By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Nine teams from the Southeastern Conference made it to the postseason, and seven of those teams won its bowl games. Additionally, LSU advanced to the national title game and will take on Clemson this Monday (Jan. 13). A team from the SEC has played for the national championship in every season since 2006 with the exception of 2014, when Ohio State defeated Oregon.
LSU submitted the best performance of any team from the conference in stor-ming past Oklahoma, 63-28, in the first semifinal of the College Football Playoffs. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow threw for seven touchdowns and nearly 500 yards, and his Tigers will play in the title game for the first time since 2011.
Texas A&M overcame an early 14-point deficit to knock off Oklahoma State, 24-21, to improve to 8-5 on the year. Jimbo Fisher has a talented team returning in 2020 and expecting to have a big year in College Station. Meanwhile, Florida handled its business in the Orange Bowl against Virginia. Dan Mullen’s team won its 11th game of the season in the 36-28 victory, and Mullen is 21-5 in only two seasons in Gainesville.
Mark Stoops led Kentucky to another bowl win and an eight-win season, accomplished both feats despite losing two quarterbacks to injury. After Lynn Bowden moved from wide receiver to quarterback midway through the season, Kentucky ran the ball nearly every snap. Teams knew what was coming but still had trouble defending the Wildcats, who knocked off Virginia Tech by a 37-30 score thanks to Bowden’s 233 rushing yards, 76 passing yards and three total touchdowns.
Alabama overcame a slu-ggish first half to breeze past Michigan, 35-16, in the Citrus Bowl. The Wolverines led 16-14 at halftime but Alabama dominated the second half to earn its 11th win of the year. The Crimson Tide has won at least 11 games in every season since 2011 and will be among the title favorites in 2020.
Georgia’s performance in the Sugar Bowl a season ago against Texas was one of the most disappointing of the bowl season, but the Bulldogs made amends this year with a 26-14 victory over Baylor. The Georgia defense was dominant yet again, and Jake Fromm found freshman receiver George Pickens early and often as the Bulldogs improved to 12-2 for the year.
Tennessee trailed Indiana, 22-9, with less than five minutes remaining, with the Volunteer offense looking helpless for most of the game. Then, suddenly, the Vols came alive and scored 14 points in 30 seconds to take the lead and eventually win the game 23-22. A successful onside kick gave Tennessee the ball back after the Vols score its first touchdown of the night, and UT quickly added seven more points to knock off the Hoosiers and improve to 8-5 on the year. Jeremy Pruitt’s team finished the season on a six-game winning streak.
After winning the Iron Bowl, Auburn only needed one more win for a 10-win season. Instead, they made the trip to Tampa and came away with a 31-24 loss to Minnesota to drop to 9-4 on the season. The Tigers were dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage, while the AU offense never got into a rhythm. It was a disappointing end to a solid season for Auburn. Gus Malzahn‘s teams now have lost at least four games in six straight seasons.
Mississippi State lost to Louisville, 38-28, in the Music City Bowl to drop to 6-7 on the year. Head coach Joe Moorhead was fired after only two seasons following the loss. Moorhead was 14-12 during his two years in Starkville, but the school decided to go in another direction.
National Championship Game Preview and Prediction
Clemson vs. LSU (-6). Clemson has turned into college football’s top powerhouse program, as the Tigers are competing in the national title game for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Dabo Swinney’s team has won two of the last three championships and made the playoffs in each of the past five seasons. Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson offense have been unstoppable, and the Tigers are looking for their 30th straight win and second consecutive 15-0 season.
LSU re-emerged as a na-tional title contender under Ed Orgeron, and quarterback Joe Burrow has submitted one of the best seasons in college football history. The Heisman winner has thrown for 55 touchdowns and only six interceptions and is four touchdowns away from breaking the NCAA record for passing touchdowns in a season. The Tigers are also unbeaten and have actually been more efficient than Clemson’s dynamic offense.
While both offenses are capable of scoring in a hurry, the defenses on both sides are loaded with NFL prospects. This likely won’t be a defensive slugfest, but it will come down to which defense can force the most stops in the fourth quarter. Red zone defense will be very important, and both teams have a top-30 red zone defense. LSU’s red zone offense is fourth in the nation, while Clemson’s is No. 31.
Swinney’s team has been in this spot often and will be accustomed to the bright lights and big stage. While LSU has not played for a title in eight years and hasn’t won a title in 12, the Tigers already won in big spots this year (i.e., at Alabama, the SEC title game against Georgia), and the game is in LSU’s backyard in New Orleans. Prediction: LSU 41, Clemson 37.