LSU football coach Ed Orgeron leads the No. 1 Tigers against No. 4 Oklahoma at the 2019 Peach Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff semifinals Saturday in Atlanta. Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Four teams will take the field Saturday for the College Football Playoff, with the winners clinching spots in the College Football Playoff National Championship game.
The College Football Playoff slate begins with No. 1 LSU battling No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow and the Tigers are favored to win and advance to the Jan. 13 title game.
"I know everyone is just ready to play," Burrow said Thursday. "Being here for a week is nice, but we are ready to go out and play the game and go back to Baton Rouge."
No. 2 Ohio State battles reigning national champion No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, following the Peach Bowl.
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
LSU and Oklahoma kick-off at 4 p.m. EST Saturday in Atlanta. Burrow's Tigers are 14-point favorites, according to Bovada. The Tigers (13-0) have won by an average score of 47.8-21.2 this season behind one of the most-prolific offenses in college football. Burrow threw a Southeastern Conference record 48 touchdown passes to lead the Tigers to the College Football Playoff. The Sooners' lone loss this season was a 48-41 setback to Kansas State Oct. 26 in Manhattan, Kan.
Alabama quarterback transfer Jalen Hurts leads the Sooners. Hurts, who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting, completed 71.8 percent of his throws this season for 3,634 yards, 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran for 1,255 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"I came here [Oklahoma] to win football games," Hurts said. "Regardless of wherever I would have gone, I'm here. We've done a pretty good job of winning so far and we want to finish strong."
While Hurts will be the main weapon LSU needs to stop, the Sooners will be tasked with stopping multiple threats in the Tigers' offense.
Tigers wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson both eclipsed 1,000 yards this season. Chase led college football with 1,498 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2019. Thaddeus Moss is one of the best tight ends in college football. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire also has had an exceptional season, but is questionable to play due to a hamstring injury.
Tigers coach Ed Orgeron told reporters Friday that he thinks Edwards-Helaire will suit up for the Peach Bowl.
"Obviously, if Clyde's ready to play, we're going to let him play," Orgeron said. "But he's a game-time decision. Do I think he plays? Yes, but how much he plays, I don't know. He's not 100 percent, obviously."
The Tigers' defense also boasts star playmakers in Jim Thorpe Award winner Grant Delpit, cornerback Kristian Fulton and cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr. Still, that defense has been victimized by big plays, which is often covered up by the Tigers' high-octane offense.
LSU ranks No. 1 in total offense, while Oklahoma is No. 2.
"I just go in and take what the defense gives me," Burrow said. "I don't try to force anything. ... I just go in thinking, 'They are going to take a couple guys away.' We have to figure out who they are taking away and go with the other guys."
Hurts does have familiarity with the Tigers, beating LSU twice while playing at Alabama, but he did not put up big numbers in those wins. Hurts will likely lean on star wide receiver CeeDee Lamb when it comes to needing big plays against the Tigers.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
Ohio State and Clemson both enter their College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with unblemished 13-0 records. The Buckeyes defense is led by Chase Young, who led the nation with 16.5 sacks this season and is projected to be a top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Ohio State scored the most points per game this season, averaging 48.7 points per bout while led by Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields. Clemson has the No. 4 scoring offense.
"It's an honor to play a team like Clemson, that has really set the standard here in the last couple years," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "Defending national champs, 28-game winning streak ... the combination of talent and coaching is some of the best in the country.
"Our guys know that, have had a great week in practice and are looking forward to a great game Saturday."
Clemson's defense paved the way for their undefeated 2019 campaign, leading the country by allowing just 10.6 per game. The Tigers also allowed the fewest yards per game and passing yards per game. Ohio State's defense has been almost equally as stingy, as the Buckeyes own the nation's No. 2 pass defense.
The Tigers have never lost to the Buckeyes, with Clemson beating Ohio State 31-0 in their last meeting, a 2016 College Football Playoff semifinal matchup.
Clemson has won their last eight games by an average of 42.1 points, while Ohio State recently had an 11-point win against Penn State.
Both Fields and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence have been stingy in the turnover department. Fields threw one interception all season, while Lawrence has 20 touchdowns and hasn't thrown an interception in his last six games. Fields is also dealing with a knee injury, which has slowed him at practice. He says the knee is 80 to 85 percent healthy entering Saturday's game.
Clemson and Ohio State each have impressive running backs. Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins has rushed for 1,829 yards and 20 scores this season, while Travis Etienne has ran for 1,500 yards and 17 scores. Etienne leads the country with 8.24 yards per carry for Clemson.
"It has been a great week," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I think our guys have been able to have a good balance of having some fun and enjoying the experience, but at the same time being locked in on what we have to do to have a chance in this game. We are excited about it."
Clemson is a two-point favorite to beat Ohio State. The Tigers bring a 28-game winning streak into the matchup, including last season's national title run. Ohio State's 19-game winning streak is the second-longest in the country.
2019 Peach Bowl: College Football Playoff semifinal
Who: No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)
When: 4 p.m. EST Saturday
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
2019 Fiesta Bowl: College Football Playoff semifinal
Who: No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (13-0)
When: 8 p.m. EST Saturday
Where: State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
2020 College Football Playoff National Championship game
Who: No. 1 LSU or No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 Ohio State or No. 3 Clemson
When: 8 p.m. EST Jan. 13
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans