The College Football Playoff is finally here, and Oklahoma and LSU football will produce fireworks. Who will come out on top in the semifinals?
When the season began, one of these teams was expected to reach the College Football Playoff. The LSU Tigers then surprised everyone with a new look offense, a stellar Heisman Trophy winner and an approach towards each game that gives them a feeling that this is a team of destiny.
There are many great rivalries that have a big brother versus little brother feeling: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Red Sox and Yankees and even Tiger and Phil. It seems insurmountable to topple big brother, but when little brother finally can grow and topple the big brother, they look unbeatable.
It seemed for years that Alabama was in LSU’s head in the Nick Saban era. But when Joe Burrow surgically sliced the Crimson Tide defense apart, the Tigers looked like a force to be reckoned with in college football.
This team is dominant, with the best offense in the country, talent across the secondary and a leader at head coach who is as confident as they come. LSU’s best game is hard to stop, and we can’t say what their worst game looks like, because we haven’t seen it happen yet.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, had national championship expectations from the start. Jalen Hurts, who has been one of the most winningest players in college football history, joined their side and the offense mostly picked up where it left off the past two seasons. Hurts finished the season with 4,889 total yards and 51 total touchdowns. Combine that with new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, and Oklahoma has rolled.
Many people thought (myself included) that an Oklahoma team with a top-50 defense the past two years wins a national championship. Now they have that, as they rank No. 25 in total defense, this team has a chance. But the Sooners have left a lot to be desired in the second half of the season. They came out firing on all cylinders to start the season, but struggled a lot more in Big 12 play. Was that just coasting through a conference they’re so used to winning? Or was it a sign of things to come?
Here’s how to watch:
Date: Saturday, Dec. 28
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Keys to Victory
Honestly, both teams key to victory is getting a stop. This game has the look of one where the first team that gets a stop wins the game, as both offenses have looked unstoppable at points. But that is boring analysis, so both teams will have to attack each other in different ways.
Oklahoma has to win the field position battle. It sounds kind of weak for a big game, but if LSU is getting the ball at the 40-50 yard line each possession, they’re finding the end zone. Especially when Oklahoma ranks No. 127 in red zone defense, while LSU is No. 1 in red zone offense, as they score nearly 97 percent of the time they’re down in the red zone. If Clyde Edwards-Helaire is ruled out for the semifinals, which seems likely, then that is a huge advantage for the Sooners, as he is their best red zone option running and receiving out of the backfield.
That absurd rate conversion rate is still going to be tough to beat, so the Sooners have to win the third down battles against the Tigers. That also means Jalen Hurts has to take care of the ball. His turnovers weren’t awful, but four of his seven interceptions were in the last five games of the season. And he can’t expect to lose two fumbles in a game like he did against Baylor, and expect to get a win. LSU is too good at converting opportunities, and the Tigers offense will take advantage. LSU needs to contain him and win their one-on-one battles on defense.
The defensive numbers for the Tigers weren’t great, probably because the offensive rate was so high, but the talent is still incredible. True freshman Derek Stingley Jr. is already one of the best in the game, but going against CeeDee Lamb will be a big test for the youngster. If he can shut down Lamb while the defensive line contains Hurts, the Tigers should win easily.
Line: LSU -11
Both of these teams are high-octane, and this College Football Playoff will be fun, as all four teams can score. Both teams will come out a little tighter than usual to start, but it will really start to open up in the second half. In an instant classic, Burrow will lead the Tigers without his star running back, and a late Jalen Hurts interception will seal the deal as LSU moves on to the National Championship.
Final Score: LSU 42, Oklahoma 38