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Defending champs to spoil LSU’s dream season

WHEELING — The Tigers will lay claim to college football’s national championship Monday night in New Orleans.

That is a no-brainer. The $64,000 question, however, is what breed of Tiger – be it LSU or Clemson.

LSU gained the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, proceeding to demolish Oklahoma in their semi-final game. The No. 3 seed and defending champion Clemson, meanwhile, slipped past Ohio State in a much-debated battle of heavyweights in the other semi.

This has been the ultimate dream season for LSU. Coach Ed Orgeron’s team has compiled its 14-0 mark on the strength of a high-octane offense and an improving defense.

Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow has been the LSU engine. The Athens, Ohio native has scripted maybe the best season ever by a collegiate gridder.

Burrow won the coveted Heisman Trophy by a landslide, and deservedly so. His numbers are off-the-charts crazy. The 6-4, 216-pounder has completed 78 percent of his passes (371-of-478) for 5,208 yards and 55 TDs. He was picked just six times.

Clemson, however, counters with its own quarterbacking star. Trevor Lawrence is a 6-6 sophomore who has never lost a game in college (25-0), while also starring in the Tigers’ blowout win over Alabama in last year’s national championship contest.

Lawrence started this year somewhat slowly but has finished with a rush. For the season, he has completed 67 percent of his throws (250-of-370) for 3,431 yards and 36 TDs. He has been intercepted just eight times.

Burrow will likely be the top pick in the NFL Draft this April by the Cincinnati Bengals. Lawrence will be in line for that same honor next year, fortunately, for him, with a different team.

Clemson enters the game on a 29-game winning streak. Should the South Carolina-based Tigers prevail Monday it would be their third national crown in four years. It would crown Clemson the new Alabama – kings of college football.

LSU enters the game as a slight favorite, somewhere around five points. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney loves the role of underdog.

The Bayou Bengals last won the national title in 2007. They were coached by Les Miles.

The LSU offense has been a scoring machine. Orgeron’s charges have topped 60 points on three occasions, 50 in three more games and 40 points in four more games.

The Burrow-led attack has been slowed just once. LSU squeaked by Auburn, 23-20, in Baton Rouge.

The game will obviously be a high-scoring affair. The outcome will be decided by what defense can make the most stops or create turnovers.

That being the case, Clemson has a decided advantage.

Brent Venables is the Clemson defensive coordinator. He is regarded by those in the know as one of the best, if not the best, in that capacity.

I believe Clemson beat the best team in the country when it edged Ohio State in the semifinals.

I am rooting for Burrow to put the icing on one of the sweetest college seasons ever. But champions die hard, so I expect another Clemson title, 40-37.

BUBBA’S BITS

TOM BRADY is now an unrestricted free agent. Much speculation abounds on where the aging New England QB icon will be playing next season, if anywhere. Brady is the unquestioned GOAT. However, after the season he just experienced, I believe the Patriots will be the only team that has interest in signing him. The soon-to-be 43-year-old has skills that have greatly diminished after 20 years in the NFL. With that, the Patriots’ dynasty ended with the loss to Tennessee.

THE DALLAS Cowboys made a great hire in tabbing Mike McCarthy as their new head coach.

THE ATHENS Ohio Food Pantry has now received more than $500,000 in donations, sparked by Burrow’s riveting Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, spotlighting poverty in Southeastern Ohio.

OVAC TITLE season unfolds this week. The next five weekends will feature conference championship events, starting with the Ron Mauck mat championships this Thursday through Saturday. The swimming championships are also on tap for this coming weekend. The ensuing four weeks will crown champions in bowling (Jan. 25), cheering (Feb. 1) and girls’ basketball (Feb. 8) and will be capped by boys’ basketball (Feb. 15).

MISSY TIBER has the University of North Alabama’s women’s basketball team off to an 11-3 start. The Lions are 2-0 in Atlantic Sun Conference play. Tiber is a former Bellaire High and West Liberty hoop standout.

THE WESTERN Carolina University men’s basketball team is enjoying a sparkling season under the direction of Wheeling Central grad Mark Prosser. The Catamounts are 10-3. Prosser is the son of former Wheeling Central, Xavier and Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser.

THE CLEVELAND Browns are taking their good old time filling their head coaching vacancy. Maybe that means they finally get it right for once. I still like New England offensive coordinator and Northeast Ohio native Josh McDaniels for the job.

MY PRAYERS and condolences go out to the family of Nate Hendershot who died this past week. He was just 32 years of age. The St. Clairsville native was a standout football player and track athlete at St. John Central while also being a class act.

KUDOS GO out to Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. The former Weirton Madonna athletic great guided her Boston College women’s hoop team to a landmark 75-65 upset of Notre Dame Thursday in South Bend. The Eagles are now 9-6 and host Virginia today. McNamee took over a down-trodden B.C. program last year.

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