College Football Playoff National Championship Preview

Dwight Peebles

The 2019 college football season looked like two trains running on a collision course with a meeting in New Orleans and the coveted crystal football trophy on the line. The LSU Tigers blazed through opponents all season, averaging 564.4 yards of total offense a game and 48.8 points a game. The team eclipsed 50 points in seven games including a 63-28 decimation of Oklahoma in the first round of the BCS Playoffs.

The other train on the track to the finale, the Ohio State Buckeyes, met their end in the first BCS playoff game – losing to the defending champion Clemson Tigers 29-23 and derailing their collision course. Not to take anything away from Clemson, the Tigers also went 14-0 like LSU but it wasn’t quite as convincing. They averaged 538.4 yards of total offense and 45.3 points a game but against inferior opponents and had several scares along the way.

The field is painted, the Tigers of LSU clash with the Tigers of Clemson in an epic matchup with NFL talent on both sides of the ball and tons of names to watch for your fantasy teams.

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The offense runs through and because of the Heisman Award-winning quarterback – Joe Burrow. The command of the offense and throws he makes are things legends are built on.

Joe Burrow

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Burrow has impeccable pocket presence and throws on the run with amazing efficiency and precision. He set the record for completion percentage in a season with 77.6%. Burrow could eclipse 60 touchdowns passing with another big game. He did throw for seven versus Oklahoma in the last game so it isn’t unfathomable.

The running backs complement the explosive offense well and the backfield is lead by junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He ran for 1,304 yards and 16 scores on the 2019 season and tacked on 50 receptions for 399 yards and another score. Edwards-Helaire is a vicious and tough runner. He keeps low to the ground and is difficult to bring down. He won’t break the big play often but he runs reminiscent in style to Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew – a shorter, bowling ball runner with good movement and power.

The game versus Oklahoma featured red-shirt freshman Chris Curry spelling the limited Edwards-Helaire and Curry looked fantastic. He runs hard and is a decisive runner who gets upfield with little hesitation. True freshman Tyrion Davis-Prince also could see the field and was effective this season in limited time and is also more of a threat catching out of the backfield. The crown devy jewel of the stable of backs is freshman John Emery Jr. Emery was the second-highest rated running back in the 2019 class per 247 Sports. He’s an athletic freak – fast, powerful, built like a running back should be at 5’11” and 215 pounds – Emery has the potential to be the next great LSU back.

The wide receivers would likely be the best group in the country if not for Alabama’s blue-chip arsenal. The dangerous duo of Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson wreaked havoc on SEC defenses all season and helped the ascension of the Heisman-winning gunslinger Burrow.

Sophomore Chase is my overall number one prospect in devy after removing the players who have declared for the 2020 Draft. He wins in a variety of ways and a nightmare for opponents to account for.

Ja’Marr Chase

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Chase’s amazing 2019 season earned him the Biletnikoff Award as the top wide receiver in college football. He found the end zone 18 times and averaged over 20 yards a catch. Often he faced the top cornerback against opponents and routinely he embarrassed them. Chase runs routes with authority and power, gaining leverage and positioning quickly to present a good target for his quarterback. He plays with a junkyard dog mentality, fighting for every yard and ball, and is going to be a stud receiver in the NFL.

Junior receiver Jefferson could have won the award too. He established himself as one of the top receivers in college football in 2019 as well.

Justin Jefferson

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Jefferson is a dangerous possession receiver who moved all over the field, gathering in 102 receptions to lead the NCAA for the season. Jefferson hasn’t declared for the NFL Draft at this point but should be a second-day pick if he does. He has great hands, route-running, and is precise in every movement he makes. Jefferson will be at least a strong WR2 in the NFL with potential for more.

Sophomore Terrace Marshall Jr. is the third receiver and could step up big next season if Jefferson departs. Marshall is fast and a dangerous deep threat – he caught 43 balls for 625 yards and 12 scores in 2019. Junior tight end Thaddeus Moss, Randy Moss’s son, emerged as another target this season. He raked in 42 grabs for 534 yards and a pair of scores. A good number of his targets were for first downs and he has a nose of finding the right spot to be. Moss has good size and could be a decent NFL tight end prospect. A name coming up the pipeline, incoming freshman Kayshon Boutte is similar in stature to Jefferson and will likely see playing time next season – a name to target in upcoming devy drafts.

Defensively, Clemson faces an almost insurmountable task in defending all these weapons and it will take every person on their defense playing one of the best games of their lives. The defense only allowed 264.1 yards per game and only 112.6 rushing yards per game. The defense was not tested by an offense with the caliber of weapons like LSU’s until they faced Ohio State’s in the Fiesta Bowl.

The defense is lead by likely top-ten pick Isaiah Simmons, a defensive chess piece who did everything for the Clemson defense this season. He makes plays all over the field and will be a nasty defender in the NFL next season.

Simmons had 97 tackles this season, 14.5 were for a loss, seven sacks, and three interceptions as well. He lines up at linebacker, safety and cornerback – offenses have to account for where he is and he has a knack for backbreaking plays at the right time.

The defense has solid players all over and won’t be fazed by the challenge and the bright lights of the championship game. Veteran safety Tanner Muse leads the team with four interceptions and makes plays at opportune times as well. The defensive line is loaded with four and five-star recruits but has not been as dominant as hoped this season. Xavier Thomas, KJ Henry, and Tyler Davis all should play in the NFL in several seasons.

The secondary will be tested and junior AJ Terrell is the top corner and most important piece in the defensive unit. Terrell has good ball skills and loves to tackle. He closes quickly with explosive speed and moves fluidly, he will be tested often in this huge matchup. Sophomore Derion Kendrick is a converted wide receiver in only his first season as a corner, he showed flashes of being a competent corner this season but once again, faced few receivers as talented as LSU’s elite duo.


The other quarterback in this game is one of the best quarterback prospects to enter college football in quite some time, sophomore Trevor Lawrence.

Trevor Lawrence

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Lawrence burst onto the scene last season, leading the Clemson team on a dominant run to the national title behind one of the best statistical seasons posted by a freshman quarterback. Lawrence moves well in the pocket, can make every throw to any level, and he has a grasp on the game far beyond his years. He’s lethal throwing on the run and has a calm swagger and leadership quality – the whole team rallies behind its leader.

This season started slowly for Lawrence. His eight interceptions came in the first seven games of the season and he looked human at times – especially in a narrow win versus North Carolina week five. In the past eight games, Lawrence has thrown 22 touchdowns and no interceptions. In the Fiesta Bowl, the world was introduced to a part of his game we hadn’t seen much of – Lawrence rushed 16 times for 107 yards, including a 67-yard scamper for a touchdown which turned the tide of the game just before halftime.

Junior running back Travis Etienne is one of the few backs in the game with the ability to score from anywhere on the field at any time.

Travis Etienne

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Etienne is one of the most explosive backs in the game and this season he focused on adding confidence in his receiving ability. He caught 32 passes to go with his 1,536 rushing yards and 18 rushing scores. He uses patience and angles to set up blockers and elude defenders, then has a dynamic second gear to pull away quickly when he’s in the open field. Etienne is one of the top four backs entering the NFL Draft, if he declares as is expected.

Behind Etienne, sophomore Lyn-J Dixon has been an explosive option in relief of the superstar back. Dixon is similar in size at 5’10” and 190 pounds, dynamic and a threat in the passing game as well. Freshman Chez Mellusi had 44 carries for 276 carries and three scores and could be in line to be the next full-time back for the Tigers. He is a bit bigger at 5’11” and 205 and is a more powerful runner but still has breakaway speed and elusiveness. Incoming five-star freshman Demarkcus Bowman is a name to know for devy as well, he is the third-ranked running back in the 2020 class per 247 Sports with a composite ranking of 0.9924.

Junior Tee Higgins and sophomore Justyn Ross give the Clemson Tigers a pair of receivers that could rival the other duo across the field. Tee Higgins has been the man in Clemson the last two seasons, a big-play receiver with the size and power to dominate any defensive back in college football.

Tee Higgins

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Higgins’ status is up in the air due to a head injury suffered versus Ohio State, it would be a blow to the Clemson offense but they have some talent at the position. He has strong hands and runs route with precision and positions himself well between defensive backs and the quarterback. Higgins clearly is Lawrence’s most trusted target and not having him on the field would be detrimental.

Ross is one of the highest-ranked wide receivers eligible to come out in the 2021 Draft class.

Justyn Ross

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Ross is currently my WR4 in the 2021 class but the ranking will be influenced by what he does next season. He exploded onto the scene in 2018 with 46 catches for 1,000 yards and nine scores but was not as dominant this season. Ross is big and tracks the ball well on deep passes. His sideline awareness and hand strength on contested catches set him apart from many prospects. Higgins is expected to enter NFL Draft and Ross will get the chance to be the alpha wide receiver next season but has competition.

Freshman receiver Frank Ladson was the seventh-ranked wide receiver per 247 Sports, a four-star receiver from Miami, Florida and has similar play style and size as Ross as 6’3” and 190 pounds. Another phenom is also waiting in the wings, freshman Joseph Ngata is a four-star wideout and was the ninth-ranked receiver in the 2019 class per 247 Sports. Ngata is a bit bigger at 6’3” and 210 pounds, hails from Folsom, California, and is going to give defensive backs the blues for the next few seasons in Clemson.

The LSU defense has been tested by offensive units all season and has several prospects which will be NFL starters in 2020. Junior safety Grant Delpit won the Jim Thorpe Award for the top defensive back in 2019 and leads a tenacious secondary. Junior outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson leads the pass rushers and can be a true difference-maker when he gets to opposing quarterbacks.

Delpit is likely going early in the 2020 NFL Draft. At times he has looked like an elite safety prospect but his 2019 tape showed too many missed tackles and opportunities he was exposed on. The cornerbacks are the best duo in college football and it’s not close – senior Kristian Fulton gets the press and could be another day one pick in the draft, he only had one interception but wasn’t targeted as often. The other cornerback has a chance to be truly special, freshman Derek Stingley Jr. was targeted more and responded with six interceptions in 2019. Stingley is a ball hawk and has the attitude of a top shut down corner. He plays with intensity and fire – he is going to be special in the NFL in a few years.

The linebackers are lead by Chaisson, leading the team with 6.5 sacks but he had many more pressures and his impact is felt beyond the numbers. Junior Jacob Phillips may not translate to the NFL but he led the defense with 105 tackles and has a knack for always being around the ball.

The defensive line is led by senior defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, a solid run-defending tackle who moves to the end occasionally and provides veteran leadership on the line.

The defense as a whole allows 340.6 yards a game and was typically playing with the lead, allowing them to really attack and play with a more preventive defensive gameplan. The defense was gashed for 541 yards and 41 points playing at Alabama in November and then Ole Miss tallied 614 yards of offense and 37 points the very next week. The LSU defense played well enough to secure wins and often bent but did not break, and will be tested repeatedly in this game.


Burrow and the LSU offense is too much for the Clemson defense to slow down, and they jump out to a quick lead. Clemson hung in versus Ohio State but the Buckeye offense couldn’t stick the dagger in and pull away.

LSU wins 38-24 but it isn’t as close as it sounds, Burrow crosses the T and dots the I on one of the best seasons we will ever see from a quarterback, ending his career with a Heisman and Bowl Championship Trophy. He will then be rewarded by having to join my hapless Bengals as the number one overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft!

dwight peebles
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