The Alabama Crimson Tide won yet another national championship on Monday night, throttling the Ohio State Buckeyes 52-24. It could have been worse: the Alabama offense threw against air for three quarters, with a hobbled Jaylen Waddle and a DeVonta Smith departure early in the third quarter. Scoring 70 would have been in reach if they had kept their foot on the gas.
As they excelled, the mind inevitably wandered to last year’s national champions: the 2019 LSU Tigers. Called the best offense in college football, Joe Burrow’s Tigers averaged 7.89 yards/play and 48.4 points/game, ripping off 10.6 yards/pass despite attempting more than 550 passes. In a pandemic-shortened season, the 2020 Tide couldn’t chase their gross totals—but Steve Sarkisian’s ludicrous offense averaged 7.7 yards/play, 48.5 points/game, and 11.0 yards/pass. In both the statistician’s book and the mind’s eye, they were right there with the Tigers.
I can’t tell you which offense was better—the question is too tough. So I decided to go position by position and try to build out a game between the 2019 Tigers and 2020 Crimson Tide, to decide who would win in a National Champion-off between two of the greatest offenses in college football history.
It turns out that was pretty tough, too.
Joe Burrow won a Heisman and Mac Jones didn’t—and while I’d argue that Mac Jones deserved a Heisman win more than his name recognition would allow for, Burrow did unbelievable work as a pocket manager and processor that Jones didn’t have to do in this Sarkisian offense. Love Jones, but this has to be Burrow.
I loved Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He was an awesome Tiger and a first-round pick; I think his NFL career will be long and fruitful. He simply cannot match what Najee Harris has done in a shortened season for the Tide: He was as dangerous as a receiver and a higher volume runner, and while his efficiency wasn’t the same, he remained a devastating runner at his usage.
This is such an odd one because the answer probably isn’t 2019 LSU or 2020 Alabama—it’s 2019 Alabama. That roster had 2019 first-rounders in Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III and 2020 first-rounders in DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
2020 Smith was a Heisman winner, which makes him the best college wide receiver of this group, while 2019 LSU just had a plain old Biletnikoff winner—how embarrassing. 2019 LSU does win for depth—Terrace Marshall is a better WR3 than John Metchie III—but this has to be a push. There’s no way to parse this hair.
This is another push. I don’t care; you can’t make me pick.
Miller Forristall is fringe draftable, just as Thaddeus Moss and Stephen Sullivan were last season, but Jahleel Billingsley is the best athlete and most exciting talent of the group. Combined, LSU has the edge on production, but the tight end snaps for Alabama were more important in their manipulation of formations and sets, especially after the Waddle injury.
Two Joe Moore award winners, and both deservingly so, loaded with NFL talent. With that said, LSU’s depth chart did not have the first-round picks that Alabama’s likely does. Saahdiq Charles, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Damien Lewis were all Day 2 picks, with Lewis taking the earliest spot at No. 69. The Crimson Tide likely get two linemen drafted before that slot in Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson, and they’re pass protecting for a less mobile quarterback. LSU did more five-man stuff, but I have to lean ‘Bama here.
Weirdly similar groups here. Both have potential first-round picks who will be taken on potential in K’Lavon Chaisson and Christian Barmore, middle round interior players in Tyler Shelvin/Rashard Lawrence and Phidarian Mathis/LaBryan Ray. I think the combined success of Alabama’s EDGEs this year—Will Anderson and Christopher Allen combined for 13 sacks—pushes them over the top for me.
I’ve got love for both Dylan Moses and Christian Harris, but neither is quite the college linebacker that Patrick Queen was. Throw in the combined efforts of Jacob Phillips and Michael Divinity (and Jacoby Stevens, who is basically a linebacker), and this is a clear LSU advantage.
I honestly don’t know where to begin here. The LSU CB duo of Derek Stingley Jr.—a freshman!—and Kristian Fulton was likely stronger than Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe, though it’s tough to know if Stingley will end up drafted higher than Surtain. Kary Vincent was an excellent nickel, but Alabama’s true freshman star Malachi Moore looks like a special player in the making. Alabama’s safety room isn’t what it usually is, though sophomore Jordan Battle looks like a future solid NFLer. Is he better than Grant Delpit was as a center fielder? I’m not sold.
I’m not gonna push this, even though I may be wrong: I think the LSU secondary was better. But it’s close.
There’s no way to parse this. Joe Brady is now an NFL offensive coordinator (interviewing for NFL head coaching gigs), Dave Aranda is now a CFB head coach, Steve Sarkisian is now a CFB head coach, and Pete Golding is… well, it’s Nick Saban’s defense. Ed Orgeron? I like his voice.
All of these coaches are awesome. Sarkisian’s offense was truly stunning this year, and I loved how aggressive they were passing the ball, but I can’t come to a hard enough conclusion to make an edge.
LSU: QB, LB, DB
Alabama: OL, DL, RB
Push: WR, TE, Coaching
When Alabama played LSU last year—with a banged-up Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, mind you—they won it 46-41 in a game that wasn’t really a one-possession contest. I would argue the Alabama offense is just about as good this year as it was last year, though it obviously plays a drastically different style (deep passing vs. quick passing), and the running game is improved. The Alabama defense this year is definitely a tick worse.
I do think LSU wins it for the edges they have at quarterback and in the secondary. A 2019 LSU vs. 2020 Alabama game would have at least 110 points scored, and would likely come down to the final possession—but I do believe 2019 LSU would still have the edge. With that said, these are two historic offenses, and watching them in back-to-back seasons has been electric.
College football is a game for points in the 2020s, and that’s been reflected in the SEC. We’re all the better for it. Well, not defensive coordinators. But you get my point.