When No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 3 Clemson finally kick it off in Monday night’s college football national championship game on ESPN, 16 days will have passed since the teams last took the field in anger for the semifinals.
Perhaps that means the teams will require some rust removal in the game’s first minutes. But given the quality of the competitors — especially at quarterback — the show should be worth the wait.
“Ideally for momentum and fan interest, you wouldn’t want it to be 16 days,’’ said Chris Fowler, who along with analyst Kirk Herbstreit will call the traditional broadcast for the network, the sixth national title game they’ll work together. “We will be prepared because that’s a lot of time to get ready for two teams we already know. But ideally it would be a little closer than that, I think, to settle things. I think it is most years.
“[This year], it’s a fluke of the schedule. People need to understand that. It’s not going to be a regular thing. This has been a weird year. It’s a two-bye year, things are pushed back later, and I think that’s why we’re getting this long gap between the semis and the finals.’’
The hiatus won’t affect interest in the game, which will be presented in “MegaCast’’ form by ESPN in a staggering 15 different versions on its various channels and the ESPN app. Among the interesting options for viewers beyond the traditional Fowler/Herbstreit main broadcast are Field Pass (ESPN2), which takes a free-flowing approach. It is anchored by Steve Levy and Adam Amin, who are roaming the sidelines. Dan Orlovsky, a rising star as an analyst, will be one of the contributors. The Hometown Radio option — which features the broadcasts of each team’s radio call — also returns on the ACC and SEC Networks. Coaches Film Room, always a popular broadcast, airs on ESPNU.
ESPN will have an estimated 100 cameras at the Superdome in New Orleans for the broadcast. Those cameras will spend plenty of time focused on the dueling premier quarterback prospects in the game: Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy this season for LSU, and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who hasn’t lost a game since high school.
“You’ve got potentially the first two picks overall in the next two drafts going head to head,’’ said Herbstreit. “I don’t know if we’ve ever had two quarterbacks in a championship game that you could say that about.
“I expect to see potentially a game where it’s a which-quarterback-has-the-ball-last type of game. I don’t want to make it look like one has a clear advantage. I would give probably a slight edge to Burrow just because of how consistent their offense has been this year. If you give him the same look or he knows what you’re in, you have no shot of slowing him down.’’
Burrow has had a historically great season. But as Fowler notes, Lawrence is in the midst of a college career that has become legendary in real time.
“Burrow [is great] in every category you think about,’’ said Fowler. “How is he when he’s pressured? He’s the best. How is he against ranked teams? He’s the best. In the red zone, in the fourth quarter, against the blitz. I mean, Lawrence is brilliant in all those categories, too. Burrow, it’s hard to imagine a guy having a season like this.
“But I don’t know if there’s anybody you’d trust or not want to bet against than Lawrence, never having lost a game since high school, just the toughness that he showed [in the semifinals] against Ohio State when he got [ticked] off after getting hit in the head and really played much better after that, the 94-yard drive, the 67-yard run. He made plays in that game that are going to live in the history of the sport.’’
With a win, Lawrence and coach Dabo Swinney will have led Clemson — which is making its fifth straight playoff appearance — to 30 straight victories and back-to-back national titles.
“To me, it’s as great as anything we’ve ever seen,’’ said Fowler, when asked how this era at Clemson will be remembered should it win Monday. “You’re talking about three out of four years, beating a Alabama to win their first championship, 12-0 Notre Dame team, 14-0 ’Bama team last year, 13-0 Ohio State team, 14-0 LSU team in the Superdome? Come on. I know that their conference [the ACC] hasn’t been as demanding as others in history for sure, but that’s just a ridiculous amount of postseason excellence, and it would put them right with anything else. You’re just not supposed to be able to do that anymore.
“To me, that’s what they’re playing for. 15-0 is astounding. You go back to back and the teams they’ve had to beat to keep that streak alive, for me it’s just crazy. I don’t know how many times it’ll be duplicated in the history of the sport. And they’ve got Trevor another year, by the way, so they can still build on that.’’
Herbstreit agreed with his partner’s assessment, then almost casually offered a prediction.
“LSU could win and wrap up just an incredible season that we’ll be talking about for decades,’’ he said, “or on the other hand Clemson could win and we’ll be talking about not just an incredible run this year but we’ll be talking about three out of four. I think the winning streak continues, goes into the 2020 season.’’