The 2019 College Football Playoff matchups are set, and we've got an early preview of the dates, TV times, betting lines, most important players and key matchups for each team. Here's what to expect when No. 1 LSU faces No. 4 Oklahoma in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and No. 2 Ohio State takes on No. 3 Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl to determine who will advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans on Jan. 13.
Watch live as Jason Fitz, Mike Golic Jr. and others get you ready for the College Football Playoff semifinals.
No. 1 LSU Tigers vs. No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners
When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019 (4 p.m. ET)
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
How to watch: ESPN & ESPN App
Opening line from Caesars Sportsbook: LSU -10
Power up that scoreboard because it's gonna be lit up early and often, as two of the nation's best offenses will go toe-to-toe in Atlanta.
The Sooners have been down this road before. Coach Lincoln Riley has had them running at peak performance for the past three years behind Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. LSU is new to this scoring party, with offensive coaches Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady opening up the unit and bringing a powerful, multifaceted attack.
The difference this year for Oklahoma? The defense is much better than it was a year ago, when it was one of the worst in the Big 12 conference. LSU, on the other hand, gives up more yards and points now than defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is accustomed to, but it hasn't been much of an issue since the Tigers have become so proficient offensively.
Key player for LSU: Burrow, the likely Heisman Trophy winner, has been the linchpin to LSU unlocking the explosive offensive attack Ensminger and Brady cooked up. He has failed to reach 300 passing yards only twice this season and has set SEC records. He is supported by great receivers, led by Chase, a Biletnikoff finalist, and a handy running game spearheaded by Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But Burrow, who also is a handy runner, is what Brady calls "an NFL quarterback."
Key player for Oklahoma: Lamb is the Sooners' best player, but Hurts is the most important because his ball security will go a long way in deciding how this goes for Oklahoma. He turned the ball over five times in two games against Baylor, the best defense he has faced this season. Oklahoma was able to overcome those miscues to pull out wins in both meetings, but LSU's offense is much more explosive and won't be as forgiving if the Tigers get extra possessions. If Hurts does take care of the ball, he gives the Sooners a chance every time out (he has 51 touchdowns and more than 4,900 offensive yards in his collegiate career).
Matchup to watch: LSU's front seven has had, shall we say, some issues with mobile quarterbacks this season. Mississippi State's Garrett Shrader and Texas' Sam Ehlinger each ran for 60 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers, and Ole Miss' John Rhys Plumlee had a whopping 212 yards and four scores. So what is someone like Hurts, who can run with speed and power and has amassed 1,217 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns this season, going to do? Don't be surprised if part of the answer from Aranda is playing safety Grant Delpit more in the box and using his speed to keep Hurts from breaking containment.
X factor: Alex Grinch has been a difference-maker in his first season as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator, helping a previously inept unit improve into, at times, something better than respectable. So what will he have in store against LSU? How will he use his freakishly athletic linebacker, Kenneth Murray, to pressure Burrow while simultaneously helping limit Edwards-Helaire? How much havoc will Neville Gallimore wreak? Can Grinch mask an up-and-down secondary against a group of receivers in Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall Jr. that's as good as any in the country? If Grinch can at least slow down this Tigers offense, he'll be a hero. If he can't, it's hard to imagine the Sooners keeping pace. -- Sam Khan Jr. and Alex Scarborough
No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 3 Clemson Tigers
Ohio State has chance for redemption vs. Clemson
Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, Joey Galloway and David Pollack preview the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson, a rematch of a 2016 CFP semifinal matchup.
When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019 (8 p.m. ET)
Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
How to watch: ESPN & ESPN App
Opening line from Caesars Sportsbook: Clemson -2
Quarterbacks Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence were the No. 1 and 2 overall recruits in the 2018 class. Both are from Georgia. There were debates about which was the better prospect and both have already shown why they were so highly coveted. Now, we get to see them head-to-head in this matchup.
Lawrence has more experience in the playoff, leading Clemson to a national championship last season, while Fields has thrown 40 touchdowns and only one interception this season. Both offenses rank in the top five in yards per game, and Ohio State has put up the most offensive points per game this season (48) of any FBS team, although Clemson is not far behind at No. 3 (averaging 44.9 points).
Those two units, however, will both have a challenge on their hands with the opposing defenses. These are the top two teams in the country in yards and pass yards allowed per game, with Clemson at No. 1 and Ohio State at 2 in both categories. On top of that, both defenses are in the top five for offensive touchdowns allowed. Fields and Lawrence are going to be challenged in a way they haven't been so far this season.
Key player for Ohio State: The easy answer is Fields, but the offense has relied on running back J.K. Dobbins. In key games this season against Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan, Dobbins ran for a combined 531 yards and eight touchdowns.
Key player for Clemson: LB Isaiah Simmons is Clemson's do-it-all defender and a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. He can work off the edge as a pass-rusher, spy mobile QBs, tail a running back sideline to sideline and match up with a speedy slot receiver. He's been the fulcrum for coordinator Brent Venables' defensive scheme this year, as Clemson has once again been one of the top defenses in the nation.
Matchup to watch: There are matchups of elite players all over the field, including Chase Young versus Ohio native Jackson Carman in the trenches, as well as the dueling QBs, who both worked with the same QB coach growing up.
But the one that stands out is in the secondary, where Clemson's pair of all-world receivers will face their toughest test to date in Ohio State's Jeffrey Okudah. Tee Higgins has been a monster this season, highlighted by his three-TD performance in the ACC championship game. Justyn Ross was the key to Clemson's playoff run a year ago, racking up 301 yards and three TDs against Notre Dame and Alabama. Still, few corners in the country have the size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and athleticism to match up the way Okudah does. He has allowed just one TD all season, according to ESPN Stats & Info data, and opposing QBs are completing well below 50 percent of their passes thrown his way. Clemson will try to find ways to get a matchup advantage with its pair of big corners, but Okudah makes that tougher. Fellow corner Damon Arnette has been solid all season, as well.
X factor: Experience. Ohio State has been exceptional this season under first-year coach Ryan Day and first-year starting QB Fields, but the postseason is a different beast. Whereas Urban Meyer was a playoff veteran, this year's crop at Ohio State will be largely doing this for the first time. Not so on the other side, where Clemson is in the playoff for the fifth straight year. The majority of the key figures -- Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Higgins, Ross, Simmons and, of course, Swinney -- have all beaten a well-worn path through the postseason. Ohio State will also have the looming specter of what happened the last time these two teams faced each other in a playoff game in Arizona, a 31-0 Clemson win back in 2016. Ohio State might be better off with a team full of players who weren't around for that heartache. -- Tom VanHaaren and David M. Hale