CFP National Championship 2020: Early Predictions for Clemson vs. LSU

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 29, 2019

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) works against Oklahoma during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA semifinal college football playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
John Amis/Associated Press

The 2020 college football national championship game could pit the No. 1 picks in the 2020 and 2021 NFL drafts against each other. 

After his breakout season with the LSU Tigers, Joe Burrow is expected to be taken by the Cincinnati Bengals with the first overall selection in April's draft. 

Clemson sophomore Trevor Lawrence has been lauded as one of the best quarterback prospects of his generation since stepping foot on the collegiate gridiron. If he keeps up his current trajectory, Lawrence could be taken first in 2021. 

Before either player focuses on their respective long-term futures, they have a game to win in New Orleans. 

LSU is hunting for its first national title since 2007, while Clemson will try to become the first back-to-back champion since the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2011 and 2012. 


Early National Championship Predictions

Burrow and Lawrence Both Throw for Over 300 Yards

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Predicting both quarterbacks to eclipse the 300-yard mark feels like the safest prediction for the January 13 contest. 

Burrow has put together a run of eight consecutive 300-yard performances and has 22 touchdown passes in Top 25 matchups, including seven in the Peach Bowl triumph over the Oklahoma Sooners. 

He will be facing a Clemson defense that gave up 516 yards to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl. Of that total, 320 came through the air, as Justin Fields picked out eight receivers in his 30 completions. Burrow possesses a similarly talented collection of wide receivers in Justin Jefferson, JaMarr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr.

He may not achieve the first-half success he did versus Oklahoma, but Burrow should end up with at least 300 passing yards by working the ball downfield on a handful of scoring drives. 

Lawrence threw for 259 yards Saturday, extending his streak of 250-yard games to five. 

The sophomore may not produce at high volume, like Burrow, but he should still have ample opportunities to carve up the LSU secondary. The Tigers gave up 322 yards in the Peach Bowl, with 225 of them earned by Jalen Hurts through the air. 

A year ago, Lawrence produced 327 passing yards in the title-game victory over Alabama, and if this year's edition is close throughout, he should link up with the likes of Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross to eclipse that total. 

Lawrence could also be effective on the ground, as he ran for 107 yards and a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl, adding a new wrinkle to the Clemson offense. 

His previous career high in rushing yards was 66 from a November 30 victory over South Carolina. 


Etienne's Impact on Passing Game Is Clemson's Difference-Maker

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Both starting running backs have been assets in the passing game this season, but Clemson's Travis Etienne made a bigger impact in the semifinals. 

LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire may have played a larger role if the Peach Bowl was closer, but he was dealing with a hamstring injury and was rested once the game was secured. 

The Clemson junior, who is from Louisiana, hauled in three catches for 98 yards and a pair of scores Saturday. 

For most of the season, Etienne was not an effective part of the aerial attack, as his largest receiving total was 52 yards on September 7 versus the Texas A&M Aggies. He also matched his season total in receiving touchdowns, as he had one in October and the other in November. 

His expanded presence in the passing game will at least play into LSU's defensive game plan, as it has to take away the middle of the field to avoid his explosiveness in open space. 

Even if he does not catch many balls, bolting out on 10- to 15-yard routes could attract a defender away from a Clemson receiver. If that occurs, the likes of Higgins and Ross could break out for long gains that either extend scoring drives or flip field position. 

No matter how he affects LSU's approach, Etienne could be Clemson's top difference-maker through either catching passes or taking attention away from his teammates with big-play potential. 


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.