LSU-Clemson prediction: A classic would be nice
Undefeated Louisiana State plays undefeated Clemson on Monday night in the Big Bowl, and it’s college football’s second straight national championship game matching undefeated teams. Such a showdown in not terribly common.
In the almost 60 years since college football’s national champion was determined by the post-season, we’ve had just 15 title games matching unbeatens. And while the Alabama-Clemson game a year ago provided such a script, that was the first time since the 2010 season that unbeatens played in the title game.
Of course, until the late 1990s, we weren’t even assured of a literal championship game. We got lucky some years with a de facto title game, but many years, the top-ranked team played an opponent other than No. 2 in a bowl game.
The 15 times we’ve had championship games have not automatically produced classics. In fact, such battles of unbeatens have produced about as many blowouts as great games. Here are the blowouts:
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2018: 14-0 Alabama vs. 14-0 Clemson; Clemson won 44-16.
2004: 12-0 Southern Cal vs. 12-0 Oklahoma; USC won 55-19.
1995: 11-0 Nebraska vs. 11-0 Florida; Nebraska won 62-24.
1971: 12-0 Nebraska vs. 11-0 Alabama; Nebraska won 38-6.
Riveting finishes? There have been five:
2010: 13-0 Auburn vs. 12-0 Oregon; Auburn won 22-19.
2005: 12-0 Texas vs. 12-0 Southern Cal; Texas won 41-38.
2002: 13-0 Ohio State vs. 11-0 Miami; Ohio State won 31-24 in double overtime.
1986: 11-0 Miami vs. 11-0 Penn State; Penn State won 14-10.
1973: 11-0 Alabama vs. 10-0 Notre Dame; Notre Dame won 24-23.
That leaves six ho-hum games – neither blowouts nor classics:
2009: 13-0 Alabama vs. 13-0 Texas; Alabama won 37-21.
1999: 11-0 Florida State vs. 11-0 Virginia Tech; Florida State won 46-29.
1992: 12-0 Alabama vs. 11-0 Miami; Alabama won 34-13.
1988: 11-0 Notre Dame vs. 11-0 West Virginia; Notre Dame won 34-21.
1987: 11-0 Oklahoma vs. 11-0 Miami; Miami won 20-14.
1968: 9-0 Ohio State vs. 9-0-1 Southern Cal; Ohio State won 27-16.
So what to make of LSU-Clemson? LSU is the more tested team – victories over Texas, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, plus a 63-28 rout of the Sooners in the Peach Bowl. Clemson went virtually untested until the Fiesta Bowl but passed that test with a 29-23 victory over Ohio State.
Clemson has won 29 straight and clearly has championship pedigree. But LSU has a world-class offense, and its defense is underrated.
Clemson sophomore Trevor Lawrence is unbeaten as a college quarterback, but LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has produced a season for the ages.
Who to pick? I go back to an Atlanta elevator ride I shared with an LSU fan. He discovered I was from Oklahoma and struck up a conversation. He was very cordial. I told him I just hoped the Sooners could keep it close. He respectfully seemed to think they wouldn’t. Then he said about his Tigers, “best team I’ve ever seen.”
I don’t know if LSU is the best team I’ve ever seen. But LSU is quite something. Let’s go with the Bayou Bengals 35-31.