LSU vs. Clemson: Chick-fil-A Bowl Breakdown
No. 9 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2)
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Because if the BCS were more of an open-market system -- as it will be following the 2014 season -- these two would be playing in a bigger-money bowl. The Cotton Bowl (Texas A&M-Oklahoma) and this game are the two best matchups outside the BCS, and this one has the potential to be the most fun. Clemson's offense won't hang its usual one million points on LSU's excellent defense, but Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd -- the reigning ACC player of the year -- has the pocket smarts and mobility to keep LSU's horde of swamp monsters at bay long enough to throw to Sammy Watkins and Nuke Hopkins. Meanwhile, Clemson's defense is shaky enough to turn LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger into Dan Marino for a night. Besides, Mettenberger is better than his reputation indicates. His attempts-to-interceptions ratio of 55-to-1 is the best in LSU history for any quarterback with more than 300 attempts.
• Keep an eye on: Clemson receiver Watkins. As a freshman in 2011, Watkins was one of the nation's most electrifying players, averaging 176.5 all-purpose yards a game and 15.6 yards a touch. In 2012, Watkins was suspended for the first two games as punishment for a drug-related arrest. He missed another game in late September because of a virus that caused him to lose 10 pounds. Because of the missed time and the accelerated rhythm of the season, Watkins never really found his groove in Clemson's offense. With more than a month between the season finale against South Carolina and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Watkins has had time to readjust. "Everyone should see that old Sammy," Watkins told The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., last week.
• Did you know: LSU is 9-1 in games played in the Georgia Dome. The Tigers are 4-0 in the Peach/Chick-fil-A Bowl, 1-0 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic and 4-1 in the SEC Championship Game. The only team to beat LSU in the Georgia Dome was Georgia in the 2005 SEC title game.
• Final analysis: Clemson's two losses have come to an SEC team (South Carolina) and an ACC team built like an SEC team (Florida State). Unfortunately for Clemson, LSU is a better version of those teams with the same concept. LSU defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo should offer flashbacks to Florida State's Bjoern Werner and South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. Meanwhile, LSU has a stable of tailbacks (Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford) that should allow the Bayou Bengals to control the clock as well as South Carolina did during the Gamecocks' 27-17 win against Clemson on Nov. 24. In that game, South Carolina hogged the ball for 39 minutes and 58 seconds. To keep Clemson's offense off the field, LSU's attack may be equally greedy.
• The pick: LSU 34, Clemson 24