We’re likely to have a robust debate across the country on the topic of greatest college football teams ever, because naturally there will be lots of partisans at schools like Clemson (their team last year was awfully good), USC (the Reggie Bush-Matt Leinart Trojans in 2004 were certainly tough to beat), Alabama (several Crimson Tide teams could lay claim to the “best ever” title), Miami (particularly the 2001 team), Nebraska (that 1995 team which destroyed Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators in the national championship game has a legitimate argument) and others who would argue for other teams as college football’s all-time kings.
But frankly, none have a better argument than the LSU team which dominated Clemson 42-25 on the way to clinching the second 15-0 record in the history of college football’s top division and winning the fourth national title in the school’s history.
This Tiger team had everything a football fan could want.
Certainly there has never been a quarterback who had as good a season as Joe Burrow had this past year. Burrow threw five touchdown passes against the best statistical defense in all of college football last night, going 31 of 49 for 463 yards on the greatest stage the sport has to offer. The Heisman winner was sacked five times in the game and still ended up with 58 yards on 14 rushes, a 4.1-yard average, and a rushing touchdown.
Clemson, the best defense in college football, hit him with everything they had. Literally. On his six-yard scoring pass to Thad Moss with just 10 seconds left in the first half, Burrow took a crunching hit from linebacker James Skalski which was designed to put him out of the game, and would have done so to a lesser athlete. But Burrow, who suffered some sort of a rib injury on the hit and was clearly uncomfortable afterward and on into the third quarter before he found his stride again, shook that off to play even better in the second half than he had in the first. He even outlasted Skalski, who was ejected from the game for targeting after lowering his head to deliver a vicious shot to Justin Jefferson in the third quarter with LSU driving to build on a 28-25 lead.
Once Skalski, who had made a lot of trouble for LSU’s offense blitzing from his middle linebacker position, was out of the game LSU’s offense finished Clemson off. The very next play after he was ejected Burrow hit Moss on another touchdown pass for a 35-25 lead, and then early in the fourth quarter he delivered a master stroke, a 24-yard throw to Terrace Marshall in the end zone for the game’s final margin. After that all LSU was interested in was burning up the clock, which they did in amazing fashion. After Marshall’s touchdown Clemson managed just six yards in five plays against an LSU defense which had choked the life out of Trevor Lawrence in the second half, and punted the ball away with ten minutes left. Burrow melted 5:24 off the clock on an eight-play drive designed for nothing else other than ball control, and then Clemson turned the ball over thanks to a perfect hit by Grant Delpit on Lawrence which jarred the ball loose for Derek Stingley to recover. There was 3:53 on the clock, and Clemson never saw the ball again.
Clemson was every bit the 14-0 team they brought to the Superdome. They belonged there, which perhaps couldn’t have been said of the Oklahoma team LSU demolished 63-28 in the semifinal game. But it didn’t matter. Nothing was going to stop that team full of real Tigers. Not in front of that crowd, not in that stadium, and not with that collection of athletes.
Virtually everybody who played a significant role in last night’s game will have at least a cup of coffee in the NFL. Many, if not most, will play in the league for a long time. Some of them could well have busts on display in Canton by the time they’re old and gray.
LSU’s offense scored 726 points this season, which is a record not just for modern-day football but for the 80-plus years since the inception of the AP poll. Burrow set a record with no less than SIXTY touchdown passes this year. LSU won awards for the best player, head coach, assistant coach, quarterback, defensive back and offensive line (as a unit), all in one season. LSU beat no less than SEVEN teams ranked in the Top Ten at the time they played (Texas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson), and by an average margin of 14 points.
It’s the greatest football team in LSU history. That had already been established after the Oklahoma game, if not before. Last night was the closing argument for this as the greatest team in the history of college football.
And it was very convincing. This team was the best ever.