Who comes to mind when thinking about the best college football teams of the past 50 or 60 years? Perhaps the trio of Nebraska squads that won the national championship in the mid-90s. Or maybe any of the Alabama defensive powerhouses of 1961, 1979, 1992 and 2009. How about the 2001 Miami team that had 17 players who eventually went in the first round of the NFL draft? Then there are the undefeated Oklahoma teams of the 1950s, the 1976 Pittsburgh squad with Tony Dorsett, and the 2004 USC club featuring Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.
They are worthy contenders all. Now the question is, if No. 1 LSU defeats No. 2 Alabama on Monday in the BCS Championship Game (and granted, that is a mighty big if), do the Tigers' vault to near the top of this prestigious all-time list?
The answer, amazingly, is yes. An LSU victory over Alabama would cap what has unquestionably been such a dominating season by the Tigers that they would have to be considered among the best ever.
All right, once you are through laughing, think about the following facts should LSU win Monday night:
? The Tigers will have defeated Alabama and Nick Saban - he of the two national titles and the reputation of being something of a football genius - twice in slightly more than two months, neither time in Baton Rouge. That alone would be an impressive accomplishment. In order to be one of the best of all time, you have to be far and away the best of your season. If LSU and Alabama are indeed better than the rest of the football world this season (though Oklahoma State would probably disagree with that assessment), and the Tigers are good enough to beat the Tide twice, then how much better is LSU than everybody else?
? LSU will have four victories over teams ranked in the top three (Alabama twice and Arkansas) at the time the Tigers played them and nine wins over teams ranked in the Top 25. Compare that to, say, the 1986 Penn State team, which was an undefeated national champion but beat only two ranked teams.
? The Tigers haven't just been winning games. For the most part they have been crushing opponents. Other than their three-point victory over Alabama in early November, the Tigers have won every game by double digits. Ten of the victories have been by more than 20 points and seven by 30 or more. Compare that to last year's national champion Auburn team, which had five victories by a field goal or less.
|9/3||Vs. No. 3 Oregon*||W 40-27|
|9/10||Vs. Northwestern State||W 49-3|
|9/15||@ No. 25 Mississippi State||W 19-6|
|9/24||@ No. 16 West Virginia||W 47-21|
|10/1||Vs. Kentucky||W 35-7|
|10/8||Vs. No. 17 Florida||W 41-11|
|10/15||@ Tennessee||W 38-7|
|10/22||Vs. No. 19 Auburn||W 45-10|
|11/5||@ No. 2 Alabama||W 9-6, OT|
|11/12||Vs. Western Kentucky||W 42-9|
|11/19||@ Mississippi||W 52-3|
|11/25||Vs. No. 3 Arkansas||W 41-17|
|12/3||Vs. No. 12 Georgia#||W 42-10|
|1/9||Vs. No. 2 Alabama%||??|
The Tigers have put up these impressive numbers despite a chaotic season that included the suspension of starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson before the season even began, and then a one-game suspension midway through the season of star cornerback and Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu and running back Spencer Ware, the team's second-leading rusher. Either of those events could have derailed LSU's undefeated run. Instead, the Tigers never seemed fazed. That is the sign of a team that is mature, cohesive, deep and, most important, extremely talented. Those are precisely the characteristics needed for a team to be considered one of the best ever.
It also helps the Tigers' case that they are led by their defense. When you get right down to it, most of the great teams have great defenses. Even the 2005 Texas squad that averaged an eye-popping 50 points per game behind quarterback Vince Young still boasted a defense that allowed only 16.4 points per game.
Maybe this LSU squad isn't quite as good as Nebraska of 1995, Oklahoma of 1974 or USC of 1972. Long-time LSU fans might even prefer the Tigers' squad of 1958, which allowed only 53 points all season and gave up more than seven points in a game just once.
But if the Tigers defeat Alabama on Monday and put a 14-0 bow on the season, then any future discussion of the all-time greatest teams will have to at least include LSU of 2011. What would have seemed like a crazy suggestion at the beginning of the season now makes perfect sense. In a Mad Hatter sort of way.