College Football Playoff: LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma make the field

The only drama surrounding the four-team College Football Playoff field involved the seedings.

As expected following conference championship weekend, LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma are in. The Bayou Bengals moved up a spot and got the crucial No. 1 seed following a dominating win over Georgia in the SEC championship game. No. 2 Ohio State, which fell from No. 1 after a comeback win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, will have to face No. 3 Clemson in the semifinals. The defending national champions haven’t lost since falling to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2017 season and they demolished Virginia in the ACC championship game.

Oklahoma is the fourth and final team in the playoff and draws LSU. The Sooners made the playoff on the heels of a 30-23 overtime win over Baylor in the Big 12 title game. The winner of the Big 12 championship game had a clear path to the playoff after Utah’s loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night and Georgia’s loss to LSU. The Utes entered the weekend ranked No. 5, a spot ahead of Oklahoma and two spots ahead of Baylor. Georgia was No. 4.

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The Sooners are in the playoff field for a third straight season. That streak is second behind Clemson’s five straight playoff appearances. Ohio State is making its third playoff appearance and first since the 2016 season when it lost to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. LSU, with likely Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, is making its first CFP appearance.

All four playoff teams rank in the top seven in the country in scoring offense.

The top three teams in the rankings are also undefeated. It’s the second straight season that’s happened after every team in the playoff field after the 2017 season entered with a loss. After Oklahoma grabbed the final spot with one loss for the second straight year, the playoff’s six-year run of never selecting a two-loss team also remains intact.

LSU won the SEC championship on Saturday and moved to No. 1 on Sunday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
LSU won the SEC championship on Saturday and moved to No. 1 on Sunday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Peach Bowl: No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)

It’s a meeting of the offensive minds in the Peach Bowl. No. 1 LSU’s offense has been transformed thanks to the flexibility of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger after the arrival of passing game coordinator Joe Brady. Oklahoma’s offense has been one of the most explosive in college football since coach Lincoln Riley came to Norman to be an offensive coordinator for former coach Bob Stoops.

Burrow has thrown for over 4,600 yards and 48 touchdowns while completing over 78 percent of his passes. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is averaging seven yards a carry and has scored 16 rushing touchdowns. Both Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase have over 1,000 yards receiving.

The Tigers are averaging nearly 45 points per game, the third-highest mark in the country.

Oklahoma is the lowest-scoring playoff team. Though that’s relative. Oklahoma comes in at No. 7 in scoring offense in 2019 and is averaging 41 points per game. The Sooners are led by former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who transferred to Norman as a grad transfer after the 2018 season. Hurts has completed 72 percent of his passes for over 3,500 yards and 32 touchdowns while also rushing for over 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s got a chance to finish second to Burrow in the Heisman voting, though a spate of late-season turnovers may derail his chances at finishing as the runner-up. 

LSU has the defensive edge, though Oklahoma’s unit has improved from where it was a year ago. The Sooners are giving up 10 fewer points per game in 2019 than they did in 2018. But the mark of 23 points allowed per game ranks outside the top 40.

The Tigers are giving up just over 20 points per game, a number that’s come down over the last two weeks. LSU allowed just seven points in the regular season finale against Texas A&M and 10 points to Georgia.

Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (13-0)

We’re betting this game will look a lot different than the 2016 Fiesta Bowl did. Three years ago, Clemson absolutely throttled Ohio State 31-0 on the way to a national title. This could end up being a semifinal that rivals the fun that was Georgia’s OT win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl after the 2017 season.

Ohio State should put up some points this year. The Buckeyes lead the country in scoring at nearly 49 points per game. Georgia transfer Justin Fields has fit seamlessly into first-year coach Ryan Day’s offense and the three-week break before the playoff should give his injured left MCL some time to heal. Fields has thrown for over 2,800 yards and 40 touchdowns with just one interception all season. He’s also rushed for 470 yards and 10 scores.

Ohio State’s potent rushing attack goes through RB J.K. Dobbins. He’s averaging 6.6 yards a carry and has rushed for 1,829 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Clemson’s got a pretty good running back too. Travis Etienne is the ACC’s career rushing leader and has rushed for 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns on just 182 carries. QB Trevor Lawrence has bounced back from a relatively slow start to throw for over 3,100 yards and 34 touchdowns as Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers form the best set of receivers among the four playoff teams. 

In addition to being No. 4 in scoring offense in the country, Clemson is No. 1 in scoring defense. The Tigers are giving up fewer than 10 points per game in 2019.

That is, in part, because of the weakness of the ACC. It might have been the weakest Power Five conference in the country and that hurt Clemson as both Ohio State and LSU had opportunities to play and beat teams that were ranked in the top 15.

Clemson never really got that chance. Texas A&M was ranked at No. 12 when the Tigers beat the Aggies in Week 2, but A&M ended up finishing the season at 7-5. If you hate preseason rankings, you also can’t count that game as a significant ranked-team win for Clemson. Outside of that game, Clemson’s win over Virginia on Saturday night in the ACC championship game is the Tigers’ only other win over an opponent ranked at the time.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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