Joe Burrow has been the engine that makes the nation's No. 1 offense hum this season
After a convincing 37-10 win over then-No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, the LSU Tigers' impressive showing was rewarded with the top seed in the College Football Playoff. With the four-team playoff set Sunday night, LSU (13-0, 8-0 SEC) will face Big 12 champion, No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1), while No. 2 seed Ohio State (13-0), out of the Big Ten, will collide against the ACC's top team, No. 3 Clemson (13-0). All teams know the task at hand and what is on the line. Now it is up to LSU to bring home their first national championship since the 2007 season.
The college game has turned into an offensive production, and to no one's surprise, all four of the playoff teams are among the best in the country, ranked in the top five nationally when it comes to both scoring and total offense. However, no team has the firepower to move the ball up and down the field while lighting up the scoreboard like LSU. The Tigers overwhelmed the opposition throughout their 2019 schedule, and enter the playoff ranked No. 1 in total offense at 554 yards per game. This rate of production against top competition helped produce 48 points per game on average. While knocked for much of the season, the Tigers' defense is better than advertised. This unit held teams to 341 total yards and 21 points per game.
With the best offense in the country and one of the top defenses in the FBS ranks, can LSU work its way past Oklahoma and the winner of the Ohio State/Clemson showdown for their third claimed national championship in school history?
5 Reasons Why LSU Will Win the College Football Playoff
1. LSU is battle-tested
The Tigers' perfect season was not without several tests along the way squaring off against five top-10 teams (Texas, Auburn, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia). In comparison, the Sooners played against one top-10 team, Baylor, a team the Sooners had already beaten once during the regular season. Ohio State was not tested by a top team until late in the season defeating then- No. 8 Penn State and No. 8 Wisconsin (now a three-loss team). All present a better resume than Clemson. The Tigers played two ranked teams all season, Texas A&M and Virginia, both now out of the Top 25.
According to USA Today, LSU has the highest-rated strength of schedule among the four playoff teams at No. 10 followed by No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 18 Ohio State, and No. 60 Clemson.
2. Joe Burrow
Any conversation about the 2019 LSU team in detail must start with Burrow. The senior quarterback has not only been elite by SEC standards, but he has thrown for the second-most yards in the nation (4,715), the most touchdowns (48), and has the highest passer rating (201.5). The prolific stats were not compiled against creampuffs either. On the biggest stage, the winner of the Unitas Golden Arm Award has delivered, averaging 365 passing yards per game with 15 total touchdown passes against the aforementioned five ranked teams. With the No. 1 seed on the line, along with an SEC championship, Burrow turned in a gem against the nation's fourth-ranked defense, going 28-for-38 for 349 yards and four touchdowns (he also ran for 41 yards and caught a 16-yard pass) in the 37-10 victory over Georgia.
3. Tigers' receiving corps
While most teams are lucky to have one true No. 1 receiver, the Tigers have two in Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. Chase leads the nation in receiving yards (1,498) and touchdowns (18) and has done this damage on 73 receptions (20.5 ypr). Jefferson is eighth in FBS in yards (1,207) and is among the leaders in receptions (88) and touchdowns (14) as well. No other playoff team is close to LSU's production at the receiver position. Oklahoma (CeeDee Lamb) and Clemson (Tee Higgins) each have a 1,000-yard receiver but nowhere near as productive as a No. 2 target compared to the Tigers.
4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire
To win the national championship, a team cannot be one-dimensional on offense. For LSU, that balance keeping defenses honest centers on Edwards-Helaire. The junior running back is second in the SEC in rushing yards (1,290) while leading the way in touchdowns on the ground (16). The Tigers are averaging 168 rushing yards per game but has seen an uptick in their ground production. Over the last six games, including matchups against three teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense (Auburn, Alabama, Georgia), LSU is averaging 183 yards on the ground per contest.
5. LSU's defense
While no longer the statistical juggernaut on defense as seen in years past, the Tigers have gotten it done all season with a well-balanced group. They are doing a good job locking down the run (120 ypg) while the pass defense has been a little more generous (222 ypg). But the schedule has featured three opponents ranked in the top 30 nationally in total offense – Alabama, Texas, and Ole Miss.
The play up front is led by All-SEC defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence and nose guard Tyler Shelvin. In the box, linebacker Jacob Phillips leads the team in tackles (97) with outside backer K'Lavon Chaisson creating chaos in the backfield (team-high 11.5 tackles for a loss). The secondary is well suited to stop the pass and also help out against the run. Not only is safety JaCoby Stevens second on the team in total stops (82), but he leads the team in sacks with five. His counterpart, Grant Delpit, is arguably the best safety in the nation. At the corners, Kristian Fulton and true freshman Derek Stingley can run with any receiver in the country. Stingley leads the Tigers in interceptions (6) and pass breakups (15) with Fulton defending 12 passes on the season.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.