LSU’s Burrow makes winning look easy
On Monday night, all eyes will be on New Orleans for the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship, and the majority will, likely, be pulling for the Tigers. The LSU Tigers that is. There are a number of reasons why the Bayou Bengals are the favorites for sports books and the sentimental. They are also, at least to a national audience, the unknown, unlike Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney, who have played in three of the last four NCAA national title games.
Like Alabama and Nick Saban, who appeared in the last four straight championship games, it could be argued that, for many, familiarity has bred a bit of contempt.
While college football fans respect Clemson’s 29 game winning streak, they have been bowled over this year by LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who has, arguably, played the best college football season in the sport’s 150 year history.
Burrow had a good season in 2018, passing for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns, and leading the Tigers to an 11-3 record, including a 40-32 Fiesta Bowl victory over previously undefeated UCF.
Entering the 2019 season, experts predicted Burrow would have LSU in contention for the possibility of an SEC Championship, but few, if any, expected the numbers the Tigers and their QB produced. He led his team to nationally-televised wins over Texas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia, then throttled Oklahoma, 63-28, in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Over the course of the season, he threw for 5,208 yards and 55 touchdowns. His performances garnered him a number of records and awards, including the Heisman, Maxwell, Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards. He was named Player of the Year by the Associated Press and Sporting News, SEC Offensive Player of the Year, First Team All-SEC, and was a unanimous All-American selection. He also became the holder of the SEC’s single season passing TD record (55), single season passing yards record (5,208), and single season pass completion percentage record (77.6). In the process, he elevated himself from a mid-level pro prospect to the nearly surefire top choice in the coming 2020 NFL Draft.
Through it all, he showed poise and swagger, but did not cross the line into conceit. In fact, he revealed his character. He’s credited his coaches and teammates on every step in the journey and even showed empathy in what may have been the highest point in his life.
As he was giving his speech as Heisman Winner, he used the platform to highlight his hometown, Athens, Ohio, and the struggles people face in the southeast corner of the state. He highlighted the region’s difficulty fighting hunger.
He hit on emotion when he said, “Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There’s so many people there that don’t have a lot, and I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here too.”
Those few sentences inspired more than 13,000 donors across the country to give nearly $500,000 to the Athens Food Bank.
One of the best things about watching Burrow this season – and this is a credit to his offensive line and skill players – has been how calm, cool, and collected he’s been in the face of competition. He’s tough and his grit inspires his teammates. This was on full display in the Peach Bowl against No. 4 Oklahoma, where he had 493 passing yards, threw for seven touchdowns and ran for one more to advance to the championship.
Clemson, Swinney, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence have been great for several years. South Carolina’s Tigers have quietly continued winning, even when overshadowed by LSU, Ohio State, and, even, Oklahoma. But Louisiana’s Tigers have earned their stripes this season.
I expect a cat fight when these two hit the field, but I don’t know if Clemson can keep up with LSU for 60 minutes in what will feel like a purple and gold home game in the Big Easy. I think the Golden Band from Tigerland will be hitting those four famous notes often and there will be a lot of happy fans closing out the singing of the fight song, “Hey Fighting Tigers,” with the famous closing, “Victory for LSU.”