The Golden Age of LSU football shimmers through every hamlet and crevice of Louisiana as the 21st season of the 21st century seeks to survive Covid-19.
In two decades of the new millennium, LSU has captured three national titles under three different coaches and finished its last campaign as the greatest team in SEC history. No pandemic can kill the enthusiasm and anticipation that started when Nick Saban coached the first game of the millennium against Western Carolina on Sept. 2, 2000.
The success of a program which started the century with eight losing seasons in the previous eleven years is the catalyst for abundant pride. In a state with an array of challenges, LSU football is the engine for Louisiana’s flagship university just as Huey Long envisioned it would be 90 years ago.
LSU reigns as the first SEC champion to post a 15-0 record and is only the fourth league unit to post an undefeated season in this century. The other unbeaten SEC teams in the last 20 years are Alabama of 2009 at 14-0 and Auburn of 2004 and 2010. The War Eagles were 13-0 in both years.
In any other era, LSU would be light years ahead of conference competitors in wins and losses with a trio of NCAA titles and five conference crowns. But there is SEC West rival Alabama with five national championships in the last 11 seasons.
Saban, who is starting his 14th season in Tuscaloosa, leads all other schools with six national titles in the 21st Century and holds a 14-5 record in the LSU-Alabama series. He was 4-1 against Alabama at LSU and is 10-4 vs. LSU at Alabama. Overall, the 21st century ledger between the titans of the SEC West shows 11 wins for Alabama and 10 for LSU.
Saban has more overall wins than any school in the SEC in this century, even though he was absent in 2005 and 2006 when he was piloting the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
These are the 175-game SEC winners in the past two decades:
Nick Saban 205 wins, 39 losses, 84 percent
LSU 202-59 77.4
Alabama 203-63, 76.3
Georgia 197-67, 74.1
Florida 181-76, 70.4
Auburn 175-84, 67.6
The competition for best overall conference record in the past two decades is intense:
1. Alabama 115-45, 71.9
2. LSU and Georgia 113-47 each, 70.6
4. Florida 109-51, 68.1
5. Auburn 97-63, 60.6
6. Texas A&M 34-30, 53.1
7. South Carolina 79-81, 49.4
8. Tennessee 77-83, 48.1
9. Missouri 30-34, 46.9
10. Arkansas 62-98, 38.8
11. Ole Miss 59-101, 36.9
12. Mississippi St. 57-103, 35.6
13. Kentucky 44-116, 27.5
14. Vanderbilt 35-125, 21.9
The SEC has accounted for 11 of 20 NCAA football titles in the 21st century and boasts six Heisman Trophy winners in Tim Tebow of Florida (2007), Mark Ingram of Alabama (2009), Cam Newton of Auburn (2010), Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M (2012), Derrick Henry of Alabama (2015) and Joe Burrow of LSU (2019).
The SEC’s two most electric players of the past 20 years are Manziel and Burrow, who enjoyed the best season by a quarterback in the history of the league in 2019 with 60 scoring passes and 5,671 yards.
Manziel was a bust in the NFL while Burrow is expected to pick up where he left off in January at the Superdome as the kid from Ohio prepares for his first pass for the Cincinnati Bengals next season.
Here is the tale of the tape from the pair of Sagittarian leaders who emerged as Supermen in their two-year tours of the SEC:
DOB: Burrow-Dec. 10, 1996 Manziel- Dec. 6, 1992
Games: Burrow 28, Manziel 26
Total Offense Yards: Manziel 9,989, Burrow 9,332
Offensive Yards per Game: Manziel 384.2, Burrow 333.3
Yards Passing: Burrow 8,565, Manziel 7,820
Completion Percentage: Manziel 68.9, Burrow 68.5
Interceptions: Burrow 11, Manziel 22
Total Touchdowns: Manziel 93, Burrow 88
Touchdowns Passing: Burrow 76, Manziel 63
Touchdowns Rushing: Manziel 30, Burrow 12
Rushing Yards: Manziel 2,169, Burrow 767
Records: Burrow 24-4, Manziel 20-6
Wonderlic test score: Burrow 34, Manziel 32
Hand size: Manziel 9 and 7/8 inches, Burrow 9 inches
Height/Weight: Burrow 6-3, 221 pounds, Manziel 5-11¾ inches, 207 pounds
Burrow is the prototype NFL quarterback and will fare much better at the next level than Manziel. At 23, Joe is unleashed to be the free spirit that was masked as a baby-faced, milk-chugging assassin in his tenure as a Tiger.
The true Burrow is fascinated by the allure of the blackjack table almost as much he is when he spots an open receiver. It is an open secret that he decided to play for LSU after a favorable impression at a local gaming venue in his visit to Baton Rouge. The real Joe defiantly accepted cash from Odell Beckham Jr. as he departed the field as a collegian for the last time and made no apologies as he fired up a cigar in the locker room.
This writer loves renegades. Characters make the world interesting, and Burrow is destined to have the freedom to enjoy life on his own terms and not worry about what people think. If this means an occasional visit to a dice hall, more power to him. Expect Burrow to be the most charismatic quarterback produced by the SEC since Joe Willie Namath of Alabama.
There are more than a few similarities between the iconic passer from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and the LSU legend from The Plains, Ohio. Namath and Burrow crossed the Mason-Dixon Line and won national titles in their senior seasons although Alabama Joe lost his final game to Texas in the Orange Bowl.
Namath signed a record contract with the New York Jets, and Burrow will get a bigger contract with the Bengals than any previous NFL draft pick.
Alabama Joe won Super Bowl IV when he was 25 years, seven months and 12 days old. The 56th Super Bowl will be staged in Inglewood, California on Feb. 6, 2022. Burrow will be 25 years, one month and 27 days old. As we know, he is awfully good in his second season.
First there was Broadway Joe who took the Big Apple by storm with his white shoes, mink coat, pantyhose and Fu Manchu mustache. Now there is Casino Joe, a riverboat gambler in the Queen City, an appropriate landing spot for Burrow.
Fifty-five years ago, Steve McQueen delivered a memorable performance as the Cincinnati Kid, the story of a depression era poker player who desires to be the best. The new Cincinnati Kid is just as daring in his quest for fun and his pursuit of excellence.