NEW ORLEANS — Clemson ran into a better bunch of Tigers on Monday night, LSU’s best-ever team.
It wasn’t about a home-state advantage that had LSU playing in Baton Rouge’s Superdome suburb, either. The Bayou Bengals’ 42-25 victory in the College Football Playoff national championship game featured Joe Burrow and Co. simply outplaying and outsmarting the defending champs.
"Tonight was all about LSU," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "What an unbelievable game."
As Clemson clearly was the top team in college football last year, LSU is a cut above this season.
What tasty storylines.
Burrow (aka Burreaux), the transfer from Ohio State who won a Heisman Trophy, a national title and hearts from Shreveport to Grand Isle.
"What we did tonight cannot be taken away from us," Burrow said. "This is going to be remembered for a long time."
Ed Orgeron, the proud gravelly-voiced Louisianan. His grandparents didn’t speak English. His parents spoke, he says, “French Cajun.”
“Coach O” failed at Ole Miss. He’s king of the Pelican State.
But while LSU’s undefeated steamroller snapped Clemson’s 29-game win streak that started after a 2018 Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama on the same Superdome field, the good times still roll.
Swinney and Co. can’t wait to get back to New Orleans.
That’s right, the Superdome is the site of a College Football Playoff semifinal next year.
If Clemson isn’t No. 1 in preseason polls this summer, it’s probably No. 2 behind Ohio State. Or, if you prefer early Las Vegas predictions, Clemson on Monday night opened at the Caesars Sportsbook as a 2-1 favorite to make the 2020 playoff. Alabama is 4-1, LSU 9-2 and Ohio State 7-1.
"We're going to have our banquet next weekend," Swinney said. "We'll celebrate this wonderful group of seniors the right way and then we'll get back to work and see if we can get back here."
You never how many shots a sports organization gets at a championship over a short period, but Clemson is built to challenge for a third national title in five years.
And last a while.
Big Easy heartbreak is soothed by a bigger picture.
There were 80 freshmen and sophomores in orange uniforms Monday night.
Buried by Burrow
The nation’s top offense riddled the nation’s top defense.
Burrow started slow but adjusted to defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ different looks, including creative use of safety Tanner Muse as both a cornerback and linebacker.
LSU didn’t pick on Clemson’s weakest pass coverage links, as expected.
Burrow went right after A.J. Terrell. He’s the veteran cornerback that opened the scoring in last year’s national championship game rout of Alabama with an interception return.
LSU play-callers Joe Brady and Steve Ennsmiger adroitly juggled tempo.
Meanwhile, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence didn’t have his fastball.
Clemson failed to press field position advantages.
Heady linebacker James Skalski was ejected for a targeting call in the third quarter.
The next decade starts now.
“My grandmother always told me about the roaring ‘20s,” Swinney said a few times while in New Orleans.
Starting in 2020.
“I think we have a chance to be better next year,” Swinney kept saying. “We’ve had one No. 1 recruiting class in 11 years (with Swinney as head coach) and we just had it.”
Clemson and LSU fans united to cheer President Donald Trump (and offer “U-S-A” chants) before the game, but the fan bases might not get back together for a while.
There was so much more pressure Monday night on LSU, tasked with capping a spectacular season with a gift-wrapped Louisiana game site.
It was Burrow’s final game.
Brady, the hotshot passing game coordinator, might bolt for an NFL job, maybe the Carolina Panthers.
Next year, it’s Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M taking aim and knocking LSU down a peg, and that’s just half the SEC West posse.
Falling to 69-5
Clemson, and no doubt partly because of the softer ACC path, has more breathing room.
Not just next year, but into the roaring ‘20s.
A rare loss dropped these Tigers to 69-5 over five seasons, with three of those losses coming in national championship games (and upsets by Pittsburgh and Syracuse).
Asked Sunday to describe his program’s progress over the last decade, Swinney was quick to respond.
“Transformative,” he said. “Is that a word?”
The big-picture Clemson perspective relative to the LSU game is perhaps best captured in the words of Hunter Renfrow, asked by Swinney to speak to the team after a campus practice before the Tigers left for New Orleans.
“Have fun,” Renfrow said.
Blank stares from young players begged for an NFL wide receiver with two national championship rings to say a bit more.
“Look at it this way: You have mat drills in two weeks,” Renfrow added, spinning ahead to workouts designed to prepare for next season.
Such is life inside the roaring ‘20s, even when the start of the decade isn’t that much fun against a better Tigers team.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff