LSU Tigers-Clemson Tigers national championship game preview

The dream season for LSU and quarterback Joe Burrow will end about 80 miles from campus in New Orleans, which will provide the ultimate home-field advantage. Clemson will try to spoil the party, win back-to-back national titles and further cement its claim as the nation’s most dominant program.

After a longer-than-normal regular season and an earlier-than-normal set of semifinals, the College Football Playoff National Championship is set: Tigahs vs. Tigers, Coach O vs. Dabo, Burrow vs. Trevor Lawrence, Death Valley vs. Death Valley.

LSU aims for its first national title since the 2007 season, when it beat Ohio State in New Orleans.

Clemson returns to the site of its last loss — to Alabama in the 2017 CFP semifinal at the Sugar Bowl — and aims for its 30th consecutive win and a third championship in four seasons.

The only downside: We have to wait more than two weeks for kickoff.

Here’s a first look at the Jan. 13 matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (8 p.m. ET on ESPN and the ESPN App).

Quarterback spotlight

Sometimes Heisman Trophy winners coast to the finish. Burrow continues to ascend, and his best might be yet to come. His record-setting season continued in the Peach Bowl, as he tossed seven touchdown passes, all in the first half, to set the CFP single-game record and the LSU bowl record. Burrow lit up Oklahoma for 493 pass yards, his third game of more than 470 yards this season. He has 17 passing touchdowns and no interceptions in his past four games.

Lawrence also evolved his game in the semifinal win over Ohio State, but he did so with his legs more than his arm. He led the team in both rushes (16) and yards (107), and he broke off a 67-yard scoring dash shortly before halftime, as Clemson stuck with a risk-reward plan to repeatedly run its quarterback. Lawrence also proved unshakable on the game-winning drive, leading Clemson 94 yards in only four plays and 78 seconds, and finding Travis Etienne for a 34-yard score. Although Burrow won all the awards this year, Lawrence has a national championship already on his résumé, and he won’t flinch in the spotlight.

Who could be this year’s Justyn Ross (Clemson receiver who had 301 receiving yards and three touchdowns in last year’s CFP)?

LSU: Justin Jefferson. Overshadowed by teammate Ja’Marr Chase, the Biletnikoff Award winner, Jefferson starred in the semifinal against Oklahoma, setting a CFP record with four touchdown catches — all in the first half. Jefferson finished the game with 14 catches for 227 yards and the four scores, setting Peach Bowl records in all three categories. He and Chase are tied with 18 touchdown receptions this season — an LSU record and tied for the SEC single-season mark.

Clemson: Travis Etienne. Clemson didn’t have an obvious offensive star other than Lawrence in the semifinal, and Etienne wouldn’t be sneaking up on anyone like Ross did last year. But Etienne led the Tigers with 98 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State, to go along with 36 rush yards and a touchdown. Etienne, who grew up in Jennings, Louisiana, picked Clemson over LSU, and he will face his home-state school on its home soil in what likely will be his final college game.

Matchup to watch

Clemson’s receivers vs. LSU’s defensive backs: Both position groups enjoy incredible tradition and will send multiple future NFL players onto the field at the Superdome. Clemson’s tandem of Ross and Tee Higgins will line up against LSU standout cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. and Kristian Fulton, while safety Grant Delpit, the Thorpe Award winner, will prowl the back end. Ohio State held Ross and Higgins to 10 catches for 80 yards and no touchdowns, and both Clemson wideouts were banged up in the semifinal.

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Jesse Palmer acknowledges the gap is very narrow, but would take Joe Burrow over Trevor Lawrence as his starting quarterback.

Defensive coordinator showcase

LSU’s Dave Aranda ($2.5 million) and Clemson’s Brent Venables ($2.2 million) are the nation’s highest-paid assistants, and each will have his hands full on Jan. 13. Aranda’s defense made significant strides in the past four games, and it limited Oklahoma to 322 yards in the semifinal. Venables’ defense denied Ohio State from the end zone on three red zone trips in the first half, which kept an early deficit manageable and allowed Lawrence and the offense to rally.

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