The problem with greatness is that we don’t always appreciate it fully until it’s too late. It’s too easy to take excellence for granted without the benefit of hindsight.
When LSU was stream-rolling its way to last week’s national championship, the eye-popping numbers and performances became almost mundane. They shouldn’t have.
Now that the Tigers’ historic run is fully behind us, let’s appreciate it for what it was. LSU’s offense was, at minimum, the best of my lifetime, if not in college football history.
Start with quarterback Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner and presumptive No. 1 overall pick in April’s NFL draft.
He broke Division I-A single-season records in passing touchdowns (60) and total touchdowns (65). He’s the first player ever to amass more than 6,000 total yards of offense. His single-season efficiency (202) was the best in college football history, and his completion percentage (76.3) finished four-tenths of a point behind Texas’ Colt McCoy for the best ever, too.
Burrow starred on the biggest stages. From the SEC championship rout of Georgia through the national championship win over Clemson, Burrow accounted for 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His 463 passing yards against the Tigers set a title game record, topping the 420 Clemson’s Deshaun Watson hung on Alabama at Raymond James Stadium.
We can quibble over whether Burrow’s season is more impressive than the one Cam Newton compiled in 2010 when he carried a much less talented Auburn team to the national title. But if Burrow didn’t have the best year by a quarterback in at least the last quarter-century, he’s not far off.
The supporting cast of skill players around Burrow was remarkable, resulting in the first team in major college football history to produce a 5,000-yard passer (Burrow), a 1,000-yard rusher (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson).
Chase won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver but didn’t even lead his own team in catches; Jefferson did with 111 (tied for most in the country). LSU’s No. 3 receiver, Terrance Marshall, finished tied for seventh nationally with 13 touchdown catches, and title game X factor Thaddeus Moss had the best season ever by an LSU tight end (47 catches, 570 yards).
The numbers keep going. No Power Five team since 2013 averaged more points per game than LSU (48.4). That gaudy stat — and all of the others — looks even more impressive considering the competition LSU faced.
The Tigers went up against five teams that finished in the top seven nationally in defense, according to SP+ analytics: No. 1 Georgia, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 Auburn and No. 7 Florida. Those teams collectively gave up 15.9 points per game; LSU averaged 38 against them.
Maybe we do need some extra time to get an accurate feel of how the playing and coaching talent in Baton Rouge compares to some of the other recent great offenses and teams, like 2013 Florida State, Pete Carroll’s USC dynasty and mid-90s Nebraska. The 2001 Miami juggernaut looks more impressive in the rearview mirror thanks in part to those Hurricanes’ 17 future first-round picks.
If LSU’s now-former passing game coordinator Joe Brady helps the Carolina Panthers win a Super Bowl, it’ll make his lone season with the Tigers seem like a launching pad for success. If he flames out and LSU falls apart next year, it will be more like a one-hit wonder.
Although we don’t yet know how history will look back on the LSU offense we just witnessed, it’s clear how those Tigers should be remembered.
As one of the best all time.