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Tiger Bowl: Reigning champion Clemson faces top-ranked LSU in college football’s national title game

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College football’s national title is underway in New Orleans, where scores of fans from South Carolina and nearby Baton Rouge have packed the Superdome to watch defending champion Clemson square off with top-ranked Louisiana State.  

Not only do both teams have the same nickname, the Tigers, but they also play in stadiums dubbed ‘Death Valley’ and boast undefeated records. Furthermore, LSU and Clemson have been two of college football’s most dominant programs this century, both winning a pair of national titles since 2000. 

Naturally, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has this drill down.

The Sunday before the College Football Playoff championship game a news conference is held with the head coaches. They compliment each other’s team and talk about focus and preparation. After, they shake hands and pose for photographs with the trophy that goes to the winner.

This was Swinney’s third time doing the dance, always as the team trying to derail a dynasty. Now his Tigers are on the cusp of joining exclusive in college football history.

College football's national title is set to be decided in New Orleans, where scores of fans from South Carolina and nearby Baton Rouge have packed the Superdome to watch defending champion Clemson square off with top-ranked Louisiana State

College football’s national title is set to be decided in New Orleans, where scores of fans from South Carolina and nearby Baton Rouge have packed the Superdome to watch defending champion Clemson square off with top-ranked Louisiana State

An LSU fan poses for a picture before the College Football Playoff national championship game

An LSU fan poses for a picture before the College Football Playoff national championship game

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

LSU coach Ed Orgeron

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (left) and LSU coach Ed Orgeron (right) have each guided their respective Tigers to perfect 14-0 records in 2019 with one final game left to play

A Clemson Tigers fan poses outside the Superdome before Monday's national title game

A Clemson Tigers fan poses outside the Superdome before Monday’s national title game 

LSU Tigers fans pose with homemade wrestling belts ahead of Monday's national title game

LSU Tigers fans pose with homemade wrestling belts ahead of Monday’s national title game 

No. 3 Clemson (14-0) will try to become the fourth team since The Associated Press began crowning college football national champions in 1936 to win three titles in four seasons when it faces No. 1 LSU (14-0) on Monday night at the Superdome.

‘They know,’ Swinney said of his players. ‘They’re very well aware of what they’ve been able to achieve. And listen, regardless of what happens in the game tomorrow night, it’s really been a historic run. To win two out of the last three national championships is amazing.’

To win the first two, Clemson upset Alabama twice in the championship game. The Tigers also lost twice to Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in the playoff, including in the 2015 final.

TRUMP EXPECTED TO ATTEND TITLE GAME 

President Donald Trump will turn sports fan for an evening as he watches No. 1 Louisiana State University and No. 3 Clemson battle it out in the College Football Playoff Championship.

The game is set for the New Orleans Superdome on Monday night and Trump was flying down, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.

‘It’ll be a great game. It’ll be something that a lot of people want to see,’ Trump said as the couple departed the White House.

Trump took in an LSU game in November when the team went up against Alabama.

He also met with many of Clemson´s coaches and players when they visited the White House in January 2019 after winning last season´s national championship. That visit occurred during a partial government shutdown. With much of the White House staff on furlough, Trump arranged for a fast food buffet of burgers and pizza. White House cups bearing the presidential seal held the fries.

Monday´s game featuring two undefeated teams will offer Trump with a brief break from another turbulent period in his presidency as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prepares to send two articles of impeachment to the Senate and tensions between the U.S. and Iran continue to simmer.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who predicted a championship for Clemson, said he would fly to Louisiana with Trump aboard Air Force One to take in the game. Graham is an outspoken supporter of Trump who opposes the president’s impeachment.

While Trump has routinely sparred with professional athletes during his time in office, college football has managed to avoid similar political controversies.

The president attended the Army-Navy football game last month and was warmly welcomed at the LSU-Alabama game.

‘Regardless of your political views, that’s pretty cool, having the president at the game,’ LSU quarterback Joe Burrow said at the time. 

Associated Press 

In those previous Sunday-before-the-final news conferences, it was often Swinney — who grew up in Alabama and played on the Tide’s 1992 title team — being asked to put Saban’s unprecedented tenure in Tuscaloosa into perspective.

Fast forward to Sunday and it’s Clemson that has put itself in position to match one of Alabama’s greatest accomplishments. The Crimson Tide was the last team to win three championships in four seasons, winning BCS titles in 2009, ’11 and ’12. The Tide has won five championships in 13 seasons under Saban.

Nebraska, under coach Tom Osborne, won national titles in 1994-95 and then shared the championship in 1997 with Michigan after being voted No. 1 in the final coaches poll.

Notre Dame won three in four seasons in 1946-47 and ’49, being crowned the champs by the AP each time.

A case cab be made that what Clemson is trying to do would top them all.

The playoff makes teams go through two quality opponents to earn a championship. The Tigers were the first major college football team in the modern era to go 15-0 last year and will have to do it again to repeat, beating two undefeated opponents in Ohio State and LSU along the way.

A victory Monday night in front of what will unquestionably be a partisan crowd in LSU’s backyard will make Clemson the seventh major college program since 1950 to win at least 30 straight games.

The last team to win back-to-back national titles with a perfect record was Nebraska in the mid-90s. Those Cornhuskers played a total of 25 games.

Swinney has often complained this season that his team hasn’t received the respect it deserved while running roughshod through the Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson was the first AP preseason No. 1 to end the season No. 3 despite not losing a game since it happened to Alabama in 1966.

Swinney turned perceived slights into fuel for his team. Clemson is a verified college football superpower, but the Tigers remain upstarts, still with something to prove in their minds.

‘Ever since I’ve been at Clemson that’s how it’s been,’ All-America linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. ‘We always get the, ‘We don’t play anybody,’ this and that.

‘We’re like the red-headed stepchild in other groups.’

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So Clemson is embracing that narrative entering this championship game as underdogs again. LSU is about a six-point favorite behind Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and a record-breaking offense.

Clemson fans arrive before a NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game

Clemson fans arrive before a NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game

An LSU fan arrives at New Orleans' Superdome for Monday's national championship game

An LSU fan arrives at New Orleans’ Superdome for Monday’s national championship game 

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence

Heisman Trophy winner and potential top-NFL Draft pick Joe Burrow (left) of LSU is set to face off the reigning champion Clemson Tigers and quarterback Trevor Lawrence (right) 

CLEMSON LIFTS OPEN-CONTAINER LAWS FOR NCAA TITLE GAME 

The city surrounding Clemson University is again relaxing its open container of alcohol laws for a street party as the school’s football team plays in the national championship game Monday night.

City of Clemson Police will close downtown streets at 5 p.m. and set up viewing screens as Clemson takes on LSU in the College Football Playoff national championship game.

Open containers of alcohol are prohibited by city law, but those rules will be lifted in the party area, police said,

A Clemson band member shows his excitement during a parade honoring Clemson on January 12, 2019, in Clemson, South Carolina, where local officials have lifted open-container laws ahead of Monday's national title game against LSU

A Clemson band member shows his excitement during a parade honoring Clemson on January 12, 2019, in Clemson, South Carolina, where local officials have lifted open-container laws ahead of Monday’s national title game against LSU 

No outside alcohol can be brought to the party, police said.

The party and the suspension of the open container law ends at midnight. In a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post, Clemson Police said they will continue to arrest anyone who destroys property or breaks other laws.

‘All other laws and ordinances are in effect and no one wants to celebrate the night with a shiny pair of matching bracelets. We have new officers, their handcuffs are new, which means they haven’t been stretched out yet and aren’t as comfortable,’ police wrote in their post.

Associated Press 

The senior who transferred from Ohio State in 2018 is on pace to break the FBS record for completion percentage at 77.6. He has thrown for 5,208 yards and 55 touchdowns. Burrow can become the first Heisman winner to win the national title since Alabama’s Derrick Henry helped the Tide beat Clemson in the 2015 title game, and the first Heisman winning quarterback to win it all since Florida State’s Jameis Winstion in 2013.

Burrow is the odds-on favorite to be the first player selected in the next NFL draft. The quarterback on the other side, Trevor Lawrence, is already the front-runner to be No. 1 overall in 2021.

The sophomore has yet to play in a losing game in college and Clemson is 25-0 when he starts.

‘A winner, very quick release, very well-coached, outstanding feet, knows where to go with the ball, can run,’ Orgeron said, rattling off what makes Lawrence so good.

No matter what happens Monday night, Clemson will begin next season as one of the favorites to win the national title. The 50-year-old Swinney also just signed the highest-rated recruiting class he has ever had in 10 seasons at Clemson.

This impressive run is far from over. But first things first.

‘I think when you focus on that, you’re focusing on the magnitude of the moment and you lose the joy of the moment,’ Swinney said. ‘That’s all we try to focus on is just being great where our feet are and just have some fun doing what we do to get ready.’   

CLEMSON TIGERS VS. LSU TIGERS  

Line: LSU by 5.5.

Series record: LSU 2-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Clemson, the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, is trying to repeat as national champion and become the first team to do that since Alabama in 2011-12. The Tigers would also enter even more exclusive college football company with a third national title in four years. In the AP poll era (starting in 1936), only Alabama (2009, 2011-12), Nebraska (1994-95, 97) and Notre Dame (1946-47, ’49) accomplished that feat. It would stamp the Tigers as a true dynasty.

LSU, the Southeastern Conference champ, is looking for its first national championship since 2007 and fourth overall (2003 BCS, 1958 AP).

KEY MATCHUP

Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons vs. LSU QB Joe Burrow. Linebacker vs. quarterback might make you think Burrow is going to be running the triple-option, but Simmons is a different kind of linebacker. The Butkus Award winner lines up all over the defense run by coordinator Brent Venables. Simmons could be the best way for Clemson to fluster Burrow. Nothing has worked so far this season as the Heisman Trophy winner has thrown for an SEC record 55 touchdowns and 5,208 yards.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Clemson: RB Travis Etienne. On an offense with an array of elite playmakers, Etienne is the best and most versatile weapon. He ran for 1,538 yards and 8.0 per carry. Ohio State slowed him down on the ground in the semifinal, only to see him catch three passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns.

LSU: DE K’Lavon Chaisson. The Tigers had 35 sacks and Chaisson is far and away their best individual pass rusher. Injuries slowed the sophomore early this season, but he led the team with 6.5 sacks, including 4.5 the last three games.

FACTS & FIGURES

Clemson is on a 29-game winning streak, including 25-0 with sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence starting. The Tigers can become the 13th team in the history of major college football to win 30 straight games, and just the seventh team to accomplish the feat since 1950. … Burrow has completed 77.6% of his passes. The NCAA record is 76.7% by Texas’ Colt McCoy in 2008. … LSU won its last two national championships at the Superdome in New Orleans (2003 vs. Oklahoma and 2007 vs. Ohio State), and lost its last title game appearance there to Alabama after the 2011 season. … Clemson coach Dabo Swinney could become the 12th coach to win at least three national championships in the AP poll era. … LSU coach Ed Orgeron is 11-3 against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game.

Associated Press   

Clemson fans Brandon Large and Kristen Clevenger pose for a selfie outside the Superdome

Clemson fans Brandon Large and Kristen Clevenger pose for a selfie outside the Superdome 

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