Gene Sapakoff is a columnist and College Sports Editor at The Post and Courier with focus mostly on Clemson, South Carolina, SEC and ACC athletics. But also golf, the Charleston RiverDogs, Atlanta Braves, Carolina Panthers. And road food.

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Clemson's Travis Etienne loses his helmet during Clemson's loss to LSU in the College Football Playoff national championship game at the Superdome in New Orleans on Jan. 13. Clemson lost, 42-25, but a spring comparison with LSU going into the 2020 season favors the Tigers in orange. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

I just checked: A few partying LSU football fans still haven’t checked out of their French Quarter hotels yet.

Meanwhile, Clemson this week officially began preparing for its annual College Football Playoff run as spring practice opened inside the Tigers’ indoor facility with Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” blaring from loudspeakers.

Thin chance, by the way, that LSU returns to the playoff to defend its national title.

That Clemson is likely to get back into the playoff for a sixth straight season offers a stark contrast. Not just between the two Tigers, but between Dabo Swinney’s program and the rest of college football.

Most of the best things about LSU’s glorious 2019 title dash are gone.

Clemson remains beastly, locked in as a preseason No. 1 or No. 2 — and not just because of that soft ACC schedule.

The overall muscle was perhaps best summarized in Swinney’s assessment of his offensive line as spring practice opened. Four starters are gone. Redshirt sophomore Jordan McFadden takes over for steady Tremayne Anchrum at right tackle.

“He’s going to be as good as we’ve had here,” Swinney said and kept repeating.

Swinney dubbed the left side of the line “the state of Ohio.” That’s left tackle Jackson Carman from Fairfield and left guard Matt Bockhorst from Cincinnati.

And so on.

Not taking anything away from the 2019 version of LSU. Ed Orgeron’s Bayou Bengals clearly were the best team in college football last season and proved it one last time with a 42-25 victory over Clemson in the national title game at the Superdome.

They were bold, balanced and fun to watch.

But look what success cost Baton Rouge, and what Clemson has coming back:

No. 1 overall pick QBs

Joe Burrow, after throwing 60 touchdown passes and smoking a victory cigar as an LSU senior, is projected as the first overall pick in the NFL draft. New starter Myles Brennan has a season opener against the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners to get ready for a huge Week 2 clash with Texas.

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is back for a junior year probably capped with his selection as the first pick in the 2021 NFL draft. His unprecedented rash of unforced overthrows against LSU gives Lawrence what he calls “an extra edge” going into 2020.

Similarly, there was more self-scouting urgency for Clemson’s coaching staff over the last six weeks coming off a lopsided loss than last year when the Tigers had just won their second national title in three seasons.

Freshman D.J. Uiagalelei is right behind Lawrence, soaking up knowledge and preparing for his first start: the 2021 season opener against Georgia in Charlotte.

Star play-caller

New Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, coincidentally a noted Swinney fan, hired Joe Brady away from LSU as offensive coordinator. The 30-year-old spent one season in Baton Rouge changing the culture.

Brady is just four years removed from a graduate assistant job at Penn State but on his way to becoming an NFL head coach soon.

Clemson still has James Island High School grad Tony Elliott. He has been calling plays for five seasons, all of which have ended with Clemson in the playoff.

In any Elliott-for-Brady trade at this point in their careers, the Brady side would have to throw in some cash, fashionable sweatshirts and future considerations.

This is not to minimize Clemson’s loss of co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, now the head coach at South Florida.

And for LSU, the breakthrough wasn’t just Orgereon hiring Brady but his willingness to finally let someone like Brady have the keys to the offense. Snagging veteran NFL coach Scott Linehan as passing game coordinator looks like a very nice hire.

More Etienne 

The most valuable player from Louisiana on either team is Clemson running back Travis Etienne of Jennings, La.

The two-time ACC Player of the Year stunned the college football world in January by announcing a return for his senior season.  

Smart defensive coordinator

Still in: Clemson’s veteran guru Brent Venables, one of the most valuable assistant coaches in all college sports. And his son, sophomore linebacker Jake Venables. And his other son, freshman safety Tyler Venables.

Out: LSU’s Dave Aranda, gone to Waco to replace Rhule as Baylor head coach.

Orgeron replaced Aranda with Bo Pelini. He is best known in Palmetto State football circles as the goofy former Nebraska head coach who insisted after the Cornhuskers’ 30-13 loss to Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2, 2012, that the better team didn’t win.

As for players on defense, Swinney thinks it’s a “night and day” difference between Clemson’s projected 2020 defensive line and the guys thrust into starting spots to replace departed NFL first-round picks Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence a year ago.

The revamped secondary?

“As talented a group as we’ve had,” Swinney said.

Which is what he said at this time last year.

And might say again at this time next year.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff