As the clock reached triple zeros in the victory over Clemson and LSU's celebration began, Ed Orgeron became one of six active college football coaches with a national championship on his resume.
En route to earning a 15-0 record, Orgeron defeated three others on that coveted list in Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher. Mack Brown and Les Miles round out the group. And shortly after the accomplishment, news broke that Orgeron received a six-year contract extension worth $42 million.
No matter what happens from here, LSU achieved the No. 1 goal of college football. That alone justifies Orgeron's raise and solidifies his place as a program legend.
But it's also reasonable to say the difficult part starts now.
Orgeron reshaped a program lost in the 2000s. Along the way, LSU defeated top-ranked teams at a spectacular rate. He overcame the behemoths that are Saban at Alabama, Swinney at Clemson and even the SEC West as a whole.
None of that progress happened easily—and neither was sustaining the program's spot as a national recruiting power.
How could it possibly be more challenging?
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is now Baylor's head coach. His predecessor, Matt Rhule, swiped passing game coordinator Joe Brady to become the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is headed to the NFL, along with—well, catch your breath first.
The list is extensive: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire*, WR Justin Jefferson*, TE Thaddeus Moss*, LT Saahdiq Charles*, LG Adrian Magee, C Lloyd Cushenberry III*, RG Damien Lewis, EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson, DT Rashard Lawrence, LB Patrick Queen*, LB Jacob Phillips*, CB Kristian Fulton, S Grant Delpit*.
Everyone with an asterisk had another year of eligibility. All 14 of them could—and, in most cases, will—be drafted.
Yes, the Tigers return elite talent in wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., among others. While a championship is worth the departures, there's no question they hammered LSU this offseason.
Particularly on offense.
Although coordinator Steve Ensminger calls the plays, Brady's impact was unmistakable. LSU unveiled new formations, plays, route concepts and timing. His experience at Penn State and with the NFL's New Orleans Saints showed itself in LSU's attack.
The result was Burrow throwing for 5,671 yards and an FBS-record 60 touchdowns. Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and posted a 76.3 completion percentage at 10.8 yards per attempt, a stunning combination of volume and efficiency. LSU's 726 total points also set a national mark.
Chase led the country with 1,780 yards and 20 scores, and Jefferson had an FBS-best 111 catches. Marshall Jr. would've set a single-season program record with 13 scores yet finished behind Chase (20) and Jefferson (18).
"Realistically, I don't think anyone could have anticipated this outcome," newly hired Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead said while crediting Brady, per Brody Miller of The Athletic. Brady coached under Moorhead at Penn State.
That is unquestionably true.
Sometimes, a fan's greatest wish becomes reality. But it would've been blind confidence to suggest an LSU offense that didn't score against 2018 Alabama would become the most prolific offense ever. Or that Burrow—who topped 300 yards twice in 13 starts—would fail to crack the mark only twice in 2019.
Hope for improvement, sure. That? Not based on evidence.
What the Tigers achieved in 2019 is nothing short of legendary. Repeating that season is, at best, extraordinarily improbable.
So, how close can they get? And how quickly? More than anything, those answers will determine LSU's level of success in the immediate future.
Since 2000, the program has tallied no fewer than eight victories thanks to consistently strong, often elite, defenses. Even after Aranda's departure, that should continue with new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. LSU has a clear floor.
Championships aren't won without a top-tier offense, though. Myles Brennan is likely to shoulder the unfathomable burden of succeeding Burrow in the record-setting scoring attack.
On the bright side, Brennan has Chase and Marshall in the receiving corps. They'll ease the pressure on Brennan, who'll enter his redshirt junior year with 70 career pass attempts. LSU also has plenty of top-recruited talent hoping to emerge in running back John Emery Jr., wideout Trey Palmer and others.
However, LSU hasn't earned an Oklahoma-like benefit of the doubt. 2019 was historic, but it happened suddenly. And now—while stationed in the ever-unforgiving SEC West—the superstar assistant in Brady, a Heisman quarterback and seven offensive starters are gone. Nobody can measure the true impact of that exodus.
Not until the fall, at least. Then, it will become obvious.
Discounting LSU's potential to sustain its success would be foolish. What Orgeron has already accomplished in Baton Rouge has shattered most expectations, and few programs have stocked more talent on the roster.
The challenge, though, is clear. And exceptionally difficult.