Still, its fans have plenty of reason for optimism.
Archie Manning has seen some compelling L.S.U. offenses in his almost half-century of living in south Louisiana. But on the phone last week, he could not stop marveling over the one that L.S.U. assembled for this season.
“They mix it up: They mix up formations, they mix up personnel, they run it good enough to keep the defense honest,” said Manning, a quarterback for Mississippi who was the No. 2 pick of the 1971 N.F.L. draft. “They’ve got really good looking wide receivers. They’re not 5-11, 180; they’re 6-3, 215.”
Let’s consider some of its resources:
Joe Burrow. You’ve probably heard of the L.S.U. quarterback. If you haven’t, he won the Heisman Trophy and has thrown 55 touchdown passes — including seven during the first half of a semifinal game against No. 4 Oklahoma. He is widely expected to be the first pick of this year’s N.F.L. draft.
If Burrow’s accuracy is as pinpoint as usual, expect to hear the names Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. Although 20 L.S.U. players have logged receiving yards this season, Jefferson and Chase have 2,993 of them — more than half the team’s total.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a running back who did not see much action in the semifinal game because of injury, but he has run for more than 1,300 yards this season. His yards per carry statistic is similarly elite: He gains an average of 6.6 yards, putting him in the top 20 in the country.
And all of that with an offensive line that started the season facing plenty of skepticism.
Clemson’s first drive started ugly, abruptly improved and then eroded.
The A.C.C. champion opened with a trick play that turned into a loss. But then, as L.S.U. jumped offside, quarterback Trevor Lawrence connected with Justyn Ross for a 35-yard gain. Two more completions — one for 19 yards, another for 3 — followed.
But on third down, L.S.U. pressured Lawrence, sacking him for a loss of 10 yards. Mired on the L.S.U. 40, Clemson had no real choice but to punt.
So both teams can have some reasons for confidence — and fear — after a single Clemson possession.
Trevor Lawrence is already a champion, but wasn’t a Heisman finalist this season.
Despite plenty of preseason forecasts, Trevor Lawrence, Clemson’s quarterback, did not wind up as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Still, Lawrence led one of the most potent offenses in the country.
“When they won the national championship with Deshaun Watson, their skill was good, and at that point, their offensive line was solid,” said Dave Clawson, the coach at Wake Forest, which is in the same division as Clemson. “But now they have the best offensive line in the A.C.C. You have the best quarterback, you have the best tailback, you have five to six receivers who would start anywhere in the country.”
That range, Clawson said, made Clemson difficult to defend, with big plays possible all over the field. No defense, he suggested, can afford to try to shut down one player and hope no one else from Clemson’s offense steps in.