it has won the title twice in three playoff format appearances. Travis Etienne is the team’s leading rusher with 1,500 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins (1,082 receiving yards) are the top receivers and Isaiah Simmons has a team-high seven sacks.
Same teams, new year
In 2016, Clemson, then the No. 3 seed and led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, clubbed Ohio State, the No. 2, in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl.
“The last time we played Clemson, they totally embarrassed Ohio State and the state of Ohio,” Olave told the media this week. “It was tough for us at that moment. We brought it up in the facility a couple of times, but we haven’t really talked about it. This is 2019 right now, and they’re still really good. We have to go out there and try to beat them.”
Having Fields at QB automatically made the Buckeyes better. J.T. Barrett played in the 2016 game and he threw for only 127 yards. And Dobbins has combined with Fields to just accentuate the positive as their offense converted 57 percent of their third downs.
“When you look back, they were more one-dimensional in 2016,” Clemson safety Tanner Muse said. “Now they’re so good at everything, run game, pass game, short game, long game, all of it. it’s tough.”
Edwards-Helaire status in doubt
LSU has an interesting decision to make regarding star running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He suffered a hamstring injury and there has been some debate about whether he will play – or if Tigers coach Ed Orgeron even wants to chance it with a possible National Championship Game on the horizon.
“Clyde is a little bit better and we talked,” Orgeron said. “He’s off the crutches and the scooter and we’re going to see if he can do something tomorrow. It’s going to be a day-by-day deal but he’s a little bit better than what I thought last week. He has a chance to play.”
The running back was not made available to the media on Thursday during mdia day for the event. Orgeron on has been doing all the talking for him.
Of course, hamstring injuries are very difficult to care for, particularly in their early stages. And there is a real possibility Edwards-Helaire can hurt himself even worse if he tries to play.
Edwards-Helaire is No. 2 in the Southeastern Conference in all-purpose yardage (146.3). He also has 1,290 yards rushing on 197 carries, 399 receiving on 50 receptions, and 214 on 10 kickoff returns. In the 46-41 win over Alabama earlier this season, he ran the ball 20 times for 103 yards with three touchdowns and caught nine passes for 77 yards with a touchdown.
“Clyde has not practiced yet,” Orgeron said. “He ran a little bit [on Wednesday] straight ahead. Medically, I hope he’s cleared today to practice. I don’t know if he will. I think he may try something today, I’m not sure. I think it’s going to be a game-time situation.
“Knowing Clyde, if he can play, he’s going to try. Do I want him to play? Yes. Do I expect him to try to play? Yes. How much he can play, I don’t know.”
LSU’s backup tailbacks are redshirt freshman Chris Curry and freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery, Jr.
Oklahoma dealing with suspensions
The Sooners will be without defensive end Ronnie Perkins, running back Rhamondre Stevenson and wide receiver Trejan Bridges. The program confirmed on Monday they all had been suspended.
“Everyone did travel,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said when asked about the suspensions. “The availability of the three guys that you mentions, the three guys that have been in question, those guys won’t play.”
Not only wouldn’t Riley say what prompted the suspensions, he wouldn’t say reveal whether they’d carry into a potential national championship game.
“I don’t air guys’ dirty laundry out,” Riley said. “You guys know me well enough. They get enough in this world. They won’t be available to play.”
Of all three, Perkins is the guy the Sooners will miss most because he’s the only they could have depended on to put pressure on Burrow. He leads the team with six sacks and has 38 tackles.
“We’re not a one-man show up front,” Riley said. “We haven’t been all year. Ronnie’s been a good player for us, but we’ve got a lot of good players up there. We’ve recruited a lot of good players, we’ve developed a lot of good players. Our productions, if you look at the front, has been pretty even across the board and we’ve gotten it from a lot of different players.”