NEW ORLEANS — As the brassy anticipation of a championship night swells in and around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome early Monday evening, with the teams from LSU and Clemson preparing to take the field, Joe Burrow plans to follow the routine that has led to a Heisman Trophy and a potential LSU national championship.
“Before every game, I kind of close my eyes for the 15 minutes before we go out and just kind of take a nap a little bit just to calm myself down,” he said. “It’s kind of a nap. I wouldn’t say I’m fully conscious. I put the towel around my neck, I close my eyes and whatever happens happens.”
The College Football Playoff National Championship will end with a guaranteed Tiger coronation and an unforgettable 15-0 season.
Burrow’s Fighting Tigers will create Mardi Gras in January and achieve forever status in the Bayou by winning the school’s fourth national championship.
Or Trevor Lawrence’s Clemson Tigers will launch a dynasty debate with a third national title in four seasons and fourth overall with a 30th straight win, tying the fifth-longest major-college streak in the modern history of the game.
“Three national championships looks a lot better than two,” said Lawrence, who last year became the first true freshman starter to lead a major-college team to a title since Jamelle Holieway of Oklahoma in 1985.
The intense historic and personal stakes were captured by LSU coach Ed Orgeron, a child of Larose, Louisiana, a defensive lineman at Northwestern (La.) State, and a coaching lifer who never allowed himself to think about doing anything else. Orgeron earned championship rings as an assistant coach at the University of Miami in 1989 and 1991. Those achievements were professionally rewarding. This one?
“Everything,” Orgeron said. “Everything. Everything that we’ve done up until now is good, but it’s not great. We want to be great.”
Burrow led the nation this season in touchdown passes (55) and completion percentage (.776) and was second in total offense (394.2 yards per game) and passing yards (5,208). He has inspired all those purple and gold signs that read “GEAUX JEAUX.”
LSU has trailed five times this season, never by more than a touchdown. In the 63-28 semifinal victory over Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl, Burrow completed 29 of 39 passes for 493 yards and seven first-half touchdowns.
“I hope we can make ’em punt at least once,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Lawrence completed 67.6% of his passes for 3,431 yards, 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of the Fiesta Bowl semifinal helped Clemson overcome Ohio State’s 16-point first-half lead. Lawrence’s touchdown pass to Travis Etienne with 1:49 to play became the difference in the punishing 29-23 victory.
Lawrence learned last year that managing emotion is an important part of the experience. “I think just not making the moment too big,” he said. “Taking in every moment as well and focusing on the moment and not the magnitude of the moment.”
The personal journeys will create powerful emotions Monday night.
“Playing in Louisiana, for Louisiana,” said LSU junior safety Grant Delpit, who overcame an ankle injury to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.
The LSU roster says he is from Houston. The reality is much more complicated.
Delpit was born here. Less than a month before his seventh birthday, everything changed.
“Katrina hit and we went to Memphis,” Delpit said. “We came back and there was nothing. We ain’t really had flood insurance or anything like that, so it was tough just moving. I had a lot of childhood memories, childhood friends that I don’t talk to anymore just from the move and stuff like that, so it was pretty sad.”
His family moved to Houston and eventually returned when Delpit went off to campus in Baton Rouge. “Seemed like the national championship being in New Orleans, it really came full circle,” he said. “Just trying to make them proud, man.
“That’s all it is. Just trying to do it for Louisiana.”