NEW YORK, N.Y.- The stage is finally set. After months of deliberation and debate, the four teams that will make up the College Football Playoff are set. LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma will all battle it out to hoist the national championship trophy.
The College Football Playoff is in its sixth season and while there have been some exciting games and a few shocking outcomes, we’ve yet to have all three games come down to the wire, pit equally talented teams against each other and have us all walk away feeling like we saw the best three games of the year. Blowouts have unfortunately been commonplace, but this year’s field sets up in a way that could go against the norm. The 2020 Playoff has all of the necessary ingredients to produce the best one we’ve ever seen in its short existence.
All four teams provide household names even the casual college football fan is familiar with: Joe Burrow. Chase Young. Justin Fields. Jalen Hurts. Trevor Lawrence. Each quarterback has their own case of being the best in the country to go along with the best overall player gives both semifinal matchups a real sexiness. In fact, all four Heisman Trophy contenders are playing in the Playoff: Burrow, Young, Fields and Hurts. This is the first time in the six years of the Playoff that every Heisman finalist is on one of the final four schools remaining.
On top of the great quarterback play, stars fill out every roster of the four teams. Oklahoma has the best receiver in the country in CeeDee Lamb while LSU, Ohio State and Clemson own three of the deepest receiving corps in the country. Isaiah Simmons has emerged as the next great Clemson defensive star while Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray might be the most athletic, sideline to sideline linebacker in the country. Whether it’s at running back, defensive back or offensive line, each team is loaded, providing for must-watch matchups all over the field.
Photo courtesy of Heisman.com
Because players cycle in and out every three or four years, coaches become the face of programs. Having four big time coaches competing against each other adds an intriguing angle to an already exciting Playoff field. No coach has had the success that Dabo Swinney has had these last five years, posting a .944 winning percentage, making the Playoff all five years and winning two national titles. Ed Orgeron is the most eccentric and viral coach you can have, as his weekly press conferences and pregame entrances flood social media every week. He’s captivated the Bayou crowd and made them believers.
Both Lincoln Riley and Ryan Day were tasked with the impossible: replacing a legend at their school. Riley, since taking over for Bob Stoops, has led Oklahoma to the Playoff all three years and has coached three Heisman Trophy finalist quarterbacks, with two of them winning the award. Day, in succeeding Urban Meyer, has the Buckeyes at 12-0 for the first time since Meyer led an NCAA sanctioned Ohio State team to a 12-0 record in his first season, when they were ineligible for postseason play. All four teams boast successful, rock-star like coaches that will be fun to watch scheming against each other.
Strength vs. Strength:
The rankings perfectly align these four teams to test what each does well and because of that, provides the two best matchups we could have asked for this season on paper. LSU and Oklahoma have two of the most explosive offenses in the country, as the Tigers and Sooners come in with the top two offenses in terms of yards per game. Both can score at will, as the Burrow-led offense owns the third best scoring offense, while the Hurts-driven Oklahoma offense is fifth in scoring. Both defenses have shown improvement, but sometimes struggle as holding down the opposing offense. This could lead to offensive explosion, as we may see a game reminiscent of the Georgia-Oklahoma 2018 semifinal that saw the Bulldogs win 54-48 in 2 OT’s.
On the flip side, Ohio State and Clemson have proven to be the two most balanced teams in the country. Ohio State is the best scoring offense in the nation, while the Tigers aren’t too far behind at fourth. Each team’s defense has been stout as well, with the Buckeyes owning the third best scoring defense while Clemson sits at the top in college football. You can breakdown every position for these two teams and neither has a significant edge over the other. This Ohio State-Clemson matchup in the Fiesta Bowl will be significantly more competitive than the last time these two teams matched up in the Fiesta Bowl, as the Tigers bulldozed the Buckeyes 31-0.
Any way you look at these two semifinal games, it’s hard to look back and think we’ve had as exciting and balanced of matchups in the history of the College Football Playoff. While it’s widely regarded that LSU, Ohio State and Clemson are in a class of their own compared to Oklahoma, the Sooners have the elite scoring ability to keep this an exciting game. From the superstar names on the field to the brand names of the schools involved to the head coaches squaring off against each other to the even strengths on the field, we are primed for the three most exciting and well-played games the Playoff has ever seen. Is it December 28th yet?