Beating Alabama was a big deal.

A really big deal.

But it was just the first in a series of benchmarks for coach Ed Orgeron and the LSU football program.

When Orgeron was promoted from interim head coach to full-time head coach at the end of the 2016 regular season, he knew his most immediate responsibility was to build the Tigers to the point where they could beat Alabama for the first time since 2011.

Orgeron acknowledged that in his news conference after being promoted. But he also acknowledged the bigger picture.

“My goal is to build a championship program fast, very fast,” Orgeron said. “I understand the expectations at LSU and I invite them, because I have the same expectations of myself and my staff.”

The Tigers lost to Alabama each of the next 2 seasons, but Orgeron kept building the program. In 2018 the Tigers played in a New Year’s 6 Bowl and beat UCF in the Fiesta Bowl to complete a 10-win season. LSU was ranked No. 6 in the final AP poll.

Last month Orgeron’s Tigers went into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama, ending an 8-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide.

One mission accomplished.

But there’s more to be done.

Much more.

On Saturday in Atlanta, undefeated and No. 2 LSU will play No. 4 Georgia for the SEC championship.

The Tigers haven’t won an SEC championship since 2011.

The LSU community expects SEC championships more frequently than that. In fact they expect national championships with some regularity, but that 2011 SEC championship team came up short against Alabama in the BCS championship game.

This team will be in the College Football Playoff for the first time if it beats Georgia.

LSU fans in general believe they should be one of the elite programs in the country. There isn’t a state in the country that, per capita, produces more top-flight college football talent than Louisiana.

There’s only nominal in-state competition for that talent, though there is significant competition from out of state, led by Alabama.

LSU won a national championship in 1958, then didn’t win another until Nick Saban won one in 2003. Les Miles succeeded Saban a year later and followed suit with another title in 2007.

That 2 titles in 5 years stretch represented the closest the Tigers’ football program has ever come to matching its most ambitious fans’ expectations.

Orgeron’s job is to make that the new normal.

He knows that. He embraces that.

It had to begin by beating Alabama.

But that has to be followed by an SEC championship. Then a national championship. If not this season, then soon.

But since the Tigers have come this far …

The victory against Alabama begat an SEC West title.

A victory against Georgia would beget a chance to compete for a national championship.

A national championship would beget even more recruiting success, which Orgeron already has had and which will be even greater thanks to this team’s success and the revolutionary season the offense has had under Joe Brady, Joe Burrow and Steve Ensminger.

Orgeron knows all of this.

He knew it when he took the job 3 years ago.

He knew it during the preceding 30-plus years of coaching that he said was merely a means to this end.

Orgeron was born in Louisiana. The LSU football program is in his blood.

No one innately feels what the Fightin’ Tigers mean to Louisiana and its people any better than Orgeron does.

He knows this game isn’t just about getting into the CFP, which the Tigers might well do even with a loss.

This LSU team proved it was better than Alabama.

This game is about proving it’s the best in the SEC.

Then comes the chance for that next national championship.

Orgeron will say it’s not about him and he’ll mean it. He’s merely the caretaker of this program.

But with that job comes great responsibility. It’s a responsibility to be in this position regularly, to be better than Alabama, to be better than Georgia and everyone else in the SEC.

To play for national championships.