FIELD BEGINS TO NARROW
What LSU's victory means for the Tigers and the college football playoff
Saturday was one of the seemingly endless "game of the year" candidates we have in college football at least once every two weeks. For once, however, LSU-Alabama lived up to the hype. The Tigers pulled off a 46-41 victory over the Crimson Tide.
The game had everything. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow cemented his Heisman campaign with a 31 of 39 passing effort for 309 yards and three touchdowns. After a slow start, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa rallied the Tide from a 33-13 halftime deficit with a 418-yard, four touchdown passing performance of his own.
There were big defensive plays among all the offense. There was a punt return touchdown. Both running backs - LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Alabama's Nejee Harris - made huge plays in the running and passing game. It was college football at its best.
It was also a major win for an LSU program that had scored a whopping 10 points in its last three games against Alabama. The Tigers shattered that on Saturday night. The bigger question is what does it mean for LSU moving forward?
A Heisman for Burrow?
Joe Burrow's performance might have earned him a Heisman trophy. Besides his excellent passing effort, he rushed for 64 yards on 14 carries, including a clinching first down late in the game. The moment was never too big for him, and he was at his best on the biggest stage. His numbers are phenomenal. He has completed almost 80 percent of his passes for 3,198 yards, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Against Top 25 opponents, he has 11 touchdowns against just two interceptions. In the SEC, he has 17 touchdowns and just one interception.
Barring a collapse, here is your Heisman winner.
The Tigers have four wins against teams that were in the Top 10 when they played them - Texas, Auburn, Florida and Alabama. There is no team in the country with a better resume. While they might not be the best team - Ohio State has a case for that as well - they have the most impressive body of work. And while you can debate who is No. 1 or 2, what you can't debate is that even if they lose a game, the Tigers are going to the playoffs.
What lies ahead
Next up is Mississippi, which is a decent team. LSU could easily have a letdown after Saturday's huge win, especially considering the injuries that piled up against Alabama. This could be their toughest test before the championship game. Ole Miss pushed Auburn and A&M, and won't be a pushover. LSU is better than those schools, but don't be surprised if this one is tougher than it looks on paper.
After that is Arkansas, which is one of the worst teams in a Power Five conference and LSU could win this one with backups.
Finally, a rematch of a classic
The last regular season game is against Texas A&M, which is a solid program that has not been able to get over the top against highly ranked teams this year. Ordinarily this might be a game that LSU might overlook, but after last year's Aggie victory, LSU will come into this prepared off an easy game.
On to the championship - and the impact
Assuming the Tigers win two of the three, they will get Georgia in the championship game. Here is the bottom line: If LSU wins its next three, it will be in the playoff even with a loss to Georgia. A one-loss LSU will have a better resume than any team in the country. One loss Oklahoma? One loss Oregon? None of those teams would measure up. Ideally, winning out and completing an undefeated season is the obvious goal, but the win over Alabama allows for a little wiggle room. Even a loss to A&M or Ole Miss would be meaningless if the Tigers beat Georgia for the title.
That makes the playoff picture a little more clear.
Ohio State and Clemson look like they have two of the playoff spots locked up; it's unlikely either loses down the stretch. If LSU finishes with one or no losses, they have the other spot. Which leaves one spot for Georgia (wins out with a win over LSU), Oklahoma or Baylor, Oregon or Utah, and yes, still Alabama, who is by no means out. Anything beyond that seems unlikely. Minnesota is unbeaten but will have to play Ohio State. Penn State's loss on Saturday likely eliminates them, but an unlikely win over Ohio State in two weeks could conceivably get them back in the mix. That does not seem likely.
Realistically, it will be LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and a player to be named. Ohio State still has some challenges, but they have trucked everyone and look like they will win out. If they do, that takes Penn State and Minnesota out of the equation. Clemson is playing much better football and has no real tests left, so they look safe.
In the Big 12, Oklahoma still has a path to the playoffs, but after losing to K State and almost losing to Iowa State, there are no guarantees, even if they win out. Baylor is unbeaten but will still have to face OU at least once and still has Texas on the schedule. With their weak overall schedule, one loss likely eliminates them. A one loss Oregon or Utah might have a case, but the Pac-12 is a lot like the Big 12; it simply does not have enough good teams to help their chances. In the end, the fourth spot could come down to Georgia with an upset over LSU in the title game or Alabama, who will need to win out, lurk and hope for the best. The Tide does not have a real signature win, but they do have Auburn left on the schedule, and a convincing win would give them a case over Oregon, who lost to Auburn Week 1. So if everything plays out and the top three win out, the remaining contenders for the fourth spot would be Alabama, Oklahoma and the Pac-12 winner with one loss.
What does it all mean for LSU?
LSU likely has a Heisman winner, is clearly one of the top two teams in the country, is a legitimate national title contender and has finally slayed the Alabama demon. Saturday's game was a classic, but there is still work to be done.
However, with the victory, LSU has already accomplished a great deal and set itself up to accomplish so much more.