College Football Playoff national championship game, ESPN, Monday, 5 p.m. PST, Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans: No. 1 Louisiana State (14-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (14-0)
When LSU has the ball: The chess match between Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and LSU’s offensive brain trust of senior quarterback Joe Burrow, offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and passing-game coordinator Joe Brady should be something to behold. Venables is a master at disguising coverages and blitzes and making changes to his defense before the snap much later than most coaches can. Burrow considers himself an expert at setting up his protection with only five blockers so he can have five options — wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall Jr., running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and tight end Thaddeus Moss — at his disposal. Burrow said this past week that it might take a full quarter for him to figure out Clemson’s plan.
When Clemson has the ball: LSU might have the Heisman Trophy winner in Burrow with an all-star cast, but Clemson just happens to bring back all of the skill position players from the team that whomped Alabama 44-16 in last year’s CFP title game. Sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence reminded everyone how dangerous he is on the big stage with that four-play, 94-yard, game-winning touchdown drive in Clemson’s 29-23 victory over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. In running back Travis Etienne and wide receivers Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers, Clemson has all the game breakers it needs to keep up with LSU if the game becomes a shootout.
Key to victory: LSU’s fearless mentality has been just as big a part of its dominance this season as any schematic change to its offense. With all of the pressure on its shoulders to finish this magical run an hour’s drive from home, LSU has to put blinders on for 60 minutes and just play football.
Pick: Clemson made it clear against Ohio State that it is going to take a great team playing its best game to unseat the reigning champions. The LSU Tigers appear to be that team, and they’ll have the whole state behind them.
LSU 35, CLEMSON 27
Bowl record: 26-13; Season record: 125-64