Greatest of all time? LSU’s national championship win puts it in college football’s best-ever conversation

NEW ORLEANS — Best team. Best season. Best player. And for this season, perhaps even the best coach. Of all time.

Start the debate because it is a worthy one after No. 1 LSU’s 42-25 dismantling of No. 3 Clemson in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship.

Sometimes these national championship summaries aren’t that hard to summarize. LSU wrapped up the 150th season of college football with a performance for the ages achieved by a forever team.  

The only quibbling now is how to measure the greatness of LSU after the home team satisfied its home crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 70 miles from its home campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“When we left the hotel, I’d never seen a crowd like that,” said coach Ed Orgeron, not only the man of the moment but now a legend in this state.

The sellout crowd followed the script, outyelling defending champion Clemson and drinking in every last ounce of glory.

A significant argument can be made: This is arguably the greatest season of all time, which naturally puts LSU in the discussion for the greatest team of all time.

Later, after considering what he had accomplished just 38 months after being elevated from interim to head coach amid some controversy, Coach O rightly agreed: “This team is going to be mentioned as one of the greatest in college football.”

Where do you want to start?

Maybe with the fact LSU in 2019 follows Clemson in 2018 becoming the only two teams to win 15 games in a season since the University of Chicago in 1899 (16).

That Chicago beat four high school squads. LSU beat six top-10 teams and the top four teams in the preseason AP Top 25, winning the SEC and outscoring the opposition by a combined 55 points in the postseason to win the program’s fourth national championship.

LSU’s motto: “One team. One heartbeat.” Might as well add: One of the best ever.

Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow capped the greatest season ever by a major-college quarterback with 463 yards passing, accounting for six total touchdowns (five through the air). His 60 passing touchdowns set the college single-season record.

To put in perspective, the Ohio State transfer averaged a touchdown pass for each of LSU’s 60 quarters this season. He averaged four TDs through the air per game.

In the process, Burrow also became the first college quarterback to lead the country in accuracy while throwing for 5,000+ yards and 50+ touchdowns.

The enormity of the moment overwhelmed him.

“Not yet,” Burrow said when asked to summarize the accomplishment. “We’re still celebrating. Give us a couple of days.”

Tiger Nation certainly won’t wait.

Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a Baton Rouge native, certainly wasn’t going to delay. “I might go crowd surfing on Bourbon Street,” he said.

For the first time in 24 years, an SEC team led the nation in scoring. In this offensive age, more lessons were learned. The No. 1 scoring offense, nearly unstoppable all season, beat the No. 1 scoring defense by 17, scoring 35 of the game’s final 43 points.

Monday proved, perhaps for the first time, that you can outscore everybody on your way to a championship. LSU’s 29th-ranked defense was one of the lowest in the BCS era (since 1998) to win a title.

LSU became the second team ever to score 700+ points. No team could stop it. Few could slow it down. Auburn came closest, losing 23-20 on Oct. 26, 2019.

“What we did tonight you can’t take from us,” Burrow said. “I don’t know about forever.”

It may take forever to surpass this season’s dizzying numbers. Consider that Burrow’s 521-yard total in the national championship was the most all time, surpassing Clemson’s Deshaun Watson for tops in the BCS/CFP era. Burrow also threw a title-game record five touchdowns, accounting for a record six overall.

Seventy-one of LSU’s 91 touchdown drives this season took 3 minutes or less. It takes longer than that to stretch in pregame.

“So glad we have Joe Burrow,” LSU All-America safety Grant Delpit said. “So glad I wasn’t playing against him.”

It wasn’t a program that won on Monday night, it was a tsunami.

After Clemson took a 17-7 lead, LSU responded scoring three touchdowns in a span of 9 minutes in the second quarter. Those lightning-fast drives took a combined 5 minutes with 15 plays spanning 232 yards. LSU’s second-quarter offensive blitz included 26 plays that averaged 10+ per play (269 total). At halftime, LSU was on pace for 700 yards. It ended with 628.

The game was decided on several fronts. Burrow. The crowd. Destiny. But it must be said that Clemson’s own QB wunderkind Trevor Lawrence was just off … for the first time in two years, really. During that time, Lawrence had compiled a 25-0 record as a starter. Monday’s loss was his first since high school in 2017.

Clemson’s budding dynasty has been delayed. It lost for the first time in 742 days, ending a 29-game winning streak mostly because one future No. 1 draft choice (Burrow) outdueled another.

“Yeah,” Lawrence said, “it sucks.”

Then there was the ultimate battle between Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and LSU’s dual play callers, Joe Brady and Steve Ensminger.

Venables came out in a three down-lineman look trying to confuse Burrow with many rushers were coming.

“Brent Venables is the best in the country at what he does,” Burrow said. “He was mixing up looks. I honestly couldn’t figure out where they were blitzing from all night.”

Brady/Ensminger countered with spreading out the field with four- and five-wide sets, forcing Clemson to move defenders out of the box. The resulting single coverage revealed a singular truth this season.

LSU has so much receiving talent that someone is always going to be open. That someone Monday was All-America wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who caught nine balls for 221 yards and two touchdowns (dropping a third).

“I got back to the sideline after the second drive and I was like, ‘They really are playing man-to-man with Ja’Marr,'” Burrow said. “So we started going to him heavy.”

There were enough athletic plays to stock an Olympic gymnastics competition. When Clemson WR Tee Higgins wasn’t dragging a left toe to stay in bounds, Chase running away from another helpless Clemson defender. Edwards-Helaire enhanced his rep as Mr. Spin Move.

There wasn’t enough time for fans to look down at their programs much less take a potty break. The teams averaged a play every 24.6 seconds. Believe me, that’s fast.

“As a defensive coach, you want to shut everything down,” LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. “You don’t want to give up a yard. You don’t want to give up a point. You kind of live in frustration. When you have a band of brothers who all want to fight for the same goal … when you do reach for perfection and maybe fall a little bit short [defensively], that’s good too, though.”

By some cosmic happenstance, LSU has played here in New Orleans in all of its four national championship game appearances in that BCS era.

This was the first title win since 2007. Since then, the Tigers have changed coaches and philosophies. Two months ago, they also beat Alabama for the first time in eight seasons, allowing Bayou Bengals everywhere a chance to dream.

Maybe, they thought then, this was the season it would all come together.

“It means the world,” Edwards-Helaire said. “It’s a very cliché answer, and I know everybody says it. … At the beginning the year, everybody says, ‘No way LSU is going to win a national title.’ Having the pieces come together … is sort of amazing.”

Ah, but Coach O became the ultimate symbol for a state and its people. The Cajun native won a national championship slightly more than six years after being passed over the USC job and slightly more than 12 after being fired from his lone full-time head coaching gig at Ole Miss.

Then-LSU athletic director Joe Alleva removed the interim tag from Orgeron in November 2016 when the school couldn’t land the more accomplished Jimbo Fisher or Tom Herman. In his fifth game as coach in 2017, Orgeron and the Tigers lost at home to Troy. Since that moment, they are 32-5.

On Monday, they became legends.

“I thought he should have been the head coach a long time ago at USC,” said Brian Kennedy, a long-time USC booster described by Orgeron as a mentor. “Unfortunately, politics entered the picture.

“I think it’s more important for him to be successful here in Louisiana because it’s his home state.”

That home state commenced a monstrous party Monday night that may have started on Bourbon Street but will likely go on forever in the minds of LSU fans.

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