Constructing a Title Team: How LSU and Clemson created a pair of juggernauts


On Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La., the 2019-20 college football season will come to a close with the crowning of a new national champion. However the thrilling conclusion of the College Football Playoff will play out, history will be made with either No. 1 LSU capping off one of the most incredible campaigns in the sport’s history or with No. 3 Clemson cementing their modern dynasty with a second straight title and third in the last four years.

But how did these two sets of purple-shaded Tigers get to this point? How did each program arrive on the precipice of greatness this season? The answer started long before summer camp for the 2019 season got underway as a pair of coaches went from little acclaim to the top of their profession and a host of both high-end and overlooked recruits blossomed into stars.

You can start with the reigning champions, who enter Monday with a 29-game winning streak and the opportunity to reset the current gold standard in the sport. Head coach Dabo Swinney is no stranger to holding up the trophy in the final game of the year but was once an overlooked former Alabama receiver who was surprisingly given the interim job in 2008 when Tommy Bowden resigned midway through the season. After a few up and down first couple of seasons, the program hit a turning point in 2012, hiring Brent Venables as defensive coordinator among other changes. Since then, the results speak for themselves with just 11 losses since and double-digit wins each year.

Of course, the stellar coaching has been one thing and the players on the roster have been another. While Clemson has always recruited well, their rankings have steadily climbed with recent classes and the result is a depth chart stocked with four- and five-stars. The senior class alone has a chance to become the winningest in college football history (current record: 55-3) and are supplemented by an extremely young and talented roster from there.

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is undoubtedly the headliner for the team, living up to his billing as the No. 1 prospect at the position out of high school by winning last year’s title as a true freshman and playing a central role in the current winning streak. The likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft was phenomenal in the Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State and has a terrific supporting cast around him to make the No. 4 scoring offense in FBS click. That includes Louisiana native and tailback Travis Etienne and wideout Tee Higgins. Former five-star Jackson Carman mans the left tackle spot while veterans like John Simpson solidify things in the middle. The Tigers’ growing national recruiting reach has been impressive to watch unfold and a good reason why the program sits in the top 10 of the 247Sports’ Team Talent Composite Rankings.

Their opponents have a strikingly similar profile entering yet another championship game in their own back yard. Head coach Ed Orgeron made the most of his own interim stint after Les Miles was fired in 2016 and elevated to the full-time role later that year. He’s made it a point to assemble a top-notch staff around him and has done so by fighting off numerous suitors to retain defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, plus bringing back offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. None of those moves produced the spark that was the hire of former New Orleans Saints assistant Joe Brady, however, with the latter introducing a variety of new concepts to propel the team to the top of nearly every FBS offensive category. Brady was named the winner of the Broyles Award as the country’s top assistant for his efforts.

The man making everything operate at historic levels is somebody who grew up far from the bayous that dot the landscape south of the school in Joe Burrow. The quarterback was originally a four-star recruit out of the Buckeye state, where his dad was defensive coordinator for Frank Solich at Ohio. He was recruited to Ohio State in the wake of that school’s own national title and spent the next couple of seasons backing up J.T. Barrett. Eventually, he lost out on the starting job to Dwayne Haskins and was a celebrated grad transfer who considered Nebraska, North Carolina and others. Eventually, he found a home in Baton Rouge and, after a solid start in 2018, has set a host of LSU, SEC and FBS records this season on his way to a historic Heisman Trophy victory in December.

Long considered to have one of the best rosters in college football, that sentiment hasn’t changed under noted high-end recruiter Orgeron. While they do have the most outstanding player in the sport running the show behind center, the talent around Burrow is similarly impressive. That includes five-star cornerback tandem Derek Stingley Jr. and Kristan Fulton, wideouts Terrace Marshall and Biletnikoff Award winner JaMarr Chase and defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence. The staff has also done a good job of developing talent too, turning three-star Baton Rouge native Clyde Edwards-Helaire into a productive threat out of the backfield and seeing lightly recruited Justin Jefferson turn into the star of the Peach Bowl win over No. 4 Oklahoma. That’s not even mentioning Thorpe Award winner Grant Delpit, who has turned into the defensive leader the last couple of years after arriving from prep powerhouse IMG Academy and has proven to be key in the team’s second-half surge on that side of the ball after the safety recovered fully from an ankle injury.

All told, the two teams share the same number of 247Sports Composite five-star recruits on their rosters while LSU edges Clemson in four-stars by a 44-33 margin. Despite this, the average rating per player overall on the depth chart is negligible.

Add it all up and it certainly should be a doozy in the Big Easy when kickoff rolls around as two of the most talented teams of the playoff era meet with plenty of history on the line. An LSU win would only add to the incredible amount of hardware the team has brought home this season, while a Clemson victory would be the first back-to-back titles of the Playoff era and put them within striking distance of the modern era win streak.

It’s been an uneven road at times for both programs to reach this point, but now that both are here; just 60 minutes separates a great season with immortality. So let’s go: Tigers vs. Tigers. Death Valley vs. Death Valley. Purple and gold vs. Purple and orange with everything on the line. Even fans of rivals have to sit back and enjoy this matchup because it’s been years in the making and has a chance to go down as one of the best ever.

Big 12 to allow teams to play 1 non-conference football game

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Two people involved with the decision say the Big 12 will permit its teams to play one nonconference football game this year to go along with their nine league contests as plans for the pandemic-altered season continued to fall into place.

The people spoke Monday night to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the conference was still preparing an official announcement.

The Big 12 university presidents signed off on the conference’s scheduling model, which gives schools the ability to play one nonconference game at home. The conference’s championship game is scheduled for Dec. 5, but one of the people told AP that the conference is leaving open the possibility of bumping it back a week or two.

The 10-team Big 12 already plays a nine-game, round-robin conference schedule. Unlike other Power Five conference that have switched to either exclusively (Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) or mostly (ACC) league games this season, the Big 12 could not add more conference games without teams playing each other more than once.

Several Big 12 teams have already started preseason practice, with Kansas and Oklahoma slated to play FCS teams on Aug. 29.

As conferences take steps toward a football season that seems to be in precarious shape, the NCAA is expected to weigh in Tuesday on fall sports other than major-college football.

The association’s Board of Governors is scheduled to meet and whether to cancel or postpone NCAA championship events in fall sports such as soccer, volleyball and lower-division football is expected to be a topic.

Only the Pac-12 has a full football schedule with matchups and dates in place among Power Five conferences. The Pac-12 will begin Sept. 26, along with the Southeastern Conference, which is still working on its new 10-game slate.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has opponents set for its 10-game conference schedule and will start the weekend of Sept. 12, but no specific game dates. The ACC has also said it will permit its teams to play one nonconference game.

The Big Ten, first to announce intentions to go conference-only this season, has yet to release a new schedule, but that could come later this week.

Now that the Power Five has declared its intentions the Group of Five conferences can start making plans and filling holes on their schedules.

American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has said the AAC could stick with its eight-game conference schedule and let its members plays as many of their four nonconference games as they can salvage or replace.

The Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences are likely to take similar approach.

Early Monday, Texas State from the Sun Belt announced it was moving a nonconference game against SMU up from Sept. 5 to Aug. 29.

Good morning and, in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night! CFT, out…

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CFT is no more. At least, when it comes to NBC Sports.

The first of last month, I — this is John Taylor (pictured, catching the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXIII) — began my 12th year with CFT and NBC Sports. This morning, I was informed that my position was being eliminated and I would not be completing that 12th year. Which, of course, meant I wouldn’t be eligible for the traditional 13th-anniversary gift of lace. Which really bummed me out. Because I really like lace.

The jarring phone call was both a slap in the face and a relief. Jarring because, well, it was completely unexpected. Out of the blue, even amidst the pandemic that is wreaking absolute and utter havoc across the country. A relief, on the other hand, because, every single day for the past four months, I woke up wondering if this would be the day I get that call.

Would this be the day? Would this be the day? A question played on an endless loop that just f***s with you mentally, emotionally, physically.

That’s no way to live.

Then again, being job-less is no way to live, either. But, here we are.

So many people I want to thank. First and foremost, Mike Florio and Larry Mazza. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Especially Mr. Mazza on the food front. Hopefully, lunch at Oliverio’s — best damn stuffed shells I have EVER had — can still be a thing, Larry.

And so many people that have worked for me. Not to single anyone out, but I’m going to single one out in Ben Kercheval. Ben, non-biological son of Hoppy, you were and continue to be the man. I appreciate you more than you know.  Rasheed Wallace may indeed be your biological father, but I will forever consider you my illegitimate Internet stepson.

Mike Miller is the best boss anyone could ever ask for.  Hire that man.  You can thank me later.

Kevin McGuire, Zach Barnett, Bryan Fischer, I will always treasure what we did, together, these last few years. Things were on the uptick, and it’s sad that we won’t be able to see it through. Together.  We should’ve — SHOULD’VE SHOULD’VE SHOULD’VE — been given that opportunity.  And it will forever piss me off that we weren’t.

Brent and Chris and JJ, much love to you all as well.

Shortly after I received the job call of death, I called my dad. Told him what was going on in his son’s life.  After I hung up the phone, he sent me a GIF in a text message a few minutes later.  I’ll link it here to end whatever this is, because it’s appropriate.  And old school.

And, well… bye.


2018 FCS All-American RB commits to Virginia

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Virginia joined South Carolina over the weekend as Power Five football schools realizing a personnel benefit from a lower-level program’s loss.

Two weeks ago, the Colonial Athletic Association announced that it was canceling its 2020 college football season because of the coronavirus pandemic.  One member of that FCS conference is Towson.  Coincidentally or not, one standout member of the Tigers, Shane Simpson, took to Twitter last week to announce that he has entered his name into the NCAA transfer database.

On that same social media service Sunday, the running back confirmed that he has committed to the Virginia football team.  Simpson had his transfer to-do list down to Virginia and Texas.

As Simpson was a fifth-year senior in 2019, it appears he has been granted a sixth season of eligibility.  Or, is fairly confident he will receive one.

Simpson would likely be eligible for that sixth season as he missed all but four games of his true freshman season in 2015 because of injury, then missed all but the first three games last season because of a serious knee injury.

In 2018, Simpson earned first-team All-American honors.  He finished second in all of FCS with 171.5 all-purpose yards per game, totaling 2,058 yards on the season.  That same season, the Pennsylvania product was the CAA’s Special Teams Player of the Year and earned three different all-conference honors: first-team at running back, second-team as a kick returner and third-team as a punt returner.

Simpson would be eligible to play immediately in 2020 at the FBS level.

South Carolina pulls in transfer WR from Tarleton State

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South Carolina is the latest football program to benefit from a lower level of the sport opting out of football this fall.

In the middle of last month, the Western Athletic Conference — yes, the WAC — announced that it is delaying the start of fall sports, including football, because of the coronavirus pandemic.  Tarleton State was set to enter its first season in the FCS conference after moving up from Div. II.

One member of the Texans won’t get to realize that monumental move, though, as Jalen Brooks announced on Twitter over the weekend that he will be transferring into the South Carolina football program.

“God is undefeated,” Brooks wrote. “I would not be able to make this commitment without God, my family, my coaches, my teammates, the people I work out with, and the work that I put into everything.”

Interestingly, wrote that “Brooks visited the campus in Columbia with his former high school coach, Jason Seidel, serving as his tour guide.” In late June, the NCAA once again extended its ban on in-person recruiting through the end of August.  It’s assumed that the South Carolina football program wasn’t involved in that on-campus visit.

At this point, it’s unclear if the wide receiver will be eligible to play for the Gamecocks this season. If he is, he’d have three years to use two seasons of eligibility.  If not, he’d use his redshirt in 2020, then have two years starting in 2021.

Brooks actually began his collegiate career at Div. II Wingate University in North Carolina.  In January of this year, the receiver transferred to Tarleton State.

In two seasons with the Bulldogs, Brooks totaled 998 yards and nine touchdowns on 50 receptions.