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College football national championship 2020: LSU dethrones Clemson, Joe Burrow caps historic season

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LSU has become the first No. 1 seed to win the College Football Playoff, and Joe Burrow is the first Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to win a national title in the playoff era. LSU pulled away from Clemson, 42-25, to snap Clemson’s 29-game winning streak and dethrone the defending national champions.

But how did it all happen?  Scroll through the story below for our tick-tock the 2020 College Football National title game.


8:19 PM ET: The game has finally started (promptly at 8:19 p.m. ET) with Clemson getting the ball first. On the first play from scrimmage, Clemson tried rolling out a bit of a trick play to catch LSU off guard, but there was no fooling LSU. Trevor Lawrence responded to the busted first play by connecting with Justyn Ross for a 35-yard gain on the next play. But Clemson’s first drive stalled thanks in part to LSU’s Grant Delpit blowing up the middle for a sack of Lawrence on third down, forcing a Clemson punt. A fun pace to the start of this one, with the Heisman Trophy winner and the explosive LSU offense heading to the field.

Home-field advantage for LSU in New Orleans? Naturally.

As expected, President Donald Trump is attending tonight’s game, and he received a healthy ovation from the fans in New Orleans.

8:41 PM ET: For a couple of offenses have been lighting thing sup this season, this game has been all about the defense so far, especially Clemson’s. LSU has been pinned back against their end zone on each of their first two possessions and have had no room to work with a pair of three-and-outs to get started. Isaiah Simmons has ben a handle for the LSU offensive line early on.

8:48 PM ET: We have a touchdown! The third drive was the charm for the Clemson Tigers as Trevor Lawrence finished off the best possession of the game with a short touchdown run. Lawrence took off to the right side of the line as the LSU defense focused on Travis Etienne, who nearly scored on the previous play, and Lawrence was untouched into the end zone for the first score of the game.

9:01 PM ET: We have ourselves a tied ballgame! Joe Burrow finally got some room to breathe and it paid off in a big way. Burrow completed a 52-yard touchdown to Ja'Marr Chase to draw the game even at 7-7 late in the first quarter.

9:06 PM ET: We have reached the end of the first quarter, with LSU and Clemson tied 7-7. It took LSU a while to get its offense some room to work, while Clemson has had to punt a couple of times in LSU territory. Will that come back to haunt Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers? We’ll see later on. But for now, we have a pretty good pace going with some good defense on display on both sides.

9:11 PM ET: Oh, you thought college kickers couldn’t kick? Well guess again. Clemson’s B.T. Potter, who converted on just 12 of 20 field goal attempts coming into the night, just booted a 52-yard field goal early in the second quarter to regain the lead for Clemson. Clemson is up 10-7.

9:26 PM ET: Tee Higgins just provided our early leader for play of the night. Higgins took off on a misdirection play for a 36-yard touchdown that saw him bump off a defender, keep his toes in bounds, and diving into the end zone for a big touchdown.

Clemson took a 17-7 lead with the Higgins score, but LSU quickly responded. A 56-yard pass from Burrow to Chase quickly put the LSU Tigers near the end zone, eventually leading to a third and goal. LSU just called timeout to think things over a bit. That gives us all a chance to catch our breath.

9:33 PM ET: After the timeout, Joe Burrow decided to keep it himself and plunge forward for a short touchdown run. LSU really needed that answer after Clemson took a 10-point lead. And just like that, we have a 17-14 game in favor of Clemson before hitting the midway point of the second quarter. The offenses have taken over folks, so get ready for a track meet now.

9:50 PM ET: LSU has taken its first lead of the night, and who else but Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase doing the honors. The two connected on a 14-yard pas sin the red zone to give LSU a 21-17 lead, officially pulling out of a 17-7 hole earlier in the quarter.

Chase has caught five passes for 147 yards and two scores and we still have a full half and more to play tonight. Burrow is now up over 240 yards with the two touchdowns after getting through a rough start to the game.

10:12 PM ET: Wow. OK then. Already leading 21-17, Joe Burrow and LSU picked up one last huge touchdown just before halftime, and a gutsy decision to run by Burrow gave the Tigers a chance for a significant touchdown.

A quick and easy pass to a standing Thaddeus Moss put LSU up 28-17 at the half. Check out Bryan Fischer’s halftime post for his thoughts from the first half in New Orleans.

10:38 PM ET: And we’re back! LSU has the football to start the second half.

10:46 PM ET: Clemson really could not have had much of a better start to the second half. After forcing the LSU off the field quickly to start the half, and with LSU getting called for interfering with the fielding of the punt return, Clemson start their first possession of the half at midfield. A few plays, and a 15-yard face mask penalty on LSU, Clemson was in the end zone with Travis Etienne just crossing the goal line on a short run. A two-point conversion and we have ourselves a three-point game. LSU is leading, 28-25, less than five minutes into the first half.

The game is also approaching the over, for those who are paying close enough attention.

11:05 pm ET: Clemson wide receiver just jogged his way back to the locker room area midway through the third quarter. Earlier in the quarter, Higgins took a good shot on a pass play to his thigh area. For now, there is no update on his status for the rest of this game, but that would be a tough loss for Clemson if Higgins is unavailable for any extended period of time.

11:16 PM ET: Clemson’s defense just lost a player too. James Skalski was ejected from the game for targeting on a pass to LSU’s Justin Jefferson inside the Clemson 10-yard line. He was forced to leave and watch the rest of the game from the locker room. One play later, LSU extended its lead with Joe Burrow coming to a touchdown pass to Thaddeus Moss for a 35-25 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has already set a new College Football Playoff National Championship Game record with 218 receiving yards, eclipsing Alabama tight end O.J. Mayo‘s 208 yards from 2016. He has plenty of time to add to that record.

And speaking of records, Joe Burrow now owns a new single-season touchdown record all by himself.

11:32 PM ET: The third quarter has come to a close, with LSU leading Clemson 35-25. If you are on the east coast, we will get through this together.

11:40 PM ET: Never count out a champion, but LSU may have just put Clemson to bed. Joe Burrow’s 60th (60th!!!) touchdown pass of the season went to Terrace Marshall Jr. early in the fourth quarter to extend the LSU lead to 42-25. With 12:08 left to play, Clemson has a lot of work to do.

Burrow is now up to 442 passing yards with five touchdowns, plus 60 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. He is easily on his way to MVP honors in this game.

Oh, we also have now hit the over in this game. That was an easy pick to make.

12:12 AM ET: LSU pretty much had this game locked up, but a fumble by Trevor Lawrence late in the fourth quarter has allowed LSU to start milking the clock. With 90 seconds to play, LSU is about to win its first national championship of the playoff era.

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

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President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

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Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”