Adam Kramer on College Football: Ed Orgeron's LSU Revival Is Nearly Complete

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterDecember 4, 2019

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 30: head coach Ed Orgeron of the LSU Tigers looks on during a game at Tiger Stadium against the Texas A&M Aggies on November 30, 2019 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Just how far has Ed Orgeron come in five years? What happens with this year's College Football Playoff? What's next for Alabama? And what are December's must-see games? Adam Kramer takes on those questions and more in the fourth installment of his 2019 college football notebook.

   

The first time I spoke with Ed Orgeron, he was at a bar. A very loud bar. The background noise made it hard to hear him. And his Cajun drawl, like electric gravel, took some getting used to. But I do remember how happy he was to speak to a perfect stranger. And how after only a few minutes talking about his life as an unemployed football coach, he offered to cook me gumbo.

At the time, back in 2014, Orgeron's college football Saturdays were spent on his couch. After leading USC to a 6-2 mark as interim coach in 2013, he retreated to his home state of Louisiana. He worked out vigorously. He spent time with his family. And he waited to see what was next—if he would ever be asked to be a head coach again.

"I do believe I will be a head coach again. I do believe that," Orgeron told me. "When that's going to happen, I don't know. Maybe it will be next year, maybe not. We're going to keep all options open. ...

"I just haven't gotten a serious call from anyone yet."

Some five years later, there he was. Not in a bar or on a couch or at one of his sons' high school football games but at a podium in an overstuffed room in early November in the belly of the University of Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium.

His eyes were glassy. It was clear he had been crying in the moments that followed LSU's 46-41 win over Alabama, and how could you blame him?

This was as personal as a victory gets for someone who grew up in Louisiana, loves Louisiana and sounds like a supersized version of Louisiana. His friends from back home called and texted. His mom, Coco, was there to witness it in person.

"It's never going to be about me," the coach said at his press conference. "I am so happy for that team and the coaching staff, and the state of Louisiana. Hell, I might have to go to the 7-Eleven now and get me a Monster or Red Bull. They tell me, 'Coach O, you have to beat [Alabama].' I will tell them I beat them. Watch the game."

The room laughed. Orgeron unleashed a smile fit for a Hollywood film. But buried beneath the laughter was a bit of undeniable truth. Not just from the locals, but from people across the country who doubted this hire when it happened.

There was a sense of dread in 2016 when the interim tag was lifted off Orgeron and he was named head coach. Social media can be a terrible thermometer for these types of moments, but even beyond it, the resounding sentiment wasn't positive.

He had led LSU to a 6-2 record as interim coach, same as he'd done at USC, and it was assumed that his fate would also be the same as it was at USC—that the coach who led Ole Miss to a record of 10-25 from 2005-07 wasn't deserving of this job.

It didn't matter that he grew up there. That he attended LSU, at least early on in his collegiate life. That his heart and soul were with the school, whether he was coaching there or not.

It's been three full seasons under Orgeron now, and the opinion of the hire and trajectory of LSU have both changed. The program was meandering to eight- and nine-win seasons under Les Miles and had gotten off to a 2-2 start when Miles was fired. It won 10 games last season for the first time since 2013. And it is a perfect 12-0 heading into the SEC Championship Game against Georgia with wins against Texas, Florida and Auburn in addition to Alabama. The Tigers also hold the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports.

"I think he's been validating it for three years," quarterback Joe Burrow said of Orgeron after the win over Alabama. "The record against Top 10 teams. The record on the road. Winning last year's bowl game. Winning big games. That's just what Coach O does. He gets us ready. This will probably elevate him to another level, but he's been proving it his entire time here."

TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA - NOVEMBER 09: Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers celebrates with head coach Ed Orgeron after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 46-41 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Imag
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Most coaching success stories don't begin at the age of 58. For much of his professional life, Orgeron was a perfect defensive line coach who could recruit. Now, after years of searching for a place that would want him, he is the talk of the sport.

The most notable thing Orgeron said after beating Alabama didn't come from a press conference. It came in the locker room, in a video posted on social media that we should've never seen.

In the background, you could hear Orgeron unleash a mighty, "Roll Tide, what? F--k you!" to his players and coaches. The room erupted.

It was raw and real. Probably too real for public consumption but perfect for a locker room bathing in one of the biggest wins in program history. And for a coach who scratched and clawed his way back to his home state, this time for the job he had been dreaming about his entire life, it felt like the perfect way to celebrate the moment. His moment.

It had finally arrived.

   

Dissecting the College Football Playoff: Who's in and who's out?

Honestly, it's not all that complicated. Let's breeze through it.

Ohio State and LSU are in. It doesn't matter what happens Saturday. Win or lose, both teams have done enough to be included in the playoff. It's just a matter of seeding.

And for LSU, it's also a matter of keeping Georgia out and allowing another team access. If the Tigers lose to the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game, the SEC will send two teams to the playoff.

This could very well nuke all other intrigue, assuming Clemson handles Virginia in the ACC Championship Game. (This seems like something that will happen.)

And if Georgia loses and Clemson holds serve? The debate will be down to three teams: Utah, Oklahoma and Baylor.

Baylor and Oklahoma will meet in the Big 12 Championship Game, so one team will be removed as a result. Utah will play Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, which is significant to the CFP only for Utah.

If Oregon wins and Georgia loses, the Big 12 champion will be in. If Georgia loses and Utah wins, we will have ourselves a good ol'-fashioned debate. Big 12 or Pac-12?

My predictions (for post-results internet shaming):

  • Peach Bowl (Atlanta): No. 4 Utah vs. No. 1 LSU
  • Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Arizona): No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 2 Ohio State

   

Alabama is out of the CFP...now what?

Since the playoff was birthed, Alabama has had a seat at the table every year. After Saturday's wild, kicking-infused loss to Auburn, however, Nick Saban's program will play in a non-playoff bowl game. (Seriously, it's kind of weird.)

In the short-term, the big question for Alabama will be who it plays in that bowl game. With the growing trend of draft-eligible players sitting out bowls, it wouldn't be surprising if the Crimson Tide were hit by this.

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 9:   Head Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide on the field watching his team warm up before a game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Starkville, Mississippi.  The Crim
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

On offense alone, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris could declare for the draft and decide not to play in the bowl. Or they could play and declare after. Or (and this seems the least likely of all) one or more of the players can return next year.

From there, though, is when things get interesting. Like at the end of most seasons, there will be an exodus of talent, whether it comes before or after the bowl game. The offense will get hit the hardest, but both sides will be impacted.

After injuries hampered the defense, it figures to be much better next year. The offense will still have receiver Jaylen Waddle, who might enter next year as the best player in college football.

There are many questions. But no, this is not the death of a dynasty. We've tried to do that at least four times over the past 10 years with this program. Maybe we hold off a little this time.

   

Cancel your plans for these five games this month (well, next weekend)

Near the end of the month, we will have two games that will determine the national championship matchup. We've already made our predictions for who will be in those. But until we know for sure, the five most significant games of December are directly in front of us.

Each one could have an impact on the CFP. Some, as outlined above, more than others:

1. SEC Championship Game: No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 2 LSU in Atlanta: Watching these teams this season has made for vastly different experiences. LSU has enjoyed an offensive renaissance, producing massive scores and exciting moments on a drive-by-drive basis. Georgia, while still overwhelmingly successful, has faced more of a slog—a talented team that has not always looked overpowering. It doesn't mean the Bulldogs can't or won't win this game. It just outlines how different these two teams have been. Different styles. Different stakes. Supremely awesome.

2. Big 12 Championship Game: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 6 Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas: The first installment was a doozy. Oklahoma won the second half and the game, largely because it dominated time of possession and kept its offense on the field for the majority of the third and fourth quarters. Baylor is capable of flipping the result in the rematch; that much is clear. But to do so, it'll have to sustain drives and also corral Jalen Hurts better than it did when the teams last met. Adding a layer of intrigue to this game, of course, is what it could mean in the eyes of the selection committee. While winning will be wildly important, style points wouldn't hurt. I'm demanding, I know. Sorry. I can't help it.

3. Pac-12 Championship Game: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 13 Oregon in Santa Clara, California: Since its loss to USC, Utah has looked like one of the best four teams in college football. Zack Moss is one of the nation's elite backs, and Utah complements him with the No. 3 scoring defense in the country. Enter Oregon, which played itself out of playoff consideration with a loss to Arizona State. The Ducks are capable, though the offense seems to operate in spurts despite having one of the nation's most intriguing quarterback prospects in Justin Herbert. Against Utah, spurts probably won't cut it. There are massive playoff implications here for multiple conferences. This game could be plenty fun as well.

4. Big Ten Championship Game: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Wisconsin in Indianapolis: There is history between these two—both in this championship game and also this season. When the teams played in late October, Ohio State was dominant. And while Wisconsin has momentum after powering past Minnesota on the road, is the talent gap between these squads simply too wide? Michigan found success early on against the Buckeyes by throwing the ball and protecting the quarterback, which is easier said than done. By no means is an upset out of the question, but it feels like Wisconsin will need a legendary defensive effort—plus a monster night from running back Jonathan Taylor—to pull one off.

5. ACC Championship Game: No. 23 Virginia vs. No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte, North Carolina: It would be one of the greatest upsets ever in a conference championship game. There is no other place to start. While the underdogs in the other games listed above seem somewhat capable, a Virginia win would be a truly shocking outcome. Since slipping past North Carolina, Clemson has outscored its opponents 353-61. The competition has been admittedly weak, though the performances have been suffocating. Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins is an electric player. It'll take an electric performance from him, plus a few Clemson turnovers, for this game to be close. Never say never, but this would be an all-timer.      

   

Final takeaways: Football, frying, firings and more

1. If you are not frying your turkeys on Thanksgiving, you are failing yourself and your family. I'm sorry to sound so harsh, but this is important. (Unless you are smoking your turkeys, in which case please move to the next paragraph and continue to do your quality culinary thing.) I know the turkey holiday has come and gone and most won't think about it for a good 350 days, but dry turkey knows no calendar. Please, let's keep this movement going. Brine it. Smother it in sizzling peanut oil. Consume.

2. Lynn Bowden Jr. is a football delight. In fact, it is baffling that Kentucky's wideout-turned-quarterback has not received more national love since switching positions midyear after Kentucky essentially lost every quarterback to injury. Since then, Bowden has run for at least 100 yards in six of seven games. He ran for 99 yards against Georgia. Against Louisville on Saturday, he ran for 284. No quarterback in the SEC has ever rushed for more yards in a game, which speaks volumes about his ability and the coaching job Mark Stoops and his staff have done. It's essentially what you did at recess with the fastest kid in your grade, only it's not supposed to work in the SEC. What a talent. What a season.

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - NOVEMBER 30:   Lynn Bowden Jr #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats runs with the ball against the Louisville Cardinals at Commonwealth Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

3. I just finished Peaky Blinders, and I loved it. The first few episodes didn't draw me in, but the show seemed to find itself more and more as it went. If you need many hours of enjoyable content, plus just an excessive amount of on-screen fighting and drinking, look no further than this bit of Netflix brilliance. And give it ample time to get going.

4. On the topic of Netflix, I have no idea what to make of The Irishman. The cast was, of course, amazing. Al Pacino. Robert De Niro. Joe Pesci. Heck, Ray Romano was in there. But the de-aging of the main characters was so bizarre and distracting that I couldn't look past it. It was like a collection of wax figures somehow brought to life. Not a bad movie. Just...different. And way too long.

5. I don't have a Heisman Trophy vote, and that's fine. Probably not the worst decision by them. But if I did, I would vote for LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. I say that as someone who is tired of how this award has become quarterback-exclusive. But Burrow has been the most explosive player in the nation throughout the year. Chase Young and Justin Fields are very much worthy of this discussion, as is Jalen Hurts. But Burrow has been unstoppable, has played extremely well against good teams and is the overwhelming favorite for good reason. At some point, non-quarterbacks should win this thing. It just won't be this year.

6. Yes, underclassmen are going to sit out bowl games. They will declare for the draft early, wave farewell to their teammates and begin preparing for the most important job interviews of their lives. It's going to happen, just like it has the past few years, and people will be mad about it. Personally, I have no issues with it. Players and their families are put in unique positions and must evaluate their situations for what they are. If they don't play in bowl games, it doesn't mean they're quitters. Let's please stop with that talk. It doesn't have to be this weird. Everyone is simply trying to protect themselves at a time when their lives and the lives of people around them will soon change. It doesn't mean they're bad or that they don't love and appreciate their teammates and coaches. It means they're ready to make money playing a sport so violent that your future in it can be taken away in any instant. Good for them. And good luck to all.

7. Florida Atlantic is 9-3, with two of those losses coming to Ohio State and Central Florida to start the year. I know Lane Kiffin is happy where he is in life and professionally—he said as much when I visited him earlier this year—but I wonder what the interest will be in his services at other places. Arkansas? Ole Miss? Missouri? South Florida? That's not to say Kiffin would have interest, but given the job he has done at FAU, it wouldn't be shocking if others at least kicked the tires on his availability.

8. On the topic of coaches who should be receiving phone calls, how about UAB's Bill Clark? The first time I met Bill, his football program was no longer operational. This weekend, he will coach UAB in the Conference USA Championship Game for the second season in a row after the program was restored. If your team is ready for a rebuild—and goodness knows plenty are—I'm not sure you will find a better man for the job than one who just built his program from scratch.

BOWLING GREEN, KENTUCKY - SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Bill Clark of the University of Alabama Birmingham Blazers walks on the sideline during the first half of the game with Western Kentucky University on September 28, 2019 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. (Photo
Silas Walker/Getty Images

9. I'm fascinated to see what is in store this hiring cycle, especially in the SEC. The ceilings at Ole Miss, Arkansas and Missouri can be high. But winning there is also difficult. With major resources at their disposal, what kind of candidates will they land? And what will the cost be? The silly season is here, and it will likely deliver as always.

10. I've covered this sport for more than 10 years, but I still have a hard time adjusting to Saturdays without a full slate of games. College football does a nice job of easing you out of your routine, starting with an abbreviated slate of conference championship games. Then we have Army-Navy along with the Heisman nightcap before bowls kick in. Things get dark after that, but it won't be long before we are at the doorstep of spring games and preview magazines. Soak up every moment while it lasts, and enjoy every morsel of football that you can.

   

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.

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