Thomas and Lapoint Preview The SEC: Top Offensive, OPOY Predictions

It used to be defenses win championships…but after LSU went through and torched everyone last year with their world-beating offense, can we say that with any degree of confidence? As college football evolves towards the spread offense, leading to higher-scoring games, impact offensive players can make a huge difference. Who are the best offensive teams and players gracing the SEC with their presence in 2020? Let’s take a look at what lead writer Aidan Thomas and SEC analyst Nathaniel Lapoint think on the subject. Check out our Power Rankings and Season Predictions, as well as our Top Defenses preview pieces.

Top Team Offenses

Aidan Thomas

  1. Alabama
  2. Texas A&M
  3. Florida

Nathaniel Lapoint

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. LSU

We agree on Alabama being the top offense in 2020. That should be almost a no-brainer. They have possibly the best running back in the country, two elite returning receivers leading a deep depth chart at the position, and a QB battle that will see either a strong returning senior QB or 5-star freshman win the job. Maintaining unity through that QB battle may be the biggest problem this offense faces.
After Alabama, we differ significantly in our predictions. I remain high on the Aggies and what Kellen Mond and Co. will bring to the table. I also think Kyle Trask is the best quarterback in the conference entering the 2020 season. He was extremely impressive when jumping into the role in the middle of last season, and with an offseason to prepare, I think he will lead Florida’s offense to big things in 2020. Meanwhile, Lapoint goes with Georgia and LSU to round out his top-three. They are high-risk, high-reward selections, no doubt about that. Georgia must reload at running back and navigate a QB battle between two transfers and then help one of those transfers adjust quickly to their system. However, there’s no doubting the talent in both Jamie Newman and J.T. Daniels, so if the transition goes well, and Georgia gets production out of the backfield, they could absolutely be a lethal offense in 2020.
Lapoint also puts trust in Myles Brennan and the LSU Tigers. The argument this offseason is whether LSU was a one-hit wonder that benefited from Joe Burrow, or whether Joe Burrow’s legendary season was a cherry-on-top of a revitalized offense. I’m high on LSU and think they’ll be near the top of the SEC, but Lapoint is confident enough in Brennan taking the reins to slot the Tigers into the third spot of his top offenses. Smoking hot take coming in here from Nathaniel Lapoint. 

Top Offensive Players

Offensive Player of the Year

Thomas: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Lapoint: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Aidan ThomasNathaniel Lapoint
Najee Harris, RB, AlabamaMac Jones, QB, Alabama
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSUJa’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Kyle Trask, QB, FloridaNajee Harris, RB, Alabama
Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&MBo Nix, QB, Auburn
John Rhys Plumlee, QB, Ole MissKylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State 

Najee Harris and Ja’Marr Chase were consensus top-three SEC offensive players in our rankings here. Harris was my pick for Offensive Player of the Year, while Lapoint stayed with the Tide, but gave the nod to Mac Jones, sliding Harris to #3. My uncertainty regarding the QB battle in Tuscaloosa prevented me from including Jones in my top 5, but there’s no doubting the talent of the signal-caller. Chase is likely the best receiver in the country and maybe a top-10 player in the country. A darkhorse Heisman contender, Chase comes in at #2 in both sets of rankings. Kyle Trask, who I’m very high on entering the 2020 season, slotted in at #3 in my rankings. 

Bo Nix and Kellen Mond both make appearances on the list, with Nix just missing my list, while Plumlee, the intriguing dual-threat QB from Ole Miss, and Kylin Hill, who should challenge Harris as the top running back in the SEC round out our respective lists. 

CFB Greatest Of All Time Tournament – Round 5 and 6: 2014 National Championship Rematch?

We’re into Round 5 and 6 of our Greatest of all time College Football simulation, and by the end of this article, we will be down to our final six teams. A few teams will play twice in this piece, as we narrow it down to the final three teams from each bracket. As a reminder of where we stand currently: 2012 Alabama (Bracket A) and 2001 Miami (Bracket B) are the only remaining undefeated teams and must be defeated twice in the bracket championship. 2019 LSU and 2009 Alabama fell victim to each of those teams respectively and have earned their spot in the final six participants. Four teams in each bracket are left to duke it out for the final two entries into the seventh round. In Bracket A, 2018 Clemson, 2008 Florida, 2008 Oklahoma, and 2000 Miami fight for survival. On the other side of things, 2013 Florida State, 2003 LSU, 2014 Ohio State, and 2014 Oregon will clash for that sixth and final spot. Let’s get into it. 

Bracket A Loser’s Bracket

6. 2008 Florida vs. 2. 2018 Clemson
Clemson 37 Florida 27
Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers are moving on, as Travis Etienne ran for 147 yards and a touchdown, while Lawrence tossed a pair of scores on 24-36 passing and 293 yards. Clemson opened up a touchdown lead at halftime and never trailed, as Tim Tebow and his 2008 Gators could not seal the deal against Dabo Swinney’s 15-0 championship team. 

13. 2000 Miami vs. 9. 2008 Oklahoma
Oklahoma 45 Miami 27
Miami’s hopes now lie in their unbeaten ‘01 squad, after the 2008 Sooners torched the Hurricanes through the air and on the ground, dominating start to finish in a 45-27 victory. Chris Brown ran for 104 yards on 21 carries while finding the end zone twice. Bradford threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns, as Oklahoma led by double digits by the end of the first quarter and never let Miami come within a touchdown. 

Bracket A Loser’s Bracket – Round 6

2018 Clemson vs. 2008 Oklahoma
Clemson 52 Oklahoma 31
This one was never close from the start. Trevor Lawrence threw two first half touchdowns to open up a 14-point halftime lead, while Travis Etienne racked up 186 yard and three touchdowns on just 20 carries, as 2018 Clemson cruised to a 52-31 victory, moving on to the final three in Bracket A and earning a much anticipated clash with 2019 LSU. 

Bracket B Loser’s Bracket – Round 5

7. 2003 LSU vs. 4. 2013 Florida State
Florida State 41 LSU 38 OT
In a game largely dominated by running backs, Florida State’s Jameis Winston came in clutch down the stretch, rescuing the Seminoles from a 7-point deficit entering the fourth quarter. Karlos Williams ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns to keep Florida State in it, and Winston threw for 325 yards – coming up with 132 in the fourth quarter and a pair of touchdown passes to force overtime. There, FSU got the ball second after an LSU field goal. Williams ran for eight yards, Winston scrambled for one, and on 3rd and short, Winston found Kelvin Benjamin for a 16-yard, game-winning touchdown to secure the victory in an instant classic.

12. 2014 Oregon vs. 9. Ohio State
Ohio State 54 Oregon 27
In a rematch of the 2014 national championship, Ohio State beat down Oregon once more, doubling up the ducks on the strength of an efficient performance from J.T. Barrett and a fearsome rushing attack. Ezekiel Elliot ran 25 times for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns, Barrett went 20 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing for another 293 yards and a score. The Buckeyes only led 23-20 at halftime, but they absolutely dominated the Ducks in the final two quarters to seal the deal. 

Bracket B Loser’s Bracket – Round 6

4. 2013 Florida State vs. 9. 2014 Ohio State
Florida State 37 Ohio State 34 2OT
In a clash of the final BCS champion and the first ever CFP champion, the 2013 BCS-winning Florida State Seminoles won their second straight overtime battle over the Buckeyes. A blocked punt and pick-6 were major factors in FSU engineering another comeback. While Jameis Winston did throw for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns, it was Lamarcus Joyne’s interception return for a touchdown that tied the game at 28 points apiece with 5:54 to play in the game. After trading off field goals in overtime, Florida State got the ball down three, needing a touchdown to win. Winston scrambled right for 7 yards and then hit Devonta Freeman for a 9-yard gain and a first down. There, the redshirt freshman Heisman winner once again found Kelvin Benjamin open in the end zone, firing a 9-yard dart for a game-sealing touchdown. 

Round 7 and 8 Schedule

Bracket A
1. 2019 LSU vs. 2. 2018 Clemson

Winner vs. 7. 2012 Alabama

Bracket B
3. 2009 Alabama vs. 4. 2013 Florida State

Winner vs. 1. 2001 Miami

CFB Greatest Of All Time Tournament – Round 3: Clemson Faces Two Elimination Games

After a thrilling and surprising Round 2, we’re back with Round 3 of our college football Greatest of All Time bracket. Here’s where we are at regarding our original bracket. Each 16-team bracket is double-elimination with the winner on each side clashing in the championship. The eliminated teams are marked with the red strike-through, while unbeaten teams are highlighted in green.

12019 LSU2001 Miami
22018 Clemson2005 Texas
32004 USC2009 Alabama
41999 Florida State2013 Florida State
52010 Auburn2004 Auburn
62008 Florida2005 USC
72012 Alabama2003 LSU
82010 TCU2009 Florida 
92008 Oklahoma2014 Ohio State
102009 Texas2000 Oklahoma
112010 Oregon2016 Clemson
121997 Michigan2014 Oregon
132000 Miami1998 Tennessee
141999 Virginia Tech1997 Nebraska
151998 Ohio State1996 Arizona State
162009 Boise State2017 UCF

Round 3

Bracket A Winner’s Bracket

1. 2019 LSU vs. 13. 2000 Miami
LSU 45 Miami 41
In their third straight one-possession game, 2019 LSU once again got a lethal offensive performance to bail out a struggling defense. Joe Burrow threw for 361 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Clyde Edwards-Hillaire pounded the Miami defense for 167 yards and two touchdowns, as the Tigers improved to 3-0 with a 45-41 victory.

6. 2008 Florida vs. 7. 2012 Alabama
Alabama 28 Florida 27
After Kenny Drake starred in game 1, and Eddie Lacy put on a show in Game 2, it was TJ Yeldon’s time to shine in 2012 Alabama’s third game. The third back of the Tide’s 3-headed monster piled up 116 yards and two touchdowns, while AJ McCarron tossed his lone TD of the game with 4:23 left in the game to edge Alabama past 2008 Florida.

Bracket A Loser’s Bracket

2. 2018 Clemson vs. 16. 2009 Boise State
Clemson 44 Boise State 14
They don’t make backs like Travis Etienne in the Mountain West Conference. Clemson’s star back roared his way to 179 yards on just 18 carries, finding the end zone three times, as the Tigers eliminated the Broncos in thoroughly convincing fashion, 44-14.

3. 2004 USC vs. 4. 1999 Florida State
Florida State 30 USC 28
A nailbiter start to finish, Florida State held their breath as USC’s 55-yard field goal as time expired hooked wide left. The ‘04 Trojans crashed to elimination in Round 3, as Travis Minor ran for 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and the Seminoles’ knocked through a game-winning field goal with 2:03 left in the game. 

5. 2010 Auburn vs. 11. 2010 Oregon
Oregon 31 Auburn 23
In a rematch of the 2010 BCS National Championship, LaMichael James made sure Oregon’s chance at revenge didn’t go to waste. James torched the Auburn defense for 185 yards and 3 touchdowns on a 33-carry workload, as Oregon rallied to take down Cam Newton and the 2010 Tigers.

8. 2008 Oklahoma vs. 15. 1998 Ohio State
Oklahoma 24 Ohio State 21  OT
The 1998 Ohio State defense helped the Buckeyes play above their seed, and they limited the lethal 2008 Oklahoma offense to 24 points in Round 3. Unfortunately for Ohio State, the 312-yard, 2-touchdown effort by Sam Bradford was just enough to lift the Sooners to a 24-21 victory in overtime, as Ohio State’s game-tying 45-yard effort faded wide right. 

Bracket B Winner’s Bracket

1. 2001 Miami vs. 12. 2014 Oregon
Miami 33 Oregon 24
Three games in, and the 2001 Miami machine has yet to trail in a game. Oregon stayed within striking distance, trailing 23-17 entering the fourth quarter, but Clinton Portis roared for 126 yards, including a 27-yard game-sealing touchdown with 4:06 remaining in the game, while Ken Dorsey threw for 375 yards and two scores.

3. 2009 Alabama vs. 7. 2003 LSU
Alabama 37 LSU 10
– This one was absolutely no contest from the get-go. After engineering an upset over 2005 Texas, ‘03 LSU had very little in the tank, giving up 136 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Mark Ingram, as 2009 Alabama rolled, 37-10.

Bracket B Loser’s Bracket

2. 2005 Texas vs. 16. 2017 UCF
UCF 44 Texas 34
– Can someone spell shocker?!?! In a thrilling game, UCF rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to slow down Vince Young and stun the ‘05 Longhorns 44-34. Adrian Killins ran for 103 yards and a touchdown,  McKenzie Milton threw for 270 yards and a pair of scores, and Knights outscored the Longhorns 37-17 in a shootout of a second half. 

6. 2005 USC vs. 4. 2013 Florida State
Florida State 38 USC 35
In a battle of two quarterbacks who barely ever lost in college, Jameis Winston and his 27-1 collegiate record held strong, as he threw for 280 yards and 4 touchdowns in Florida State’s 38-35 victory over 2005 USC. The Trojans got a 104 yards and two TDs from Reggie Bush, but it wasn’t enough to pull the mini-upset in round 3.

13. 1998 Tennessee vs. 11. 2016 Clemson
Clemson 28 Tennessee 23
13th-seeded Tennessee couldn’t quite pick up a second victory in bracket play, as 2016 Clemson (11th seed) turned a 20-14 deficit into a 28-23 victory in Round 3 to stay alive. Deshaun Watson completed 20 of 27 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns, two to Mike Williams (93 receiving yards).

9. 2014 Ohio State vs. 10. 2000 Oklahoma
Ohio State 27 Oklahoma 17
Ezekiel Elliot ran for 119 yards, Vonn Bell picked off Josh Heupel twice, and Ohio State led wire-to-wire in a clean 27-17 victory. The ‘14 Buckeyes, known for their red-hot tear to win the national championship six years ago, stay alive into Round 4. 

Round 4 Schedule

Bracket A Winner’s Bracket

1. 2019 LSU vs. 7. 2012 Alabama

Loser’s Bracket

 2. 2018 Clemson vs. 4. 1999 Florida State
8. 2008 Oklahoma vs. 11. 2010 Oregon

BYE: 13. 2000 Miami, 6. 2008 Florida

Bracket B Winner’s Bracket

1. 2001 Miami vs. 3. 2009 Alabama

Loser’s Bracket

4. 2013 Florida State vs. 16. 2017 UCF
9. 2014 Ohio State vs. 11. 2016 Clemson

BYE: 12. 2014 Oregon, 7. 2003 LSU

Top Candidates To Succeed Alabama as College Football’s Great Dynasty

When LSU went 8-0 last season in SEC play en route to a national championship, they broke a string of seven straight seasons in which Alabama claimed a share of the division title. For the Tide, the last 12 years have represented an unprecedented run of dominance in the modern era. We’ve seen teams be really good for long stretches of times, but to cap off success with national title after national title is simply unheard of. For evidence, simply look at Ohio State, one of the nation’s most historic teams. The Buckeyes have been ranked at some point in every season since 1967 – a span in which they’ve won just three championships. Alabama has won five (!) since Saban secured his first title with the Tide in 2009. Is it all due to the genius of Nick Saban? There is no doubt that the former LSU coach will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time at any level.

There are too many stats that laud Alabama’s greatness under Saban, so rather than look at that, we’re going to take a look at which SEC teams are most suited to establish them as the SEC – and national – powerhouse once Saban retires. While Alabama’s dynasty and extended stretch of pure dominance may never be matched, is there a team lying in wait that may have the set-up to do it? Here are three possibilities, ranked in order of likelihood. 

3. Florida

Why They Will – Dan Mullen will become the best coach in the SEC

Again, we’re talking long term here, and at age 48, Dan Mullen is one of the youngest coaches in the conference. I know it’s an unpopular take, but I like Mullen as a coach over the 44-year old Kirby Smart, who has been too shaky in big games for my taste. Ed Orgeron is 59, so if Mullen sticks around, I like him to be the best coach in the conference when Saban retires. Since Alabama’s dynasty started in 2008, the Gators have the best conference record in the SEC East (73-23) and in the clear weaker division of the SEC, they have a chance to establish a run of dominance. 

Why they won’t – Lack of true consistency

Maybe the Gators have the best record in the SEC East over the past 12 years, but they have finished the season outside of the Top 25 in five different years and they’ve had two four-win seasons in the past decade. Coaching turnover is also a major concern – since Urban Meyer left in 2019, the Gators have gone through five coaches. Mullen is 21-5 in two years, and while I’m very high on his potential, the tumultuous reign of a bevy of coaches in Gainesville is a concerning trend that Mullen will need to buck. 

2. LSU

Why They Will – Consistency
.The Tigers are 120-37 since 2008 – the best mark in the conference next to Alabama and they haven’t had a losing season since 1999, appearing in the top ten in all but two seasons in that stretch. Their last three head coaches won national titles, making it feel like LSU will always hire the right man for the job. The Tigers will always have NFL-talent streaming through the bayou, and if they maintain their trademark consistency, they’ll have every chance to establish themselves as the SEC power if Alabama’s dynasty falters. 

Why They Won’t – LSU plateaus too often

LSU’s consistency can also be a mark of their weakness. In their last twelve seasons, the Tigers have only finished in the top-2 in the SEC West on four occasions. Alabama’s dynasty may die down, but LSU has hardly been the consensus second-best team in the division, as even Auburn has more SEC Championship appearances in that stretch. Prior to Joe Burrow’s two seasons with LSU, the Tigers hadn’t finished in the top 10 since 2011. LSU needs to prove they can be the clear-cut second best team in the division if they want to be declared Alabama’s heir apparent.

1. Georgia

Why They Will – Recruiting and the SEC East

Since 2008, there’s been one SEC team that has not finished lower than third in their division, and it’s not Alabama. The Bulldogs have been incredibly consistent, and at 71-23, they have the third-best SEC record in the past twelve years. Under the reign of Kirby Smart, Georgia has made the jump from good to great, and they appear ready for long-term success. At 44 and with experience coaching in the NFL and under Saban, Smart has been successful, even if his decision to keep Jake Fromm over Justin Fields may have cost UGA a title. At age 44, he has a long career ahead of him and coaching stability will be a key for establishing the next Alabama. As for bringing in talent, Georgia has the top-ranked recruiting in the SEC over the three most recently ranked classes (2019-2021). Recruiting is the best indicator of future success, and with one of Saban’s students at the helm and some of the best talent in the country, Georgia strikes me as the most well-suited team to take over for Alabama. 

Why They Won’t – An inability to win the big one

I don’t want to overuse the same reason over and over again, but it’s the most obvious concern for the Bulldogs. They haven’t won the national championship since 1980, and they have struggled in the biggest moments of Kirby Smart. Dan Mullen may be unproven in big moments, but Smart is quickly establishing the wrong kind of track records in those same moments. Now to be fair, Alabama has been a big factor in blocking Georgia from their goals, but I’m also nervous about the departure of Fromm. He may not have been a transcendent talent, but the Dawgs haven’t done anything without him. So to prove me right on this #1 ranking, Kirby Smart will need to be more clutch, and some elite recruiting talent will need to capitalize on their potential for Georgia.

We Simulated Every CFP – But With An 8-Team Field

Every year, as the College Football Playoff committee controversially selects four teams for the Playoff, there are outraged cries for expansion, as many feel that to many elite teams get shafted by the Committee due to one unfortunate result. The four-team CFP has been around for six seasons now, so we decided to look into how much an expanded field would have changed the results we’ve watched play out on the gridiron.

We expanded the playoff in each season to 8 teams. The Power-5 conference champions and top-ranked Group of 5 team were guaranteed a spot, and the other two slots went to at-large teams. We determined the field by the final CFP rankings of each season, seeding them as they were ranked by the Committee. Here’s what we got:

2014:
The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida State
  4. Ohio State
  5. Baylor
  6. TCU
  7. Mississippi State
  8. Boise State

Quarterfinals

1. Alabama def. 8. Boise State 42-13 
2. Oregon def. 7. Mississippi State 37-17
3. Florida State def. 6. TCU 34-31 (OT)
4. Ohio State def. 5. Baylor 42-24
Semifinals
4. Ohio State def. 1. Alabama 38-35
3. Florida State def. 2. Oregon 40-24

Championship

3. Florida State def. 4. Ohio State 35-30

The Summary

We do get a new champion in our first year with an 8-team playoff, and I really see a distinct reason for that happening. Jameis Winston and his defending champion Seminoles seemed to really coast through an undefeated season and were simply unprepared for Oregon in the semifinals. In this simulation, they get their wakeup call in the quarterfinals, where they are still talented enough to escape with a come-from-behind OT victory. TCU awakens the beast that is FSU, and they thump Oregon in the semis to reach the championship against Ohio State, who replicated their underdog run with Cardale Jones under center. FSU wins a classic, with Winston throwing for three touchdowns and Dalvin Cook rushing for two, leading the Seminoles to back-to-back titles. 

2015

The Field

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Michigan State
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Iowa
  6. Stanford
  7. Ohio State
  8. Houston

Quarterfinals
1. Clemson def. 8. Houston 27-18
2. Alabama def. 7. Ohio State 24-20
6. Stanford def. 3. Michigan State 28-27
4. Oklahoma def. 5. Iowa 28-13

Semifinals

1. Clemson def. 4. Oklahoma 37-28
2. Alabama def. 6. Stanford 35-16

Championship

2. Alabama def. 1. Clemson 30-13

The Summary

Despite the same champion, this was an interesting plug for an expanded playoff. Eighth-seeded Houston led Clemson at halftime and pushed the Tigers for most of the game, while Alabama and Ohio State played an instant-classic in the 2 v. 7 match-up. We also saw our first quarterfinal upset, courtesy of Christian McCaffrey and the Stanford Cardinal, which gave us a different look in the semis, but ultimately, Alabama vs. Clemson (Episode 1) was not to be denied. The championship game was definitely less close than the championship, although the game was actually 16-13 entering the fourth quarter, but Deshaun Watson didn’t have the fourth quarter touch, allowing Jake Coker and the Tide to seal the deal. 

2016

The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. Michigan
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Western Michigan

Quarterfinals
1. Alabama def. 8. Western Michigan 45-17
7. Oklahoma def. 2. Clemson 42-31
6. Michigan def. 3. Ohio State 33-24
4. Washington def. 5. Penn State 40-21

Semifinals
1. Alabama def. 4. Washington 37-34 (OT)
6. Michigan def. 7. Oklahoma 30-24

Championship
6. Michigan def. 1. Alabama 29-28 (OT)

The Summary

Wow. What a stunning result in the 2016 simulation. If you remember, Michigan was left out of the CFP due to their gut-wrenching loss to Ohio State that involved the infamous “J.T was short” play. With the extended field, the Wolverines get a rematch of The Game in the quarterfinals, and they break their losing streak against Ohio State. Meanwhile, Oklahoma stuns Clemson in the quarterfinals, ending Deshaun Watson’s championship run before it started, as Baker Mayfield simply torched the Tigers. Alabama returned to the championship game, but even with Clemson out of the way, they couldn’t rise to the top, as Michigan took them to OT, and then shocked the world and went for two and the win after their overtime touchdown – “It’s Speights, rolling right, fires to Chesson and it’s caught! Michigan wins!” (My electric play-by-play call that I had in my head as I typed this article). Michigan stuns everyone and grabs the national championship. 

2017 

The Field

  1. Clemson
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Georgia
  4. Alabama
  5. Ohio State
  6. Wisconsin
  7. USC
  8. UCF


Quarterfinals

8. UCF def. 1. Clemson 37-27
7. USC def. 2. Oklahoma 49-34
3. Georgia def. 6. Wisconsin 30-21
5. Ohio State def. 4. Alabama 24-14

Semifinals
5. Ohio State def. 8. UCF 34-20
3. Georgia def. 7. USC 33-30

Championship
5. Ohio State def. 3. Georgia 31-27

The Summary

Another year, another wild result with our expanded playoff simulation. 2017 Clemson was probably the weakest of their ongoing dynasty, and they ran into probably the best Group of 5 qualifier of the CFP era in unbeaten UCF, resulting in our first 8 over 1 upset. Sam Darnold put seventh-seeded USC into the semifinals, and #5 Ohio State rolled the Tide in the first round to set up a wild second round. A little bit of normalcy was restored in the semis, with #3 Georgia edging USC, and Ohio State thumping UCF to set up a more traditional championship, where the Buckeyes rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a national championship, their first in the CFP era after they lost the 2014 title game. For the second straight year, our national champion is a team that didn’t even qualify for the CFP in reality. 

2018

The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Georgia
  6. Ohio State
  7. UCF
  8. Washington

Quarterfinals

1. Alabama def. 8. Washington 38-23
2. Clemson def. 7. UCF 66-24
3. Notre Dame def. 6. Ohio State 28-24
4. Oklahoma def. 5. Georgia 41-35

Semifinals

1. Alabama def. 4. Oklahoma 42-37
2. Clemson def. 3. Notre Dame 45-23

Championship

2. Clemson def. 1. Alabama 40-34

The Summary

There were a few notable storylines, but ultimately there were no upsets and nothing changed from the actual CFP in 2018. We got to see Notre Dame prove they were worthy of a semifinal spot by edging Ohio State, giving the Irish a needed win in a big game. We finally saw a Group-of-5 team get better than an eight seed, only to watch Clemson absolutely unload on UCF in a revenge game, and an instant-classic in the Oklahoma-Georgia quarterfinal. Once we got to the semis, it was pretty much a familiar story; Tua and the Tide edged out Kyler Murray and Oklahoma (by a slightly smaller margin than in reality) and Clemson thumped the Irish. The title game was closer than it was two years ago, but Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers emerged victorious and take home their first title of the CFP era. 

2019

The Field

  1. LSU
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Oklahoma 
  5. Georgia
  6. Oregon
  7. Baylor
  8. Memphis

Quarterfinals

1. LSU def. 8. Memphis 42-33
2. Clemson def. 7. Baylor 42-20
3. Ohio State def. 6. Oregon 30-23
5. Georgia def. 4. Oklahoma 35-20

Semifinals

1. LSU def. 5. Georgia 38-31
2. Clemson def. 3. Ohio State 24-20

Championship

1.  LSU def. 2. Clemson 30-27

The Summary

2019 LSU continued to be a machine, although they survived a few scares in this expanded playoff. They dealt with a feisty Memphis offense that, last season, posted 39 points on Penn State’s elite defense. They had to beat Georgia for a second time, and the Bulldogs proved far more competent, particularly with their second crack at LSU’s defense, but Burrow and Co. still emerged victorious. Ultimately, the only changed result was Georgia walloping Oklahoma in the quarterfinals to keep the lackluster Sooners out of the semis, while we also saw an Ohio State-Oregon thriller in the first round. Clemson edged out the Buckeyes in the semis once again, and they pushed LSU to the edge, leading into the fourth quarter, but Burrow put the Tigers on his shoulders and grinded out the victory. 

The 6-year Recap

Ultimately, with six years of an 8-team playoff, we saw three different champions crowned (in 2014,2016, and 2017).We saw just two editions of the Bama-Clemson rivalry and a few shocking quarterfinal upsets, including UCF’s stunner over Clemson, and a pair of victories from the #7 seeds. We witnessed a miracle championship run from #6 Michigan in 2016, before ending our simulation with two of the greatest teams of all time triumphing over expanded fields in 2018 and 2019. 

The initial results of the addition of quarterfinals to the Playoff seemed not great on the surface as only 25% (6/24) first-round contests were decided by one possession. However, even if the quarterfinal clashes were somewhat lopsided at times, they led to more competitive semifinals, as 7 of our 12 semifinal games were decided by 8 points or less. To this date, only three of 12 actual CFP semifinals have been decided by a single score. This note, plus the fact that two of our simulated champions were teams that were actually left out of the Playoff, serves as yet another plug for the Playoff to be expanded in the near future.

We Simulated 5 CFB Seasons – With Clemson in the SEC

Last week we ran one of our most popular articles we’ve ever published on this site, simulating Clemson’s 2019 season with LSU’s schedule. One of the main responses we got to the simulation was that Clemson would be very good in the SEC, but the difficulty in becoming and staying the standard is extremely difficult, much more so than in the ACC. That much is evidently very true; beyond Alabama’s three-peat from 2014-2016, no SEC team has repeated as conference champion since Tennessee in ‘97-98. Clemson’s current five-year reign atop the ACC has not been matched by a SEC program since Alabama won eight of nine titles in the 1970s, including five straight from 1971-1975. So the question has to be asked: how would Clemson do in an extended stay in the SEC? As pointed out by certain readers, it’s impossible to completely mimic this situation, as it’s hard to tell if Clemson gets the same recruits, or even builds to their current powerhouse status if they had been playing in the SEC all along, but we are doing our best to simulate how Clemson would fare, if they played their past five seasons in the SEC. 

Now to do this, we decided to replace one SEC team with Clemson, so we utilized a process to decide on which team to choose. To fully mimic the SEC experience, we wanted Clemson to replace a truly middle-of-the road team. Replacing Alabama would take away from the brutally difficult SEC experience, but choosing Arkansas or Vanderbilt unfairly takes away the cupcake conference games that every SEC team gets each year. So we came up with three qualifications for selection our team:
1. No Division Titles in the past five years
2. No last-place finishes in the division in the last five years
3. Did not play Clemson in the last five years

This brought us down to two teams – Mississippi State and Kentucky. We chose Kentucky, simply because Kentucky is in the SEC East, which is where Clemson would likely reside if they actually played in the SEC. Also, the SEC West has a clear top three in Auburn, LSU, and ‘Bama, so adding Clemson to the East gives the conference some more balance. Other than Clemson replacing Kentucky’s games, all other SEC results from each season will hold in order to see where Clemson supposedly would have finished. Alright, enough setup and talk – let’s run the simulation and see how Clemson fares. 

2015
Vs. Louisiana  W 43-24    
@ South Carolina   W 28-21 
Vs. Florida       W 24-10                      
Vs. Missouri    W 27-9   
Vs. Eastern Kentucky W (FCS)
Vs. Auburn       L 24-21              
@ Mississippi State L 40-34
Vs. Tennessee  W 33-24
@ Georgia W 23-17
@ Vanderbilt W 30-10
Vs. Charlotte  W 47-3
Vs. Louisville   W 27-21

SEC Championship
Vs. Alabama L 37-17

Overall, not a bad first year in the SEC for Clemson, as they put up a 10-2 regular season, before getting dismantled by the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship. Beating Florida in Death Valley cements the Tigers’ spot as SEC East champions, but back to back losses to Auburn and Mississippi State kill any CFP hopes. This season probably is good enough for a NY6 bowl game. Solid start, but Clemson has bigger goals moving forward. 

If you’re curious…
We simulated the 2015 CFP with the new field. A 2-loss Clemson team wasn’t a contender, so we bumped all other teams up a notch, bringing Iowa into the field as the #4 seed. We simulated the games the same ways (3 simulations per contest). Stunningly, the Hawkeyes ground and pound style was enough to squeak past the Crimson Tide monster, winning 27-24. Meanwhile, Michigan State didn’t have better luck with a new opponent, losing 40-21. In a bizarre Oklahoma-Iowa title game, Baker Mayfield got his national title, toppling the Hawkeyes 31-20.

2016
Vs. Southern Mississippi W 23-21
@ Florida   W 24-20
Vs. New Mexico State W 41-24
Vs. South Carolina W 37-27
@ Alabama L 41-21
Vs. Vanderbilt  W 33-24
Vs. Mississippi State W 33-23
@ Missouri L 37-20
Vs. Georgia W 37-14
@ Tennessee W 31-24
Vs. Austin Peay W (FCS)
@ Louisville W 34-24 

SEC Championship
Vs. Alabama L 28-20

Clemson won the national championship in 2016, but the SEC grind derails their season in this simulation. A 4-0 start is undone by a trip to Tuscalossa, and Clemson overlooks Missouri, ruining their Playoff hopes. A 10-2 (6-2) record is enough for another SEC Championship appearance, and although they give Alabama more of a game, the Tigers still fall short. It’s another 10-3 season in the SEC East for Clemson, and we’re on to Year 3. 

If you’re curious
With no Clemson in the playoff, it opened the door for our first ever two-loss team in the Playoff, as Penn State earned a match-up with Bama, and Ohio State takes on Washington in the other semifinal. Both games were close, but Alabama and Ohio State emerged victorious into a clash of traditional powerhouses. Alabama had no issues with the Buckeyes, as with no Deshaun Watson in the way, the Tide rolled, 33-17.

2017
@ Southern Miss W 40-20
Vs.  Eastern Kentucky W (FCS)
@ South Carolina W 31-14
Vs. Florida W 34-17
Vs. Eastern Michigan W 35-14
Vs. Missouri W 28-27
@ Mississippi State W 17-12
Vs. Tennessee W 33-14
Vs. Ole Miss W 28-23
@ Vanderbilt W 31-9
@ Georgia L 30-7
Vs. Louisville W 27-17 

A near perfect campaign from Clemson was derailed at the last minute by a trip to Sanford Stadium, where they were tripped up by the Georgia Bulldogs. The loss was a crushing one, as their 7-1 conference mark tied with Georgia, and Kirby Smart’s squad advanced to the SEC Championship on head-to-head tiebreaker. With Georgia and Alabama already in, there’s no chance the CFP committee puts three SEC teams in, so they’d probably go ahead and put the 2-loss Ohio State Buckeyes in the CFP instead. As far as SEC slates go, this was a pretty light one for Clemson, but we’re into the Trevor Lawrence era, with two more chances for the Tigers to make a run. 

If you’re curious…

The biggest benefactor of Clemson’s presence in the SEC may have been Baker Mayfield and the Sooners. Oklahoma became the top seed in the 2017 CFP, squeaking past Ohio State 37-35. Georgia held of an Alabama comeback in the semifinals, but the Sooners edged the Bulldogs for the title.

2018
Vs. Central Michigan W 59-0
@ Florida W 30-24
Vs. Murray State W (FCS)
Vs. Mississippi State W 33-21
Vs. South Carolina W 42-20
@ Texas A&M W 34-31 OT 
Vs. Vanderbilt W 61-13
@ Missouri W 37-23
Vs. Georgia W 43-20
@ Tennessee W 52-21
Vs. Middle Tennessee W 56-10
@ Louisville W 44-20
SEC Championship
Vs. Alabama W 35-31 

That 2018 team may really be one of the best ever. The SEC didn’t stop them in any way. Texas A&M pushed Clemson to overtime, but Georgia couldn’t hold a candle to the Tigers’ dominance, and Clemson capped it off with their first SEC title in Year 4 of our 5-year simulation. It’s time to head to the College Football Playoff. A 1-loss SEC champion is still in it, so we’ve made Alabama the 3 seed in this CFP, as Clemson jumps to #1. Unbeaten Notre Dame slots in at #2, and Oklahoma, per usual, rounds out the field at #4.
College Football Playoff

Clemson vs. Oklahoma L 42-41
And Clemson’s 2018 championship comes to a screeching halt! In my opinion, this goes to prove the genius of Nick Saban. He gameplanned just enough in 2018 to keep Kyler Murray at bay for a quarter and build a huge lead. Dabo couldn’t do that here, and the Heisman winner did what he did all year: put up points. That Oklahoma team was a lot better than people think, and Clemson just couldn’t quite keep up the steam after their undefeated SEC campaign. 

If you’re curious…

I went ahead and simulated the rest of the CFP…same rules – 3 simulations for each game to determine the result. Alabama defeated Notre Dame 38-28, setting up a Tua-Kyler rematch in the national championship. The simulation was an absolute classic, with two of the three games going to multiple overtimes, with each team scoring over 40 points in every game. Ultimately Tua picks up another natty, taking down the Sooners 59-56 (OT).

2019
Vs. Toledo W 49-10
Vs. Eastern Michigan W 49-13
Vs. Florida W 40-31
@ Mississippi State W 42-20
@ South Carolina W 37-27
Vs. Arkansas W 55-14
@ Georgia L 30-27
Vs. Missouri W 38-24
Vs. Tennessee W 41-17
@ Vanderbilt W 56-13
Vs. UT Martin W (FCS)
Vs. Louisville W 52-6 


Another great season for Clemson, but a heartbreaker at Sanford Stadium ends their campaign for another berth in the SEC Championship. However, the story isn’t ending there. Remember, LSU and Ohio State still finished the year undefeated, and Oklahoma was a 1-loss Big 12 champion, but there was nobody else with zero or one losses. So Clemson sneaks into the back door, and we are back in the CFP. LSU stays at #1, Ohio State and Oklahoma climb to 2 and 3, and Clemson checks in at #4. Trevor Lawrence vs. Joe Burrow once more – virtual edition. 

The College Football Playoff
LSU vs. Clemson L 33-28

It was closer this time around. Far more battle-tested than in their actual season, Clemson was more prepared for Burrow and the LSU offense, but the Tigers still emerged victorious, and Clemson head home. 

If you’re curious
Nobody stopped LSU.
Ohio State handled Oklahoma 35-24, setting up the Ohio State vs. LSU national title contest most everyone wanted to see. LSU had no issues with the Buckeyes either, manhandling the undefeated Big 10 champions 41-17 in a game that was never close. So there’s that question answered as well – nobody could beat Burrow and the Tigahs. 

Summary

SEC Record: 34-6
Regular Season Record: 54-6
SEC Championship Record: 1-2
CFP Record: 0-2

In reality, Clemson has gone 58-2 in the past five regular seasons in the ACC, going 5-0 in ACC Championship games and 6-3 in the CFP. Undoubtedly, five years in the SEC would have made it far tougher to attain this standing, and in this simulation, the Tigers are unable to bring home a national championship. There’s something to be said for reaching the CFP after the grind of an SEC season – even Clemson’s 2018 team didn’t have enough to reach the finish line. In the end, it can be concluded (to whatever degree you want to trust this simulation) that Clemson is undoubtedly an elite program – their 34-6 mark in SEC games over the past five seasons would have been second behind Alabama (36-4) in those years, making it clear that Clemson belongs near the top of the rankings every season. No they might not cruise like they do in the ACC, but stop spinning the “Clemson is a mediocre team in a bad conference” crap. It’s an overused mantra preached by the SEC that’s old and incorrect.

Also, let’s say thank you that this never happened. Can you imagine the absolutely ridiculous number of Baker Mayfield endorsements we’d have to see if he was a two-time national champion as well? Makes me shiver just thinking about it.

What simulation should we do next? Let us know your thoughts on this one at collegetalking@gmail.com

Top 5 CFP QuarterBack Performances

The College Football Playoff has been one of the best things to happen to college sports, giving fans extra postseason football of the highest quality each year. Such contests give way to some legendary performances, and so, today, we are ranking the top 5 performances by signal-callers in the six-year era of the Playoff.

Honorable Mentions

Kyler Murray vs. Alabama, 2018-19 semifinals: 19-37, 308 yds, 17 carries, 109 yds, 3 Total TD

Deshaun Watson vs. Alabama, 2016-17 national championship: 36-56, 420 yds, 21 carries, 43 yds, 4 Total TD

Trevor Lawrence vs. Ohio State, 2019-20 semifinals: 18-33, 259 yds, 16 carries, 107 yds, 3 Total TD

#5 – Deshaun Watson vs. Alabama, 2015-2016 National Championship

The top five kicks off with Watson’s national championship debut, as I believe he actually played slightly better in their defeat to the Crimson Tide. Watson fueled Clemson all game long, tossing for 405 yards and running for 73, accounting for the majority of Clemson’s 550 yards of offense. He tossed a pair of first-quarter touchdowns to Hunter Renfrow, and he kept the Tigers charging after the Tide all night, firing another couple of TDs in the final 5 minutes, before a last-ditch onside kick doomed Clemson. Easily the most impressive performance by a QB in a losing effort in CFP history.

#4 – Tua Tagovailoa vs. Oklahoma: 2018-2019 CFP Semifinals

This was possibly the most well-quarterbacked game from both sides in any CFP game ever, as we already saw Kyler Murray’s effort slotted into our Honorable Mentions. However, unfortunately for the Heisman winner and eventual #1 pick, he was outdueled by Alabama’s Tagovailoa. Although not much of a dual-threat, the Heisman runner-up was lethally precise, completing 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns. He helped Alabama out to a 28-0 lead before the Tide held off a Kyler Murray charge, with Tua staving off the Sooners by hitting DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy for fourth-quarter scores.

#3 – Joe Burrow vs. Clemson: 2019-20 National Championship

You already knew Burrow would be on this list (spoiler: more than once), and he slots in at #3 for his performance in the national championship this past season. Clemson was a stiff defense, and they largely shut down Ohio State after a tough start, yet Burrow made it seem effortless in slapping 42 points on the Tigers, including the last 14 points after Clemson drew within three. Burrow capped off one of the greatest seasons ever by a college quarterback with five touchdowns through the air and another on the ground. He was 31-49 for 463 yards and churned out another 54 with his legs. For the LSU fans – here’s 2:42 of Burreaux dicing the Clemson defense.

#2 – Trevor Lawrence vs. Alabama, 2018-19 National Championship

The last two seasons have culminated in legendary QB performances, so we can only imagine what 2021 will bring. In 2019, Lawrence capped off the first 15-0 season in college football history. After his strong semifinal performance versus Notre Dame that was largely chalked up to an overrated Irish defense, Lawrence came out on a mission in the title game, feasting on the Crimson Tide defense to the tune of 347 yards and three touchdowns. The difference between Burrow at #3 and Lawrence at #2 was razor-thin at most, with the deciding factor being that Clemson largely put away the Tide in the first half, meaning Lawrence wasn’t really in a situation to put up more gaudy statistics as the Tigers closed out Alabama in their 44-16 victory. Also, Lawrence was in his first year of collegiate football, while Burrow was in his fifth. After the run game and defense got Clemson going, Lawrence iced the contest in the second and third quarters. His TD pass with under five minutes to play in the half extended the Clemson lead to 28-16, and his two scoring tosses in the third quarter sent the Tide packing. Incredible peformance from a true freshman with the lights shining brightest.

#1 – Joe Burrow vs. Oklahoma, 2019-2020 CFP Semifinals

Coming into this game, Burrow had to answer a few questions, largely about his health after he suffered from a well-publicized case of the flu in the week leading up to the Oklahoma game. Could the Heisman winner do what he had done all season long? The answer was a resounding yes, as Burrow began smashing CFP records in the first half alone, throwing an astounding 7 touchdown passes. Literally no words can actually describe this performance – far and away the greatest in CFP history. Watching Burrow this game felt like he was being controlled by someone playing Madden (or NCAA Football 2014) on Rookie mode. He made it look that easy.

Heisman Watchlist: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Rarely, if ever, do wide receivers receive serious Heisman Trophy consideration. Since Michigan’s Desmond Howard won it in 1991, only three receivers finished in the top-3 in the voting, with Amari Cooper being the most recent in 2014. Virtually every big season by a receiver is complemented by a massive campaign from the man slinging him passes – quarterbacks can’t win the Heisman Trophy without their receivers, but the receivers rarely receive credit. Take last season’s LSU team for example; let’s skip all the standard ‘Joe Burrow had the greatest season ever’ because we know that, and it’s a boring and old way to waste words in this story. Rather, I wanted to look at Joe Burrow’s game versus Oklahoma. Burrow was incredible in firing seven first half touchdowns, but on nearly every toss, his target did a majority of the hard work.

On three of his TD passes, Burrow found a receiver with at least two yards of separation, twice hitting LSU receivers without an Oklahoma defender within six yards. On another two, Justin Jefferson had his man beat by a step or two, and Burrow actually threw behind him, forcing tougher catches than necessary, and on the two scoring passes not mentioned yet, Burrow hit his receivers on short crossing patterns. Now Burrow deserves plenty of credit for extending plays with his legs, making the throws, and all the standard tangible attributes QBs get praise for, but virtually no talk or conversation after the game discussed how insanely easy the LSU receivers made it for Burrow. Throwing it back a few weeks earlier, to Burrow’s viral ‘Heisman’ play against Georgia, and you’ll see him find Jefferson, open by about 8-10 feet. None of this is to say Burrow didn’t deserve the Heisman and didn’t have a great season, but the lack of credit receivers get is astounding. 

And if there was ever a receiver to be in a position to get more attention than the quarterback, it is LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. Chase was one of the bevy of LSU pass-catchers making Burrow’s life easy last season, and this year he has a far more unproven quarterback in Myles Brennan throwing to him. Chase didn’t do too much in the Oklahoma game, but he was the receiving star in the National Championship, catching nine passes for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns against Clemson. His 1,748 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season led the nation, and earned the sophomore star the Biletnikoff Award, presented to the most outstanding receiver. With fellow stud Justin Jefferson graduated to the NFL, Chase will be the top target for Brennan in 2020, and his highlight reel alone has got to make LSU fans excited.

Ja’Marr Chase is always open – check out this highlight mix from Bryan Mallett (@Bmalmedia on Instagram)

With Chase’s explosiveness, he doesn’t even need Brennan to light up the SEC. Last season, Chase caught a pass for at least 40 yards in eight games, and at least 20 yards in 13 of LSU’s 15 contests. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is unlikely to ask Brennan to be the hero for LSU, given his lack of experience as a starter, but expect him to be dialing up plays for his new signal-caller to hit Chase deep once or twice a game. Chase can get open against virtually anyone, and his hands are some of the best in the nation. A projected top-10 pick in the 2021 draft, Chase is undoubtedly going to be a focal point of the offense in the Bayou. LSU is hoping to avoid being a one-hit wonder, and they’ll lean on Chase to be even more explosive and precise than he was this past year. 

Top Games For Heisman Moments

@ Florida, October 10

Going into this game, LSU *should* be 5-0. Their only real test is a home game vs. Texas, and although Texas may actually be good this season, they will be underdogs in Death Valley, and they don’t really boast the defense that can take advantage of an inexperienced LSU offense. However, this October 10 contest in Gainesville will be a brutal test for the Tigers. In a hostile environment – their first true road game of the season – LSU will look to Chase to help Myles Brennan navigate the difficulty of playing away from home in the SEC. Florida will be the stiffest defense Brennan and the Tigers have to face in the first two months of the season, so if (and when Chase gets open) the headlines should be about his performance if LSU gets the victory. 

Game To Ruin Heisman Hopes

Vs. Texas, September 12

I’m worried that this game becomes a battle of Texas’s offense against LSU’s defense, and Orgeron may look to the ground game, to take the pressure off of Brennan in his first real test as a starter. As said before, I anticipate LSU winning this game, but the potential of an early-season trap game, and my gut feeling that Chase won’t be the go-to guy on the offense makes it tough for LSU’s star wide receiver to put up big numbers in a big win, which will be critical if he’s to be a legitimate Heisman candidate as a receiver.

Daily Headlines: USC lands 2nd Top-50 Quarterback

USC didn’t waste too much time thinking about the loss of J.T. Daniels, as they reeled in their second quarterback ranked in the ESPN top 40 recruits for the Class of 2021. After landing 19th-ranked Jake Garcia, the Trojans got a commitment from #37 Miller Moss, who picked USC over Alabama, LSU, and UCLA. Moss said throughout his recruitment that staying in or close to Los Angeles, so UCLA was a top competitor for his services, but Moss said he wasn’t shyng away from the competition under center, and USC now have the luxury of picking from two of the top signal-callers of the 2021 class. 

Clemson’s Justyn Ross out for the season, career in danger

Clemson’s title hopes took a bit of a hit on Monday, as it was announced that projected #1 wide receiver Justyn Ross will miss the 2020 season. It might be even more serious than that, as head coach Dabo Swinney said it’s not a certainty Ross can play football again after it was announced he would undergo surgery for a congenital fusion in the neck and spine area. It was a birth defect discovered this past spring, and anyone can only hope that Ross’s career isn’t over. Clemson will hope to replace Ross’s production as they eye another run at the College Football Playoff. 

Clemson gets leading scorer back for another season on the hardwood

Clemson became known for their wacky, upset-crazed basketball team last season, as the Tigers were only in NCAA Tournament bubble discussions due to their various stunning upsets, with three top-6 upsets over Duke, Florida State, and Louisville. Their team got a big boost for their NCAA Tournament hopes next season, as leading scorer Aamir Simms announced he is withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to Clemson. He averaged 13 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest last season. 

LSU schedules historic games

LSU’s football program took a historic step on Monday, scheduling their first-ever contests with Southern and Grambling, two Louisiana football teams they have never played. Grambling and Southern are fierce FCS rivals, and Southern is 10 miles from LSU’s campus, yet despite 92 years of shared history, the teams have never met. Both schools are historically black colleges, so it’s a good statement by LSU at the current time of turmoil. LSU will host both games, welcoming Southern on September 10, 2022, and Grambling on September 9, 2023.

We Simulated Clemson’s 2019 Season, but with LSU’s Schedule

Clemson got a lot of grief for their quality of competition last season, going 12-0 in the ACC en route to a College Football Playoff berth – Clemson dominated the ACC, but they wouldn’t have stood a chance in the SEC – or so the rabid fans down south would like you to believe. Yes, Clemson has dominated the ACC, but last year, only one other team put up a nine-win season, and that was Virginia, who lost by 45 points to Clemson in the ACC title game – not exactly elite by any stretch. However, there’s no question Dabo Swinney runs an excellent program, and you only have to go back two years to recall Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers dismantling Alabama by 28 points in the title game. Was last year’s championship loss another mere reflection of LSU’s dominance, or did it symbolize that Clemson simply wouldn’t be as good as they are in a different conference. To answer this question, we simulated Clemson’s 2019 season, except we stacked them up against LSU’s schedule, to see how the Tigers may have fared. Granted, this is only one simulation, but it’s curious to see if LSU, and the SEC as a whole, has some merit in their constant berating of Dabo’s team. Let’s see if Clemson can shut them up. 

Week 1 vs. Georgia Southern
Win 38-6 (LSU Result: Win 55-3)
Maybe LSU had a little more dominance, but this one wasn’t ever close. No questions are answered after this game. 

Week 2 @ Texas
Loss 20-17 (LSU Result: Win 45-38)
Ouch. A Week 2 loss already in the books for Clemson. They had much better defensive success against Sam Ehlinger, but a 32-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left dooms them. This game wasn’t a cakewalk for LSU either though, and a three-point non-conference loss hardly dooms Clemson’s playoff hopes (if they run the table in the SEC). 

Week 3 vs. Northwestern State
COULD NOT SIM
Our simulator does not allow us to clash with FCS opponents, but we know this one would have been a blowout win for Clemson either way. It was never going to tell us anything we didn’t already know. 

Week 4 @ Vanderbilt
Win 44-19 (LSU Result: Win 66-38)
In their first SEC clash, Clemson answers the bell with ease, dominating the hapless Commodores. Travis Etienne – he’s dominant in any conference – puts up over 250 yards of offense as Clemson opens up a 34-6 halftime lead. LSU’s margin of victory is slightly bigger, but nothing jaw-dropping here. 

Week 5 vs. Utah State
Win 62-13 (LSU Result: Win 42-3)
The only thing we learned from this one is that Jordan Love can’t do anything against LSU or Clemson – wouldn’t be too confident if I’m a Packers fan right now. Clemson wins by 10 more than LSU did, with Trevor Lawrence tossing six touchdowns, but both teams cruise.

Week 6 vs. Florida
Win 31-26 (LSU Result: Win 42-28)
What a game! People forget that Kyle Trask and the Gators were the only team all season to lead LSU in the second half. They never actually lead Clemson in this one, but they’re very close all game, and Clemson can’t breathe easy until Trask tosses an interception at the Clemson 38 with under a minute to play. Still a very solid SEC win for the Tigers, however. 

Week 7 @ Mississippi State
Win 42-21 (LSU Result: Win 36-13)
Nothing much to see here – Clemson cruises on the road against an inferior team that was barely bowl-eligible. It wasn’t even as close as the score indicated, as the Bulldogs scored in the final minutes to pull within 21. The next few weeks have some bigger tests in store.

Week 8 vs. Auburn
Win 58-10 (LSU Result: Win 23-20)
Wow, absolute dominance by Clemson. Auburn rarely struggles like this on defense, but Clemson was simply all over them from the start. A rare time that the Clemson offense did far more than LSU did, as Trevor Lawrence (389 yards, four touchdowns) and Travis Ettienne (213 all-purpose yards) were simply finding gaping holes in the defense. Is this a testament to who has the real Death Valley as well? Bo Nix looked horrific here, but he almost led the Tigers to a big upset at LSU..

Week 9 @ Alabama
Loss 47-7 (LSU Result: Win 46-41)

That’s a tough look right there. Clemson went into Tuscaloosa, but unlike Joe Burrow, they didn’t pull the upset. Not only that, but the Crimson Tide laughed Clemson out of town, as the Tigers failed to score until 1:37 left in the third quarter. Alabama had the offense to go toe-to-toe with anyone, and Clemson’s offense was simply not up to the task. Since the rest of the SEC results will hold, this means Alabama finishes the season 7-1 in SEC play, and thus Clemson will not play in the SEC title game. The Playoff  is a distant memory at this point, and they can only hope to play for a potential New Years’ 6 Bowl Game. (Apologies, there were some issues with the boxscore link on this game).

Week 10 @ Ole Miss
Win 28-18 (LSU Result: Win 58-37)
It’s been a pretty consistent trend (sans the Alabama debacle) – Clemson fared much better defensively against the Rebels than LSU, while their offense suffered considerably more struggles. Ole Miss led for much of the first half, but Clemson seizes control late in the second quarter and pulls away.
Week 11 vs Arkansas
Win 54-17 (LSU Result: Win 56-20)
Arkansas is exactly the same thing to Clemson that they were to LSU: SEC punching bags. The Razorbacks never had a chance. Clemson unleashes some of their frustration from their horrific loss and frustratingly close win against Ole Miss. 

Week 12 vs. Texas A&M
Win 33-3 (LSU Result: Win 50-7)
The Aggies are a good, not great, SEC team. It’s a useful measuring stick to see how Clemson sizes up against a team that is certainly in the upper half of the conference. They proved clear superiority in this one, much like they did in their actual game against Texas A&M this past season (albeit much earlier in the season). The Aggies are held to three points, as they were on the actual gridiron, and Clemson tacks on a few more field goals in this virtual contest, wrapping up their regular season. At 10-2, with ranked victories over Florida and Auburn, Clemson has a decent chance at swinging a New Years’ 6 game, but nothing more than that, as Alabama takes on Georgia in the SEC championship. 

The Verdict
Clearly, Clemson was not the power that LSU was, but we already knew that from their championship game clash. The Tigers went 10-2, with a 7-1 SEC mark, proving that they would be right there with the best of them in the conference. The biggest bragging right the SEC can hold over Clemson is much tougher road atmospheres. Clemson went 3-1 in SEC road games, struggling to do much against Ole Miss and getting absolutely blown out by Alabama. Throw in their Texas loss, and the Tigers went 3-2 in true road games, with a point differential of just +13. Maybe Clemson is in for a bit more trouble than people think when they visit Notre Dame, who hasn’t lost at home since 2017, in the upcoming season. The ACC doesn’t provide intimidating road environments – not exactly surprising for a basketball-dominated conference – and Clemson clearly struggled in hostile environments in this simulation. However, nobody, regardless of conference, touches Clemson at Death Valley (real or not).

It’s completely unfair to say Clemson is not a great team that benefits from a bad conference. Yes, their ACC schedule is easy, but Clemson would be extremely competitive and near the top of the SEC, even if they weren’t a near-lock for 12-0 every season. Their mauling in Tuscaloosa does raise some questions abut their physicality, and emphasizes the difference in a full-season grind in the SEC versus the ACC – however don’t mistake that for mediocrity. Clemson is a premier program and would still compete for a Playoff spot against a much tougher schedule.