LSU is 60 minutes away from a national championship, but in order to win the 2019-20 title, coach Ed Orgeron’s team has to go through the defending champs and a loaded Clemson squad. LSU claimed the No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff after a 13-0 regular season, which included wins over Texas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Texas A&M, and Georgia. The Bayou Bengals won 10 of their 13 games by double digits and dominated Oklahoma (63-28) in the Peach Bowl to clinch a spot in the national title game. A high-powered offense led by quarterback Joe Burrow helped LSU unseat Alabama atop the SEC West, while the defense has played better over the final month of the season.
The 2019 season marked the first time LSU earned a trip to the CFB Playoff. The Bayou Bengals have won three national titles – 1958, 2003 and 2007 – and a victory over Clemson would clinch one of the best single-season runs by a program in recent memory.
College football’s 2019-20 season concludes on Monday, Jan. 13 with the national championship game in New Orleans. Why will LSU defeat Clemson and claim the title? Here are five reasons why the Bayou Bengals will win it all:
5 Reasons Why LSU Will Beat Clemson for the National Title
1. Joe Burrow
LSU’s emergence as one of the top offenses in college football came as a result of two steps. The program entered the 2018 offseason with some uncertainty at the quarterback position. But at the end of spring practice, coach Ed Orgeron landed arguably the biggest recruit of his tenure – Burrow. The Ohio State transfer started all 13 games for LSU in 2018 and got better over the course of the year. While Burrow was projected to be among the SEC’s top quarterbacks this season, no one predicted the senior would compile arguably the best year by a quarterback in college football history.
The second part of the offensive explosion in Baton Rouge came via the coaching staff. Orgeron wanted to implement a spread attack since his promotion to the full-time gig prior to 2017 and finally accomplished that goal by hiring Joe Brady to work with play-caller Steve Ensminger. Brady joined the staff from the Saints and brought spread concepts to Baton Rouge. The results have been an overwhelming success. LSU enters the national championship averaging 48.9 points a game, 7.9 yards a play, and ranks first nationally in total yards per contest (564.1).
Burrow has thrived under Ensminger and Brady’s offense, as no team has managed to hold this group totally in check. The senior quarterback won the Heisman Trophy after tossing 55 touchdowns and 5,208 yards over 371 completions. Burrow has connected on 77.6 percent of his throws and has only six interceptions. Additionally, he’s added 311 yards and four scores on the ground.
Can Clemson do what no defense has managed to accomplish this season? Considering no defense has found an answer to stop Burrow, all signs point to the senior closing out the year with one more big performance to guide LSU to the national championship.
2. A Healthy Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Edwards-Helaire was arguably the most underrated running back in college football during the regular season. The Baton Rouge native finished second in the SEC by averaging 136.9 all-purpose yards a game and paced the Bayou Bengals with 1,304 rushing yards and 16 scores. Edwards-Helaire caught 50 passes for 399 yards and one touchdown and ran for over 100 yards in key wins over Alabama, Florida, and Auburn.
A leg injury limited Edwards-Helaire to just two carries for 14 yards in the Peach Bowl win over Oklahoma. With Edwards-Helaire sidelined, LSU leaned on Chris Curry (89 yards), Tyrion Davis-Price (25 yards), and John Emery in the easy victory over the Sooners. With just over two weeks to heal, Edwards-Helaire is expected to be near full strength for the matchup against Clemson. His return is a huge boost and adds another weapon to the nation’s best offense.
3. LSU’s WR Corps Will Test Clemson’s Secondary
Clemson ranks first nationally in pass efficiency defense, but the combination of Burrow and the LSU receiving corps will be the toughest matchup Dabo Swinney’s group has faced this year. The Tigers boast two of the nation’s top receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, with Terrace Marshall and tight end Thaddeus Moss also heavily involved in the passing attack.
Chase won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver and enters the national championship with 75 receptions for 1,559 yards and 18 scores. Jefferson isn’t far behind Chase in yards (1,434), has matched him with 18 touchdown grabs but paces the team in catches (102). Marshall was banged up in the win over Oklahoma but is expected to play on Monday, Jan. 13. He grabbed 43 receptions for 625 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Moss seemed to get more involved as the season went on. The junior enters the title game with 42 receptions for 534 yards and two touchdowns.
With Burrow’s accuracy to fit the ball into tight windows, the playmaking ability of the receiving corps, along with Ensminger and Brady creating mismatches in play-calling, Clemson’s defense will have its hands full against the LSU passing attack.
4. Improving Defense
LSU’s defense is peaking at the right time. While this group was never especially porous in 2019, Texas and Vanderbilt scored 38 points, Alabama posted 41, and Ole Miss recorded 37. The Nov. 16 game against the Rebels seemed to mark a turning point for this group. Injuries played a role in some of the struggles during the year, but LSU has allowed only 65 points over the last four contests. In that span, the Tigers are holding teams to just 16 points a contest. This unit limited Georgia to just 10, and even though it gave up 28 to Oklahoma, 14 came late in the second half. After allowing 7.96 yards a play to Alabama and 8.65 to Ole Miss, LSU has held each of its last four opponents under 5.2 a snap.
Coordinator Dave Aranda is pushing the right buttons at the right time, and this unit will get a boost with the return of linebacker Michael Divinity. The senior was suspended in early November, but as evidenced by his work in limited snaps this year (four tackles for a loss and three sacks), his return will bolster a pass rush that recorded 35 sacks this year. Safety Grant Delpit is back to full strength after dealing with injuries in the regular season, while the cornerback pairing of Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley is among the best in college football.
Stopping Clemson and containing Trevor Lawrence won’t be easy. However, LSU’s defense has found its rhythm and is playing its best ball at the right time.
5. New Orleans Has Been Good to LSU
LSU won’t have to go far from campus (less than 100 miles) to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the showdown on Monday, Jan. 13. Clemson fans will travel well, but this is essentially a de facto home game for Orgeron’s team. While New Orleans is always friendly territory for LSU, it’s been incredibly good to this program on the big stage. The national championship game has been held in New Orleans four times since 2000 – 2003, '07, '12 and '19. LSU has appeared in all four of those matchups and won two (2003 and ’07). Additionally, the 1958 national championship team also claimed a postseason victory over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Considering the Bayou Bengals’ track record in the Big Easy, good luck is likely to be with Orgeron's squad on Monday night.