Why this season is less about competing for a championship—and more about LSU solidifying itself as a college football elite

So, what do you do for an encore?

Asking that question of the 2020 LSU Tigers might be the most unfair ask since the Beastie Boys dropped Licensed to Ill in 1986. How can these Tigers possibly follow up the greatest season in the 150-year history of college football?

That isn’t hyperbole. In a recent Yahoo! Sports bracket, the 2019 Tigers beat 2001 Miami and 1995 Nebraska to claim the distinction as college football’s GOAT.

Matt Moscona is the award-winning host of After Further Review, heard weekdays on ESPN Radio in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Alexandria and simulcast on Cox Sports Television. Photo by Collin Richie.

The ranked opponents. The records set. The awards won. That list alone could literally fill this entire story. Had LSU delayed renovation of its Football Operations Building by a year, it might have dedicated an entire wing to the spoils of the 2019 National Champions.

It is implausible to think this year’s team—or any team ever, for that matter—will best the 2019 champs. The real question for Ed Orgeron as he moves into his fourth full season as head coach is if he has established LSU as an annual contender with the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma.

To do so, the Tigers will have to overcome hurdles familiar to those programs—like a talent exodus to the NFL and assistant coaches being poached.

You know the list. Joe Burrow. Gone. Justin Jefferson. Gone. Edwards-Helaire, Chaisson, Queen, Delpit, Fulton, Phillips. Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone … and gone. In a program record, five first-round picks and 14 players total were selected in the NFL draft. In all, 20 (!) members of the 2019 team will be in NFL training camps this summer.

And that doesn’t include the coaching losses of offensive wunderkind Joe Brady (who is now with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers) and Dave Aranda (who became Baylor’s head coach and took with him three LSU staffers).

The hallmark of a great program, however, is consistently withstanding those blows and maintaining footing in the rarefied air among college football’s elite. Alabama, for example, has had double-digit draft picks in each of the last four NFL drafts. Yet the Crimson Tide has participated in five of the College Football Playoff’s first six seasons.

That is the level LSU is trying to achieve. And that level is realistic for the 2020 Tigers.

Listing LSU’s defections can be daunting. But it is equally encouraging when listing the returning talent.

Myles Brennan has waited four years for his turn to pilot the offensive ship. Ja’Marr Chase was the best receiver in college football in 2019. He should make Brennan’s job easier, alongside Terrace Marshall and Racey McMath.

There are four running backs that were ranked among the top 10 in the country, running behind an offensive line that boasts four players with starts already under their belts.

Keep an eye out for freshman tight end Arik Gilbert, who is the highest rated tight end in the history of 247 Sports.

While Aranda is gone, Bo Pelini might actually be a better fit for what Ed Orgeron wants out of his defense as the Tigers switch to a four-three front. Orgeron said over the summer his defensive line is three-deep at every position, making the unit the deepest and most talented it has been since 2011. What else would you expect when the head coach is a defensive line coach by trade?

Derek Stingley Jr. is the best cornerback in college football. He leads a secondary that returns JaCoby Stevens and gets Todd Harris back from injury.

After LSU lost its top four linebackers from 2019, that unit looked suspect—until Orgeron added FCS All American Jabril Cox to the mix as a graduate transfer. It would be a mild upset if anyone other than Cox led LSU in tackles in 2020.

LSU even returns punter Zach Von Rosenberg and kickers Avery Atkins and Cade York.

The most impactful decision Orgeron has made was signing Joe Burrow. Second would be his commitment to roster management. He doesn’t just sign great players. He signs great players that fill holes on his roster.

Licensed To Ill is widely considered the greatest debut album of all time. But the Beastie Boys went on to create seven Platinum-selling albums in a career that spanned 30 years.

Orgeron looks poised to prove his program is much more than a one-hit wonder.

Check out more LSU-related stories in our full Tiger Pride special section.

This article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of 225 magazine.