In recent years, the college football landscape notably has been altered, with a wave of high-profile quarterbacks transferring to new schools. And this weekend’s College Football Playoff semifinals showcases that trend.
In Saturday’s semifinals, No. 1 LSU (13-0) will face No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) at 4 p.m. ET in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, while No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) will take on No. 3 Clemson (13-0) at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona at 8 p.m. ET. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN.
In addition to three undefeated teams in this year’s semifinals, three of the four starting quarterbacks — LSU’s Joe Burrow, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts — are playing for their second school in their college careers. Burrow went on to win the Heisman Trophy, with Hurts finishing second and Fields in third.
“I think that’s kind of been the story of (the) college football season with three of the Heisman finalists being transfers and having long roads and battling through adversity,” Burrow said Tuesday.
When Hurts was asked to compare his experience to Burrow’s, he replied, “To each their own, and everybody has a bit of uniqueness in their own journey. It’s hard to compare certain things, but I’m happy he’s doing well and that we are.”
Oklahoma is in the playoff for the third consecutive year and the fourth time in five seasons, while it’s LSU’s first time in the College Football Playoff. This will be the third meeting between the two teams. The last time the Sooners and Tigers played each other was in January 2004 in the BCS National Championship Game, when LSU defeated Oklahoma 21-14.
LSU enters this game as a solid favorite, currently riding a 14-game win streak, led by Burrow.
Burrow graduated in three years from Ohio State. But he didn’t get a lot of playing time when he was with the Buckeyes, so he transferred to LSU in 2018. He has flourished since, especially this season.
Burrow’s completion percentage is at 77.9 in 2019. That’s on pace to break the NCAA record set by Texas quarterback Colt McCoy (76.7) in 2008. He also leads the nation in passing touchdowns, with 48.
“I want to win a national title,” Burrow said. “That’s always been my drive since I was a sophomore in high school. I never dreamed of — when I envisioned myself growing up, being a football player, it wasn’t in the NFL. It was playing on January 13 in a dome somewhere for the national title.”
The national championship game is January 13 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, Hurts becomes the first quarterback to start a College Football Playoff game with two different schools.
Hurts, who spent the previous three seasons at Alabama before transferring to Oklahoma, has now reached the College Football Playoff for a fourth time. When he was with the Crimson Tide, Hurts played in six College Football Playoff games, starting four, and won a national title in the 2017 season.
“My motivation is about to do something special with these guys and take advantage of this great opportunity that we have together,” Hurts said Tuesday.
Oklahoma suspends 3, LSU’s Edwards-Helaire questionable
But Oklahoma’s task in taking down LSU likely has gotten more difficult.
Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley confirmed that wide receiver Trejan Bridges, defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson have been suspended for the Peach Bowl. The loss of Perkins is particularly significant, as he leads the Sooners in sacks with six and is second on the team with 13.5 tackles for loss.
Riley would not say why they would not play, and he did not answer if they would be available if Oklahoma should reach the national championship game.
“I don’t want to air guys’ dirty laundry out,” he said Monday to reporters. He later added: “They’re suspended right now. That’s where I’m leaving it.”
As for LSU, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is dealing with a hamstring injury and is questionable for the Tigers this week. Head coach Ed Orgeron told reporters Monday that Edwards-Helaire, the team’s leading rusher, is no longer using a scooter and is off crutches.
“It’s going to be a day-by-day deal,” Orgeron said. “But I promise you this, a little bit better than what I thought last week. He has a chance to play. I don’t know if he’s going to play. It will be day by day.”
Growing up 20 miles apart, now facing each other
In the Fiesta Bowl, Clemson is narrowly favored over Ohio State.
This marks the fifth consecutive appearance in the playoff for Clemson, the defending national champion. It’s Ohio State’s third playoff appearance. The Buckeyes, as the No. 4 seed, won the inaugural playoff in the 2014-2015 season.
This will be the fourth matchup between Clemson and Ohio State, all coming in bowl games. Clemson has won all three of the previous meetings, including a 31-0 blowout of the Buckeyes in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl semifinal.
And there’s this storyline: The quarterbacks for these teams grew up roughly 20 miles from each other in Georgia.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is from Cartersville, while Fields’ home town is Kennesaw. When they were in high school, they were considered the top two quarterback recruits in the nation for the class of 2018. They share the same private quarterback coach in Ron Veal.
“We’d talk every now and then,” Lawrence said of Fields earlier this month, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’d see him at a bunch of camps. We’d work out together a few times. We had a good relationship. We weren’t super, super close, but he was only 30 minutes down the road. We worked out a few times, I’d see him over the summer.”
On the surface, they seem to have more in common than just the region where they lived.
“Trevor is not a loud guy, and neither am I,” Fields said Tuesday. “Kind of our personalities are the same in terms of our leadership and in terms of just kind of going about our business. I think we’re about all business on the field really. I think we do have similarities in that.”
What did differ, though, were their freshman experiences on the field in 2018.
Last year, as a true freshman, Lawrence started the season as Clemson’s backup quarterback. But Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made him the starter in the team’s fifth game of the season and the Tigers went on to win the national title.
“I was happy for him,” Fields said. “I think he deserved it. I know how hard he works. Seeing him do that out there was great to see. Just really the kind of guy that he is. I don’t think many people know he’s a great guy. He’s humble. I definitely like that about him. Seeing that success that he had last year was just great to see.”
Fields started his collegiate career at Georgia, sitting behind Bulldogs starter Jake Fromm in the 2018. After seeing little time on the field, Fields transferred to Ohio State in the offseason.
“I think I’ve matured mostly as a person (since leaving Georgia),” Fields said. “I’m definitely glad I went through it.”
Lawrence has kept up with Fields from a distance.
“The year he’s had has been awesome to see,” Lawrence said, according to the AJC. “Obviously, him being from Georgia and us being in the same class, his journey to get there has been cool to see. I get to watch him, they play at noon a lot, so we’ll be in the hotel, put the game on. We’ll kind of bounce around but I’ve watched him a good bit.”
As for facing each other in this game?
“For us, it’s not surprising,” Fields said. “We’ve been growing up together a lot. We know how talented we both are. I don’t think it’s surprising for us.”