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

6 Comments

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.

Updated conference title odds see usual suspects remain heavy favorites

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Until we’re told otherwise, college football will play a 2020 season, and so the sports books are still offering odds on the upcoming season.

One one offshore sports book release its updated conference-by-conference odds on Monday, which saw the usual suspects atop most conferences. Clemson in particular is a massive favorite to win a sixth straight ACC title, with bettors required to place $600 down to win $100 on the Tigers.

Oklahoma is again favored to win the Big 12, Ohio State to win the Big Ten, Boise State to win the Mountain West, Oregon to win the Pac-12 and Appalachian State to win the Sun Belt. Alabama is listed as a slight favorite to win the SEC once again, as is UCF in the American.

American

Central Florida              5/4
Memphis                       9/4
Cincinnati                      3/1
Navy                             14/1
SMU                             14/1
Houston                        16/1
Temple                         25/1
Tulane                           28/1
South Florida                50/1
Tulsa                            80/1
East Carolina                 100/1

ACC

Clemson                       1/6
Miami (FL)                     15/2
North Carolina               10/1
Virginia Tech                 12/1
Florida State                 16/1
Virginia                         20/1
Louisville                      28/1
Pittsburgh                     28/1
Wake Forest                 40/1
NC State                       50/1
Duke                            66/1
Syracuse                      66/1
Boston College             80/1
Georgia Tech                250/1

Big Ten

Ohio State                    4/9
Michigan                       7/2
Wisconsin                     9/1
Penn State                    10/1
Iowa                             16/1
Nebraska                      16/1
Minnesota                     25/1
Michigan State              33/1
Indiana                          40/1
Illinois                           50/1
Maryland                       50/1
Northwestern                 50/1
Purdue                          50/1
Rutgers                         250/1

Big 12

Oklahoma                     4/5
Texas                           3/2
Oklahoma State            6/1
Iowa State                    12/1
Baylor                           16/1
West Virginia                 16/1
Kansas State                25/1
TCU                              28/1
Texas Tech                   40/1
Kansas                         100/1

Conference USA

Western Kentucky         2/1
Florida Atlantic              3/1
UAB                             4/1
Louisiana Tech              11/2
Marshall                        11/2
Southern Miss               6/1
Middle Tennessee          25/1
Charlotte                       28/1
Florida International       28/1
North Texas                  40/1
Rice                              66/1
Old Dominion                100/1
UTSA                            100/1
UTEP                            150/1    

MAC

Ohio                             13/4
Buffalo                         4/1
Central Michigan           4/1
Ball State                      6/1
Miami (OH)                    8/1
Toledo                          8/1
Western Michigan          8/1
Kent State                     12/1
Eastern Michigan          16/1
Northern Illinois             20/1
Akron                           100/1
Bowling Green               100/1   

Mountain West

Boise State                   1/2
San Diego State            13/4
Air Force                       9/2
Utah State                    12/1
Colorado State              14/1
Wyoming                      25/1
Fresno State                 28/1
Hawaii                           28/1
Nevada                         50/1
San Jose State              50/1
UNLV                            66/1
New Mexico                  150/1   

Pac-12

Oregon                         5/2
USC                             11/4
Washington                   3/1
UCLA                            4/1
Utah                             9/2
Arizona State                14/1
California                      20/1
Stanford                       20/1
Arizona                         25/1
Colorado                      80/1
Oregon State                80/1     

SEC

Alabama                       5/6
Louisiana State             11/4
Georgia                        3/1
Florida                          6/1
Auburn                          14/1
Texas A&M                   16/1
Tennessee                    66/1
Kentucky                      100/1
Mississippi State           100/1
Missouri                        100/1
Ole Miss                       100/1
South Carolina              100/1
Arkansas                      250/1
Vanderbilt                     250/1

Sun Belt

App State                     1/2
Louisiana-Lafayette       9/4
Arkansas State              14/1
Troy                              14/1
Georgia Southern          16/1
Georgia State                22/1
Coastal Carolina            25/1
UL-Monroe                    40/1
South Alabama             50/1
Texas State                  66/1

Sam Ehlinger raises over $40,000 for COVID-19 response

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger on Friday announced a fundraising campaign mimicking that of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and his girlfriend, Marissa Mowry.

“I am dedicated to helping families who have been impacted by the current global crisis, and have created a GoFundMe to raise money to assist organizations that are doing incredible work in my community and nationally including the Boys & Girls Club of America, the Central Texas Food Bank, Austin Pets Alive and more,” Ehlinger said on his GoFundMe campaign’s page.

Ehlinger set a lofty goal of $1 million.

Ehlinger’s drive has raised over $40,000 for the cause. The page has been shared 3,200 times, and attracted 481 donors.

“I donated because my brother, who went to UT and is a San Antonio native living in LA, has a mild case of Covid-19. He’s on the road to recovery but he’s not out of the woods yet. I’m hoping this donation will help reach Sam Ehlinger’s goal,” one donor said. “He’s got a heart of gold and is officially my favorite QB of all time!!!”

“I donated because I want to help people in my area afflicted with this terrible virus,” said another. “Through no fault of their own they find themselves in this situation and hopefully I can help them recover. Thank you, Sam for doing this. On the field and off the field you are a special person. Best wishes for a great 2020 season! Hook ’em Horns!!”

Those wishing to join the effort can do so HERE.

Big 12 shuts down in-person activities through May, will allow virtual instruction

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We long ago passed the threshold where it became newsworthy when an upcoming event has not been shut down, but, still: the Big 12 has officially put the kibosh on any and all hopes to hold a spring football season in 2020.

As of Sunday night, all in-person team activities across all sports are hereby canceled through May 31 “or until additional guidance is provided.”

But that’s not the news here.

The conference’s coached had grumbled loudly that the Big 12 was barring them from holding online football-specific meetings, but that moratorium is officially over.

The league was spurred to action by a Friday announcement by the SEC, but the Big 12 actually cut in front of its eastern rival. Whereas SEC coaches can hold virtual football meetings at 1 p.m. ET, but the Big 12 actually lifted its ban effective 8 a.m. ET this morning. (The Big Ten and ACC placed no such prohibition on its coaches.)

Like the SEC, Big 12 coaches are not allowed to watch their players go through drills or workouts, but they can hold meetings and they can send their players supplements, team apparel and workout equipment. That last provision bars teams from buying equipment — e.g., Texas can’t ship its whole roster their own Pelotons — but they can send them “reasonable” supplies “such as stretching band/straps, foam rollers, etc.”

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history

college football
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The sports world, including college football, has essentially screeched to a halt as countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there’s a dearth of college football news as spring practices have all but been canceled at every level of the sport. And there’s even some concern that the health issue could have an impact on the 2020 college football campaign.

In that vein, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on March 27, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this hiatus, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2018

THE HEADLINE: Les Miles says he still wants to coach but is trying his hand at acting in the meantime
THE SYNOPSIS: Less than nine months after this headline ran, Mad Hatter the Actor became Mad Matter the Coach again as Miles took over the Kansas football program. In the first season under Miles, the Jayhawks went 3-9. One of those wins, over Texas Tech, was one of the most Mad Hatter wins ever. Miles was also the first KU coach to start a season 2-1 since 1997.

As an aside, the last time Kansas won more than three games in a season? 2009, when they won five.  Chew on that.

2017

THE HEADLINE: Penn State trustee says he’s ‘running out of patience’ with ‘so-called victims’ of Jerry Sandusky
THE SYNOPSIS: It takes a special level of douchiness to go here.  Yet that’s what Albert Lord did.  Or, as we wrote: “With Baylor seemingly running away with the title of most embarrassing university in collegiate athletics, a Penn State trustee has said ‘hold my beer.'”

THE HEADLINE: Suspended Mich. St. staffer receives one-month contract EXTENSION
THE SYNOPSIS: Three years later, and even with Mark Dantonio‘s retirement, Michigan State is still knee-deep in the Curtis Blackwell situation.  Whether they’ll be knee-deep in an NCAA situation is to be determined.

2016

THE HEADLINE: Mich. St. releases statement on four-star signee Auston Robertson
THE SYNOPSIS: This player was the genesis for the off-field issues still facing the Michigan State football program.

2015

THE HEADLINE: PHOTO: Ohio State has a Michigan fire hydrant near its vet school
THE SYNOPSIS: College football.  The sport’s rivalries.  Still the best.  Ever.

2013

THE HEADLINE: Longtime Alabama AD Mal Moore passes away at age 73
THE SYNOPSIS: The 73-year-old Moore’s passing came less than a month after he stepped down because of health issues.  Moore had been the AD since 1999.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Fickell to take over for Tressel during five-game suspension
THE SYNOPSIS: After Jim Tressel abruptly resigned in May of that year because of his NCAA issue, Luke Fickell took over for the 2011 season at Ohio State.  He was ultimately replaced as head coach by Urban Meyer.  Five years later, Fickell became the head coach at Cincinnati.

2009

THE HEADLINE: HAWKINS PREDICTS 10 WINS FOR COLORADO*
THE SYNOPSIS: In his third season at Colorado, Dan Hawkins went on to win three games post-prediction.  After five wins the following season, Hawkins was fired.

(*Yes, back in the day, we used to scream out our headlines at our readers in all-caps. The move to NBC a couple of months later mercifully ended that practice.)