4 Down Territory: One Game Left.......
College Football 150: Today we lead off with a plea to the powers that be in college football. This beautiful game deserves a better ending than playing the National Championship on a random Monday night in January. Find a way to work with the NFL and get a Saturday Night slot amid the NFL playoff season. This isn’t basketball. Part of the allure of Super Bowl Sunday is that a day of parties on a weekend afternoon creates an event that transcends the sport. College football deserves a weekend title game. Case in Point: Friday January 2, 1987 Penn State played Miami for the National Title. That game was a huge sporting event and delivered what is still the highest-rated college football telecast of all-time.
1st Down: Conference Strengths and SEC vs ACC: As we prepare for an ACC/SEC showdown on Monday night a look at the relative strengths of all the conferences is in order. The big winner in this Bowl season was the SEC with a 7-2 record in Bowl Games. Georgia, LSU and Florida gave them a clean sweep in New Year’s 6 Bowl games as well as Alabama beating Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. The Big Ten’s attempt to challenge the SEC claim as the Best conference fell short with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana losing close games. Those three wins would’ve put them at 7-2 rather than 4-5. The Pac-12 was a surprising 4-3, while The ACC stumbled to a 4-6 record and the Big 12 was an abysmal 1-5. As it relates to Monday night, this season the ACC and SEC matched up 11 times with the SEC coming away with a 7-4 edge. Look for Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher to be a popular guy for media members looking for Clemson/LSU comparisons. His Aggies played both teams on the road this year. If you want to comparison shop the scores, Clemson beat A&M 24-10 while LSU won 50-7.
2nd Down: Scouting Clemson: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has yet to lose a game in college and displayed incredible toughness in bringing his team back from a 16-0 deficit to beat Ohio State. For most of the game Ohio State’s defense was able to match-up well versus the Clemson receivers and LSU will have to do the same. But if you commit to playing man coverage Lawrence is good enough to make big plays running the ball as he did in the Fiesta Bowl. Clemson’s defense has played well this season and has grabbed an incredible 19 interceptions. To slow down LSU they will need to get some interceptions as they did against Ohio State. Those two interceptions and great red zone defense are the major reason Clemson is playing Monday night. LSU will have to be ready for a creative blitz package too. Also of note: The past two seasons Clemson is 7-0 against ranked teams outscoring them 257-83. Also they're 5-0 against the SEC in that stretch.
Third Down: Scouting LSU: Like Clemson the quarterback position is a strength as LSU QB Joe Burrow had an historic-level season. And speaking of historic, this will be the 7th Top 10 team LSU will play this year. The better offensive teams have scored against LSU but in those games the defense has made the plays when they've had to. LSU’s multiple fronts on defense allow them to mix and match blitz schemes. It will be important for them to create some confusion and mistakes in picking up blitz assignments for Clemson’s offense. Ohio State’s scheme was not complex but they were able create pass rush and cause problems. What you have to love about LSU is the trust they have put in the hands of their QB. In tight games at Texas and at Alabama when it came time to deliver the Tigers, Joe Burrow made the big throws when he had to in the 4th quarter. That will bear watching on Monday Night.
Fourth Down: The Tapes The Coaches Will Really Study: For Clemson, they will be looking at the LSU-Auburn film to see how they held LSU to 23 points. Auburn was able to limit big plays and force LSU to be patient. LSU faced a lot of third downs (19) which tells you how well Auburn's defense played on first and second down. Also the average LSU completion in that game was just 10 yards compared to 14 yards per catch for the season. For LSU coaches they’ll be looking at the Clemson/UNC tape. UNC was 3 yards from beating Clemson when the Tarheels went for two before falling 21-20. Like Auburn vs LSU, UNC took the big plays away from Clemson. Explosive RB Travis Etienne’s longest run was just 13 yards and Clemson had just two plays for 20 or more yards. The common theme is that this game will come down to limiting big plays on offense by making great open-field tackles against elite athletes in space.