Two wins is all that separates LSU, Ohio State, Clemson or Oklahoma – powerhouses that won a combined 51 games in 2019 – from becoming National Champions.
On Dec. 28, the College Football Playoff will kick-off its semifinal round: No. 1 LSU will play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl, while No. 2 Ohio State will face No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. The winners will face off on Jan. 28 with a chance to take home the 2020 National Championship.
Before the games begin, the Vanderbilt Hustler sports staff gives their two cents on the matchups.
Max Schneider, Sports Editor
There’s been a lot of clamor about switching to an eight-team playoff in an effort to give more conference champions a fair shot, but if there’s any rebuttal to that notion, it’s this year’s field. This group of four is about as clear cut as it’s ever been. Virtually no other teams had a good argument to be in the College Football Playoff as it currently stands, but if there were eight slots, well… good luck. Deciding between Georgia (11-2), Alabama (11-2), Baylor (11-2), Penn State (11-2), Minnesota (10-2), Florida (10-2), Oregon (11-2), Auburn (9-3) and others sounds like a nightmare. Suffice it to say, an eight-team playoff would only bring more grief.
This year is truly a three-horse race. Newly crowned Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and LSU should dismantle Oklahoma, leaving Ohio State and Clemson to battle it out for the second spot in the National Championship game. Don’t buy the storyline that Dabo Swinney’s team hasn’t played anyone this season. This is a good football team with a championship pedigree. However, I’m concerned about Clemson’s ability to beat Ohio State at the line of scrimmage, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables lost all four starters on last year’s defensive line, and this new front four will have a tall task stopping running back JK Dobbins. In the end, I’m going with LSU. Put a bow on a perfect season for Joe Burrow. A 14-0 record, an SEC Championship, a Heisman Trophy, a future number one overall draft pick and a National Title complete one of the greatest seasons in college football history.
As Ed Orgeron would say in that gravelly southern accent of his, Go Tigers.
Peach Bowl: LSU 48, Oklahoma 31
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 34, Clemson 31
National Championship: LSU 41, Ohio State 38
Simon Gibbs, Outgoing Deputy Sports Editor
For the first time since the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2014-15, the Alabama Crimson Tide did not make the cut. Frankly, they weren’t even close – in the final, Week 15 edition of the committee’s rankings, the Tide were voted in at No. 13. That means four – yes, four – Southeastern Conference foes were slotted ahead of Nick Saben’s powerhouse (LSU, Georgia, Florida and Auburn).
But alas, with the fall of Alabama came the rise of LSU. Much to the dismay of Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, this LSU team is a force to be reckoned with. Burrow ran away with the Heisman Trophy, corralling 90.7 percent of first-place Heisman votes and breaking OJ Simpson’s record in the process. LSU enters their Peach Bowl matchup as 14-point favorites to the Sooners, and it seems as though Oklahoma’s luck has already run out. Ronnie Perkins, their best pass rusher, Rhamondre Stevenson, their second-best running back and Trejan Bridges, a capable wide receiver, have all been suspended for allegedly failing drug tests. As far as I’m concerned, this one was never going to be close. Now, LSU has already won the Peach Bowl. As for the Fiesta Bowl? Well, I think this matchup between Ohio State and Clemson will be far closer. Two 13-0 teams, two terrific quarterbacks in Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields (I’d like to point out that I originally made a mistake and wrote “Georgia’s Justin Fields… Sorry, Bulldogs), but only one statistic to note: Ohio State is number one in strength of schedule. Ohio State is battle tested, and I think they’ll edge out Clemson, who comes in at 33.
By Week Four, everyone wanted to see Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts face Alabama, his former school, in the National Championship. That obviously won’t happen. If it’s any consolation, we’ll get to see Burrow, fresh off his Heisman campaign, face his former school. But alas, the National Championship is set to take place in New Orleans, so give me LSU and give me LSU big. I want to proudly say I watched Vanderbilt host (and get absolutely dismantled by) the National Champions twice in my college career (see: Sad Vandy Kid, my freshman year).
Peach Bowl: LSU 45, Oklahoma 24
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 31, Clemson 28
National Championship: LSU 41, Ohio State 17
Betsy Goodfriend, Outgoing Deputy Sports Editor
Picking this year’s CFP participants was perhaps the easiest decision the committee has ever had. Three undefeated Power 5 champions headline the four-team playoff, and blue-blood Oklahoma has the honor (or punishment) of facing No. 1 LSU in the semifinals.
Oklahoma is 0-3 in its previous CFP semifinal appearances, but Hurts has championship game experience from his time at Alabama. The Sooners were the best defense in the Big 12, an area in which they have struggled over the past few years. Oklahoma allows just 24.5 points per game, but the Sooners haven’t faced an offense anywhere near as prolific as LSU’s offense that averages nearly 48 points per game.
Clemson has a bit of a chip on its shoulder (deserved or not, you can decide) after never really being in the top-two conversation due to its weak schedule. I think that extra edge that Clemson will play with is the difference in the second semifinal game. Ohio State quarterback Justin Field has thrown just one interception this year, but the Buckeyes’ offense averages a fumble per game. Clemson’s defense will be looking to force fumbles anytime J.K. Dobbins takes a handoff, and those momentum-shifting takeaways should ignite Clemson’s offense with short field scoring opportunities.
The No.1 seed has never won the CFP, but I think this year is when that streak ends. LSU is a complete team, and Coach O is the perfect guy to lead the Tigers to a national championship just about 80 miles from campus.
Peach Bowl: LSU 52, Oklahoma 35
Fiesta Bowl: Clemson 35, Ohio State 34
National Championship: LSU 41, Clemson 37
Justin Hershey, Incoming Deputy Sports Editor
Eleven fortunate teams have had the opportunity to compete in the 5 iterations of the College Football Playoff, but this year, the Playoff’s most successful team, Alabama, will not be competing. The Tide have won a total of 6 playoff games, more than any other team in the CFP’s short history and without them, the door wide open for a new champion.
Oklahoma has squeaked their way into the playoffs for the fourth time, but will be matched up with LSU in the Peach Bowl. While their defense has been much improved this season, they surrendered 41 points in back to back weeks to Iowa State and Kansas State late in the season and neither of those teams have the Heisman trophy winner at quarterback. LSU will roll easily over the Sooners.
The wildcard in this entire playoff will be Clemson. The Tigers have been knocked all season for playing in the weak ACC and only facing one out of conference ranked opponent (Texas A&M). Against these weaker opponents, they haven’t allowed more than 20 points in a single game, while scoring almost 50 per contest. Lawrence has quietly had a fantastic season and has not thrown an interception since mid October. Plus, the Tigers have the best and most experienced coach in the playoff on their sideline in Dabo Swinney. Ohio State’s defense will be by far the best Clemson has faced all season, but the Buckeye offense has been forced into 21 fumbles this season and 7 in their last three games. If Ohio State turns the ball over, they will be hard pressed to beat a Clemson team that rarely makes unforced errors.
Peach Bowl: LSU 41, Oklahoma 24
Fiesta Bowl: Clemson 27, Ohio State 21
National Championship: Clemson 24, LSU 21
Luke Mukundan, Staff Writer
So far in the young history of the College Football Playoff, there has been a large amount of controversy about what teams should be able to claim its elusive four spots. For example, in the inaugural year of the new championship system, Ohio State rather controversially jumped both Baylor and TCU in the final week of the season to get in. This year however, there is little debate about who should be participating in the College Football Playoff, as LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma have inarguably been the four best teams in all of college football.
The LSU Tigers have been one of the best surprises in all of the country this season. Coming off a 10-3 season that ended with a Sugar Bowl victory, expectations were high. However, the Tigers have exceeded those expectations by a country mile, as Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow has transformed from a quality quarterback to the best signal caller in the country. He leads one of the most lethal college offenses in recent memory, alongside other stars like Ja’Marr Chase and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Ohio State has also been a juggernaut all season long, largely on the backs of their two big-name stars. On offense, Fields has stepped in after transferring from Georgia and has shown why he was one of the most decorated recruits in the country coming out of high school. On defense, defensive end Chase Young has wreaked havoc in opposing backfields, breaking the Buckeyes’ single season sack record along the way.
The defending National Champion, the Clemson Tigers, has been somewhat of a sleeping giant for most of this season. Facing a rather pedestrian schedule in the ACC, Clemson has honestly been unimpressive at times this year. However, the Tigers dominated Virginia in the ACC Championship, so they might be getting hot at just the right time. Oklahoma, the last team to make this year’s playoff, somehow found another transfer quarterback to navigate Lincoln Riley’s stellar offense. This time, it’s former Alabama quarterback Hurts, who has put up numbers that compare quite nicely with the likes of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. However, Oklahoma has been pretty vulnerable as of late, winning four of their last five games by seven points or less.
When looking at the four teams that are being presented, it’s hard to not be enamored with LSU. Orgeron, a former Ole Miss and USC castoff, has molded his squad in his image and they have become one of the most exciting teams in all of college football because of it. So, I believe, although knowing my luck I’ll probably be horribly wrong, that LSU is going to win it all and the National Championship trophy will once again reside in Baton Rouge.
Peach Bowl: LSU 49, Oklahoma 31
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 27, Clemson 21
National Championship: LSU 42, Ohio State 28
Jaime Perez, Staff Writer
This year, selecting the four teams that would compete in the College Football Playoff was easier than ever for the committee, but picking who will advance to the Championship and who will win is not as straightforward.
While Hurts is arguably the most dynamic playmaker in all of college football, he faces the daunting task of knocking down the undefeated favorite in LSU. Oklahoma will put up a fight on the offensive side of the ball but their defense will likely not be able to hang with LSU’s unstoppable offense – led by Heisman winner Joe Burrow. The matchup between the 2- and 3-ranked teams will be a better showdown. Ohio State has arguably been the most dominant team in the nation this season, but the Clemson Tigers are the reigning champs and have had their best performances in recent weeks. This game is a toss-up between the two of the most balanced teams in college football, but I expect Dobbins and Young to carry Ohio State to a close victory.
In the championship game between the LSU Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes, the two most consistently great teams in college football will meet. To win, the Ohio State offense needs to put pressure on LSU’s inconsistent defense and Young has to restrain Burrow. For an LSU victory, their defense will need to put up its best performance of the season and let their offense finish the job. Ohio State may be a better all-around team than LSU, but I see Burrow putting in one last great performance to cap off a legendary season and help Orgeron win his first title as head coach.
Peach Bowl: LSU 48, Oklahoma 30
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 30, Clemson 27
National Championship: LSU 38, Ohio State 34
Will Fritzler, Staff Writer
This was the easiest choice for the selection committee since the College Football Playoff started in 2014. Three teams were by far the best three teams, and Oklahoma was a no-brainer for the fourth spot after Oregon beat Utah. This could be the most competitive Playoff, with perhaps the strongest quarterback field, yet.
Oklahoma was lucky to get in and shouldn’t take its semifinal berth for granted, yet I somehow doubt Jalen Hurts can pilot his opportunistic Sooners, who are by far the weakest team in the field, past stalwart LSU. I expect a closer game than most others do, but I’m taking Heisman winner Joe Burrow and the dynamite Tiger offense. Ohio State – Clemson is effectively a tossup, with Clemson untested this season and the Buckeyes looking beatable after the Big 10 Championship Game. I’m going with Lawrence and Clemson on playoff experience to set up an all-Tiger championship game. I’m a sucker for the underdog, so I’ll pick Clemson to repeat as national champions, putting a damper on LSU’s sterling season.
Peach Bowl: LSU 34, Oklahoma 24
Fiesta Bowl: Clemson 30, Ohio State 27
National Championship: Clemson 34, LSU 26