2019 LSU Tigers Put Together the Greatest Season in College Football HistoryJanuary 17, 2020
In emphatically ending Clemson's 29-game winning streak, Ed Orgeron, Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers put the finishing touches on the best season in the 151-year history of college football.
GOAT conversations are almost always a toxic nightmare. Some people over-romanticize the past and seemingly believe that athletes from 70-plus years ago could hold their own against players in the modern era. Others fall into the opposite extreme and get too caught up in the heat of the moment, refusing to believe anything that happened in yesteryear could possibly compare to what they just witnessed.
Moreover, there never seems to be anything close to a unanimously agreed-upon definition of greatest, best, most dominant or whichever "of all time" adjective you're attempting to assign to a player or team. Just dip your toe into the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James vs. Bill Russell vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar debate for proof of that.
But is there even an argument against the stance that LSU just had the greatest season ever?
First of all, save your "Yale went 16-0 in 1894" for someone who cares. Anything that happened before the implementation of the forward pass wasn't football. It was rugby with more stoppages. Plus, we never even found out if Yale was the best team that season, as Penn also went undefeated (12-0).
As far as more recent history is concerned, there's no question LSU had the best season of the past decade.
The only other FBS teams during that window to go undefeated and win a national championship (sorry, UCF) were Auburn in 2010, Florida State in 2013 and Clemson last year. Auburn had way too many close calls (five wins by three points or fewer) to realistically be considered, and neither of those ACC schools faced a schedule that can even hold a candle to what LSU did.
FSU played only two games against teams that finished in the BCS Top 20 and needed a miraculous comeback to beat Auburn in one of them. In Clemson's only regular-season games against teams that finished in the CFP Top 25, it beat No. 19 Texas A&M and No. 20 Syracuse by a combined margin of six points. The Tigers annihilated both Notre Dame and Alabama once they got to the playoff, but LSU did the same thing this year after navigating a much more difficult regular-season gauntlet.
Step a little further back in time, and most would agree 2001 Miami (FL) was the best team of the BCS era (1998-2013).
Those Hurricanes outscored their 12 opponents 512-117. That's an average margin of victory of 32.9 points per game. And even though their quarterback was Ken Dorsey, the sheer amount of NFL Pro Bowl talent on that roster makes it look even more incredible now than it did at the time.
However, Miami didn't face a single team that ended the season in the AP Top 7. (Nebraska was No. 4 when it lost to Miami in the Rose Bowl, dropping the Cornhuskers to No. 8.) Nebraska was also the only opponent that was ranked in the Top 10 when it faced the Hurricanes. LSU had seven victories over AP Top 10 teams, four of which ranked in the postseason AP Top 8. The Tigers also had to play three more games and had an average margin of victory (26.5 PPG) at least in the same zip code as Miami's.
We do not yet know the NFL portion of LSU's story, but what does that matter? We're talking about the greatest season, not the most talented roster. Despite LSU's gigantic edge at quarterback, Miami clearly wins the latter argument. But the Tigers should be just as obvious of a victor in the former debate.
The only serious challenger to LSU is Nebraska, circa 1971 and 1995.
The disco-era Cornhuskers went 13-0 with wins over the teams that finished Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in the AP poll. They comfortably beat both Alabama and Colorado and squeaked out a win over Oklahoma in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown many still consider the greatest college football game of all time. That 35-31 instant classic was the only time Nebraska won by fewer than 24 points.
Two-plus decades later, Tom Osborne led the Cornhuskers on a rampage. They finished the season with an average victory margin of 38.7 points per game despite playing four games (three away from home) against teams who finished the year in the AP Top 10. They punctuated that incredible run with a 62-24 victory in the de facto national championship game against No. 2 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.
But it's hard not to favor the sheer quantity of LSU's quality wins.
Yes, beating Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in the final AP poll in 1971 was incredible, as was beating Nos. 2, 5, 7 and 9 in 1995. However, no other team the Cornhuskers faced in 1971 was ranked at any point in the season. There was only one other opponent in 1995 who was ever ranked, and that Oklahoma team finished the season with a 5-5-1 record and had fallen to pieces by the time it had to deal with Nebraska.
LSU beat Nos. 2, 4, 6, 8, which anyone can appreciate. The Tigers also defeated Nos. 7, 14, 25 and "26"—Texas A&M finished atop the list of others receiving votes.
We had this same unresolved "Was that the best season ever?" debate one year ago with Clemson, and those Tigers "only" had four wins over teams who finished in the top 35 of the final AP vote.
If that Clemson team was in the conversation, this LSU team ended it.
There's a good chance that an undefeated champion will reignite the debate in the not-too-distant future. After all, unless you're Notre Dame—or UCF, I suppose—you have to win a neutral-site conference title game against a quality opponent and two neutral-site games against Top 4 foes to claim a national championship these days. Throw in a few quality regular-season wins along the way and you have a case.
For instance: If Ohio State had won it all, we would've been having this same conversation about a different team. The Buckeyes had five wins over teams that finished in the AP Top 25 and would've gotten to seven with a pair of victories in the College Football Playoff. Prior to that Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson, all 13 of their wins came by double digits.
Last I checked, though, this isn't horseshoes or hand grenades. It's college football. And LSU's season was the greatest of all time.
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.