Follow college football long enough, and you notice the same themes start to emerge year-in and year-out.
Alabama, as you may have heard, is really good. Rutgers, as you may have heard, really isn’t. And Tennessee? Well, they’re not only going to lose games but do so in the most crippling, devastating way possible. Sorry Vols fans, those are just the rules.
As for LSU?
Well, they will roll out a conveyor belt of elite defenses, filled with future NFL talent like Devin White and Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson and Greedy Williams… and unfortunately, none of it will matter. That’s because for every elite defense the Tigers have had through the years, LSU has also had an equally inept offense to go with it. One that struggles to move the ball, score points, or, heck, even look like something that belongs on the football field in 2019.
It also has led to one question for the near-decade since LSU was last a true title threat: What would happen if you took all that talent on LSU defense, and added a competent, modern, offensive attack to go with it?
What would the ceiling of that LSU team be?
On Saturday, we may have finally gotten that answer.
In a 45-38 shootout win over Texas, LSU’s offense was everything every fan has hoped and prayed for a decade that it would become. They were fast, aggressive, decisive, explosive. And on the road, in a big game against a ranked opponent, they were one score better.
That’s right, we have officially entered a new era in Tigers football. LSU has themselves an elite offense. And for the first time in the College Football Playoff era, they might have a team capable of competing for a national championship.
Understand, LSU has won big games in recent years (heck, they won 10 games a season ago), but it’s been a long time since they won a game that looked like that. This wasn’t some defensive bloodbath that came down to field position, field goal kicking, and which team’s punter had the better day. Instead, against one those fancy, newfangled Big 12 offenses that everyone loves to talk about, LSU went pass for pass, play for play, deep shot for deep shot – and were better.
That’s something that could have and would have never happened for most of the last decade. On Saturday it was the new reality of LSU football.
In the bigger picture, the marquee story coming out of Saturday night was, of course, Joe Burrow. A quarterback once discarded by Ohio State, Burrow found a new home in Baton Rouge last year, and new life in this new offense under Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady in 2019. Burrow finished Saturday night completing 31 of 39 passes for 471 yards and four touchdowns in the victory.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Legend pic.twitter.com/Y0p4pJsghr— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) September 8, 2019
On the road against a top-10 team, an LSU quarterback threw for nearly 500 yards and four touchdowns, in a victory where the Tigers scored almost 50 points and needed every last one of them. Just reading that last sentence feels weird. Like seeing Nick Saban break down in tears in a postgame press conference or Lincoln Riley choose to take the air out of the ball late in a game, it’s just something you never thought you’d see. It’s something that’s going to take some getting used to.
But in the case of LSU and Burrow that’s the new reality.
More importantly, though, this offense has given life to a bigger question, one that feels fair to ask just two games into the season: After playing for the 2011 title game and then descending on a near-decade of “meh” since (the Tigers hadn’t won 10 games since 2013 prior to last season), is LSU finally a team that can play themselves into the College Football Playoff conversation?
It seems so.
The Tigers finally have a formidable offense to match that defense, and also have a big road win which should carry weight all season long. They also – at least by LSU standards – have a very manageable schedule ahead. Over the next six games, LSU will play just two on the road: at Vanderbilt and at Mississippi State, two games that look like wins on paper. The Tigers do have Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M as well, but all three of those games are at home.
That also means that, like so many other years, the fate of the SEC West and a likely College Football Playoff berth (or who knows, maybe two?) could come down to that early-November matchup with Alabama.
And while I’m certainly not calling for a win here on September 9 (especially since the game is on the road for LSU), if there ever was a season for LSU to catch the Tide, isn’t this shaping up like it might be it? The Tide once again look dominant, but certainly aren’t without their holes. The offensive line hasn’t been great early, and the defense is still figuring out life without their physical and emotional leader, Dylan Moses. You’d think Alabama will have things buttoned up by then, but you just never know.
It’s also worth noting that even if LSU were to lose that game, Alabama and Georgia have set the precedent in recent years that you don’t necessarily need to win the SEC to be in the playoff conversation. It’s obviously waaaaaaaay too early to have a discussion on what would have to happen for LSU to be in the playoff picture if they lost to Alabama, but assuming they win every other game, a resume that includes wins at Texas, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M (all preseason top-20 teams) seems like a good place to start.
Ultimately, however, that’s for down the road, and it will all sort itself out over the next few months.
For right now, all that matters is that LSU has a new offense.
And they’ve arrived as a team that needs to be reckoned with at the top of college football.