Three years ago, LSU fired its longtime coach, promoted his assistant in a move many chided and seemed far removed from reaching the College Football Playoff. Turns out, the Tigers aren’t just any other playoff team—they’re the No. 1 seed, playing No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 28.
LSU’s rout of then-No. 4 Georgia on Saturday in the SEC championship game was enough to lift Ed Orgeron’s team to the top spot in the CFP committee’s rankings, continuing one of the best stories in college football. Orgeron, a Louisiana native who replaced Les Miles in 2016 after a failed coaching stint at Ole Miss, has led his home-state squad to the pinnacle of the sport, hiring a 30-year-old wunderkind to overhaul an offense captained by the surefire Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Joe Burrow.
Their competition? An Oklahoma team led by a familiar face. Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts will play his third game as a starting quarterback against the Tigers. Hurts leads a Sooners squad that needed overtime to beat Baylor in the Big 12 title game Saturday after needing Utah to lose in the Pac-12 championship. In end, though, they’re here again for a fourth time in the sixth year of the playoff, a meeting between two storied programs that clashed for the BCS championship in 2003 (LSU won that, 21–14).
Storyline You’ll Get Tired Of
LSU’s new offense against Oklahoma’s new defense. Each program hired an outsider this offseason to overhaul one side of the ball. For the Tigers, that was hiring a then-29 year old Saints assistant, Joe Brady, to implement a spread offense that now ranks No. 1 in the nation in yards per game (ahead of No. 2 Oklahoma, by the way). For the Sooners, that was plucking Alex Grinch from Ohio State to improve a defense that has gone from 114th last year to 24th this season. These two entities clash in Atlanta for what’s sure to be an intense chess match that you’ll grow exhausted of hearing about by Christmas.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb against LSU’s five-star secondary. Lamb is the Sooners’ receiving leader with 58 catches, 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’ll likely be matched against one of the best true freshman in college football, rookie Derek Stingley, who leads the SEC in interceptions (6). It’s a meeting between two potential first-round draft picks. Stingley will have help, of course. Another highly-touted cornerback is across the way in Kristian Fulton, and at safety the Tigers have two more former five-star signees in Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens.
Quarterback runs. Much will be made of these two quarterbacks’ arms. After all, they combine to average more than 640 yards through the air, but how about their legs? They each have the ability to run. Jalen Hurts, in fact, averaged 96 yards rushing a game, which puts him 27th nationally among rushers. Joe Burrow isn’t as prolific, but he showed Saturday against Georgia that his rushing ability is no joke. He’s got 289 yards on the season, a number that is more like 350 when excluding sacks.
This has the makings to be one of the more fun semifinal games in recent years. Two of the best offenses in the nation, captained by two of the game’s most exciting quarterbacks, meet in what many believe to be the hub of college football, Atlanta. The betting line on the game opened around 8 points and has already climbed to 11, with LSU as the favorite. Expect a high-scoring duel, eked out in the end by Burrow and the Tigers, 44–35.