Monday, January 6, 2020

CFP Championship: Trust Your Feelings

By Jonathan Lowe

We still have about one week to go until Clemson and LSU take the field for this year's CFP National Championship Game. In the buildup to the contest, the players and coaches are certain to have varying feelings. You have to be sure that both fan bases will share in those thoughts of future glory or disappointment. But for some of the other fans of the sport (with no dog in the fight), well, we have our own thoughts, too.

There are a few headlines and key comparisons that I'm looking at before next Monday's tilt. How am I feeling about them?

Coaching Showdown = Nostalgic

Some differences arise when comparing the careers of the two head coaches in the matchup. Dabo Swinney has only known leading one program, while Ed Orgeron is, technically, on his third chance. Swinney made his bones showing prowess with offense. Orgeron is more familiar with the defensive side of the ball. Swinney was a relative unknown when he ascended to the Tigers' head man in the middle of the 2008 season. Orgeron had a three-year stint at Ole Miss before being in the right place at the right time twice (USC, then LSU). Turns out that the biggest similarity between the two, though, comes in this kind of moment.

When Swinney finally broke through into the championship stratosphere, he had to battle a dynasty. In January of 2016, Clemson's head coach had to defeat Alabama (his alma mater) and Nick Saban to claim the school's first title since 1981. At that time, the Crimson Tide were going for their fourth championship in seven years. Now that Orgeron is "oh, so close" to the mountaintop, he'll have to knock Swinney off from it. The ACC's Tigers are looking for their third trophy in the last four years. The SEC's Tigers try to get their first since 2007.

Quarterback Showdown = Full of Awe

Joe Burrow has been the end-all, be-all for the Bayou Bengals. His prolific numbers (5,208 passing yards, 55 passing TDs, 77.6% completion percentage, 311 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs) made him more than worthy to receive the Heisman Trophy. He essentially came from out of nowhere to produce one of the most eye-popping seasons in the sport's history. Because of all this, he's now 60 minutes away from completing what might be the biggest dream season in 150 years of the game.

But Clemson's Trevor Lawrence will have something to say about it. After a slow start to this season, Lawrence reverted closer to the form that had pro scouts drooling over him in 2018. Of more importance is the fact that he hasn't lost a game starting for his team. That would be 25-0 over the last two seasons, which really helps the program in building their current 29-game winning streak. The sophomore signal caller hopes to build on his legend by claiming a second consecutive national title, something only Alabama's A.J. McCarron has done since the turn of the century.

The Wait For it All to Happen = Frustration

I know this isn't the first year that I've bypassed watching many of the bloated bowl season. I know that this isn't the first year we've dug into the "Polar Bear Days" of January before seeing what team emerges with the "natty." But, for some reason, I'm more annoyed about this year than most others. There is a bowl game on Monday night. It's not the CFP championship, even though the semifinals were over a week ago. For your bowl gluttony, you can sit back and watch the LendingTree Bowl (10-3 Louisiana takes on 8-5 Miami of Ohio) this Monday night.

About a month ago, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban expressed his consternation about the current FBS postseason system. With his team sitting out of the Playoff for the first time, he tried to find purpose for players to continue competing without the promise of a national title.

"When you have guys who don't play in bowl games and they do play in the playoffs, that in itself tells you the view of the players in terms of how they look at the bowl game. We have made everything about the playoffs in college football."

He had a point. We do focus in on the last four teams eligible for the championship. In the years not being designated as a semifinal, the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl ... are all considered consolation prizes. Trust me, most schools would do anything to get in those exhibitions, no matter the circumstances. However, any "all-importance" factor of those events happened when championships were basically subjective, if not mythical. Now, the title is concrete. It's the crescendo of the college football season.

Those facts make it certain that the bowl system will never get back to what it was ... a series of games that held its crescendo on New Years' Day. I know that the genie is out of that bottle. But the fact that five minor bowls are being contested after the biggest names of the season, making the elongation of the title game wait more expanded, that's what makes this frustrating. I'm hoping for the big payoff at the end. Maybe LSU and Clemson will put on a big show, giving us a satisfying conclusion. That would render all other feelings moot.

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