GLENDALE, Ariz. — It is hard to go more than a few minutes this college football season without seeing something referencing the sport's 150th anniversary. For as much as 2019 has been about the incredible string of events that have unfolded in real-time from week-to-week, it's also been one long celebration of every key moment, top player or unforgettable experience from the past century and a half of a game deeply woven into the fabric of each region of the country.
As the year comes to a close though and the season moves on to one final, finishing flourish in New Orleans, the latest edition of the College Football Playoff may have just given us the perfect way of ending this long hurrah. Thanks to the combination of No. 1 LSU's (expected) thrashing of No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl and No. 3 Clemson's thrilling back-and-forth win over No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, the 2019 campaign is poised to conclude with perhaps the most epic national championship game ever seen.
And unlike last January's clash of undefeated titans, this forthcoming meeting of 14-0 programs has a shot to more than live up to that hyperbolic billing on the field.
Just nine months ago Clemson players unleashed a torrent of energy on their small South Carolina hamlet celebrating something normally reserved for the opposite sex: gaudy rings being placed on their fingers. The Tigers were, of course, ecstatic over seeing the fruits of their labor, capping off a perfect season by thrashing Alabama to win the national title. Inscribed on those golden monstrosities was something that the program had not been shy in trumpeting as they walked off the field at Levi's Stadium: "Best Ever 15-0."
As hard as it could have been to see then, that statement of being the G.O.A.T could very well be short-lived and limited to a shelf life of less than a calendar year. Luckily for Dabo Swinney's program, they'll have a chance to not only keep the mantle but add to it.
Such is life after Saturday's two dichotic semifinal games inched us one step closer to history.
One has to start in Atlanta, where Joe Burrow and company were somehow able to take things to an even higher level than they had been operating on the past few months. The Heisman Trophy winner was masterful on the biggest stage, setting yet more records with his eight touchdowns, 493 passing yards and, rather incredibly, a 63-point outburst against a Sooners defense that was supposedly improved from their past trips to the playoff.
It mattered not one bit as Ed Orgeron's team can see the finish line in sight… just down the highway in New Orleans. It's not a reach to say that this magical campaign the Tigers are on is on the verge of being the best ever in all those 150 years of college football. Not only have they been dominant on their way to a 14-0 record, they've done so while collecting hardware like the touchdowns they so easily score.
They have a Heisman winner, a Biletnikoff Award winner and the nation's best defensive back. Orgeron is the consensus (and near-unanimous) coach of the year. Passing game coordinator Joe Brady was rightfully the Broyles Award winner as top assistant coach. The Tigers slayed SEC overlord Alabama in Tuscaloosa and ripped blue bloods like Georgia (in Atlanta) and Texas (in Austin) to shreds.
All that stands in their way of celebrating a national title in their own backyard? Just the program on the 29-game winning streak that has won two of the last three championships. Just the one that dispatched another undefeated conference champion that had been in the top three in both scoring offense and defense.
Just the one that is one win away from winning the most College Football Playoff games since the format's inception.
"What a night. What a journey for our team. What a way to end a great decade tonight. Unbelievable decade that we just finished up," said Swinney, smiling through exhaustion with untold levels of reserve excitement. "And just really proud of our guys. Proud of these seniors. Got their 55th win tonight. That ties a college football record. The resiliency, the will to win, the heart, the character, just special. Just really proud."
So let's go. Tigers vs. Tigers. Death Valley vs. Death Valley. 14-0 vs. 14-0. The budding dynastic standard in the sport taking on the most magical campaign in recent memory.
We've made it through 150 years of college football and we're the precipice of ending that marquee number with a heavyweight fight in the championship game worthy of the occasion.
Stat of the Week
Tweet of the Week
Superlatives of the Week
Semifinals best player: Joe Burrow
Worst coaching decision: Ryan Day not going for two then punting inside the Clemson 40 in the fourth quarter
Goat of the week: Lincoln Riley
Quote of the week: "Being around here this long, it's not surprising. It would have been more surprising if we would not have gone down and scored." — Clemson co-OC Jeff Scott on the four-play, final touchdown drive.
Play of the Week
Pre-snap Read: College Football Playoff National Championship – No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 1 LSU
How juicy is this matchup? Two of the absolute best (and highest-paid) defensive coordinators (Brent Venables and Dave Aranda) trying to stop the Heisman Trophy winner and the sophomore signal-caller who is undefeated and ticketed to being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The receiver talent is off the charts but so too is the secondary on either side. There are so many fun games within the game that we'll find out about in mid-January.
So much will be made of the LSU home-field advantage but that won't matter as much as people think as Clemson A) won't care and B) will have plenty of orange in the stands too. The key is probably going to come down to if the Tigers from the ACC can force the Tigers from the SEC into any turnovers. If that happens they certainly have more than a shot given how comfortable they are on this kind of stage. If not though, even trading scores might not be enough to slow down this runaway freight train that is Ed Orgeron's crew. The Pick: LSU -4.5
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
(Top photo courtesy of @LSUfootball)