Is LSU 1-and-done, or should Alabama be concerned about the new champions?
Ed Orgeron and Joe Burrow stood on the hastily arranged stage under the streamers and confetti descending from the rafters with grins on their faces.
They cradled the College Football Playoff trophy, all 24-karat gold and bronze and stainless steel, like the 35-pound newborn that it was. Holding it like Rafiki showing off the baby cub Simba to the rest of the pride, the trophy represents the greatest season in LSU football history — a season that was marshaled by Orgeron and delivered by Burrow.
The celebration was truly visceral, snaking out of the exits of the Superdome and down to the French Quarter and down into the murky swamplands of the bayou and to the capital city of Baton Rouge — where the blessed students even had a couple of days off from classes to enjoy the pinnacle of college football.
But even as Orgeron, Burrow and the rest of the Tigers smoked their cigars and thanked their mamas and pretty much guaranteed that they’ll never have to shell out for a Pat O’Brien’s hurricane on Bourbon Street ever again, there was a single interested observer among the assembled, taking it all in without a single grin or grimace.
In gang-neutral blue that faintly appeared to align him with Aflac instead of Alabama, this person was more than just a bemused bystander.
That’s because Nick Saban can rightfully claim that he paved the way for all the revelry and righteousness in Louisiana, and he — through the Death Star he built in Tuscaloosa — can also be the one to make LSU’s magical season be a 1-and-done illusion.
It won’t be easy for Saban and his mighty Crimson Tide, of course. Winning a national championship never is — even for a person who almost has as many rings (6) as Orgeron has years as a head coach (8).
But here’s the thing: Beginning, well, now, LSU has neither its baby-faced assassin nor his designated quarterback whisperer stalking Tiger Stadium anymore.
Burrow is gone, of course, trading in his purple and gold for what surely will be the orange and black of the Cincinnati Bengals via the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But just as vital for Alabama (and the rest of the SEC, for that matter …) is that Joe Brady is also headed to the league — set to become the offensive coordinator for another Heisman/national championship/No. 1 overall pick in the form of Cameron Jerrell Newton in Carolina.
The latter defection from Baton Rouge will actually hurt LSU more than Burrow taking his talents to Porkopolis. Brady was the guy who dragged Orgeron and the Tigers into the 21st century by chucking the pigskin (2 swine references in the same paragraph!) with abandon. And in Burrow, Brady had the guy to do it.
Now, though, LSU’s cupboard isn’t exactly full under center. Sure, Houston helmsman D’Eriq King might have beaten the Tigers back to Baton Rouge after he abruptly announced he was hitting the transfer portal. But King isn’t Andre Ware, and thus likely would be in a spring battle with junior Myles Brennan.
Saban was intently watching the Tigers from the sideline during the game (disgracefully forced to wear his media credential despite winning national titles for LSU *and* Alabama in the building) and from the various ESPN desks throughout the proceedings. And with 5-star quarterback Bryce Young coming in to give incumbent Mac Jones a run for the proverbial money, it is fair to say that the Tide’s quarterback situation is in better shape.
So, too, is Alabama’s coaching situation, especially after LSU Dave Aranda left to become Baylor’s head coach. Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was courted by Mississippi State and might be Starkville-bound if not for the Bulldogs’ reported stinginess for the assistant pool. Bringing Sarkisian back for another season is a minor coup for Saban, as Jones will thrive with a full spring of continuity.
So, too, will the entirety of Alabama’s offense, which expects to be bolstered by the return of running back Najee Harris — who has flirted with the notion of the NFL after the Citrus Bowl but should be back to improve on his 1,224-yard, 13-touchdown junior season. Ditto with wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who like Harris might have been a fringe 1st-round selection but instead wants to finish what he started in Alabama.
Therein lies the rub for the Crimson Tide as 2020 dawns. Sure, losing to LSU 46-41 stung … and Orgeron profanely proclaiming LSU’s new dominance in Bryant-Denny Stadium smarted even more. A trip to Baton Rouge on Nov. 7 should be a rollicking affair with the usual SEC West implications, though Tiger Stadium is a venue in which Alabama holds a 28-9-2 all-time record.
But what all this ultimately boils down to is the premise that Edward James Orgeron Jr. is a great football coach. A 56-36 career head coaching record at Ole Miss, Southern Cal and LSU is hardly the stuff of legend. And anyone with half a functioning cerebral cortex can surmise that 2019 was about 99 percent Burrow and Brady’s doing.
Is Orgeron the Right Said Fred of college football, ripping off his LSU shirt and shotgunning Red Bulls to the soundtrack of “I’m Too Sexy” until the groove sours? Or is Orgeron the 2nd coming of Saban himself, a mastermind who won’t be fully appreciated in Red Stick in his own time?
Nick Saban has made all those calculations already. The Death Star is restocked with fresh Stormtroopers wearing crimson and white.
Is LSU 1-and-done? The smart money says the Crimson Tide will have more than a passing say in the answer.