The cinematics leading out of the tunnel onto the field for Joe Burrow’s final home game four years ago in Tiger Stadium was something straight out of Hollywood.
The beloved quarterback was the final player announced in the 2019 Senior Tribute and outfitted in a No. 9 ‘Burreaux’ jersey, received the kind of stadium-wide adulation befitting a superstar.
Accordingly, Burrow went out and directed No. 1 and undefeated LSU to a 50-7 demolition of Texas A&M. He then directed the Tigers to a national championship, making him a cult hero.
Burrow, a native of Athens, Ohio and a three-year member of the Ohio State program, became an adoptive Cajun by the end of his record-setting two years in Baton Rouge. Winning the Heisman Trophy and becoming the NFL’s No. 1 pick further bonded him with a fan base and forged a relationship without an expiration date.
The same thing has transpired for fifth-year senior Jayden Daniels, a native of San Bernardino, California, and like Burrow, a transfer quarterback looking for an opportunity to flourish.
“I wanted to come to LSU and rebrand myself, to level up,” Daniels told Cole Cubelic and Roman Harper in this week’s edition of the SEC Network’s Read & React. “I had an opportunity here to come and compete for a job and really play against the best competition.”
Two years later, Daniels should walk out of the tunnel at Tiger Stadium for the final time in his two-year career Saturday before the 11 a.m. kickoff with Texas A&M to the same level of admiration.
It’s commonplace in this day in age for such superstars to receive their flowers.
Daniels deserves a bunch of bouquets. Not only for the player he’s evolved into, one with a ticket booked for New York and the Dec. 9 Heisman Trophy Award ceremony, but by the way he’s conducted himself outside of the spotlight’s intense glare.
It’s a shame, though, Daniels’ final regular season game at LSU won’t have a grander stage.
I realize LSU’s only ranked No. 14 with an 8-3 record and out of the chase for a Southeastern Conference Western Division championship or spot in the four-team College Football Playoff. Combined with a Texas A&M team that’s 7-4 and led by an interim coach, the Tigers-Aggies’ ‘rivalry’ didn’t warrant better than an 11 a.m. kickoff on ESPN.
Not only will the LSU-A&M game be opposite the No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Ohio State grudge match on FOX, but CBS in its final SEC matchup, opted for the Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl, while ABC’s primetime time slot of 6:30 p.m. felt undefeated No. 1 Georgia and Georgia Tech (6-5) was more deserving.
Daniels is currently the best show in college football and it’s not his fault LSU hasn’t been able to compliment him with a serviceable defense. Instead of penalizing him for the team’s three losses, all of which are to teams in the Top 10, consider the games the dynamic Daniels has been responsible for the Tigers winning with an unmistakable flair and unflappable poise.
He’s got one final opportunity to certify his Heisman credentials against the top-rated defense in the SEC and one of the best in the country.
Nothing’s been easy for Daniels and taking the next logical step toward a Heisman Trophy won’t come without anything less than a signature performance. The five-time SEC Offensive Player of the Week is the nation’s leader in seven statistical categories and one of the team’s offensive captains has guided one of the nation’s top units that’s toppled 50-plus points four times, including the two previous games before Texas A&M.
Daniels arrived at LSU with far greater credentials than Burrow with 29 starts in his career at Arizona State, including a bowl victory as a freshman in ’19 over Florida State. Productivity wasn’t an issue, amassing 7,312 total yards and 45 touchdowns, during some turbulent times with the Sun Devils.
There were whispers along the way in his first season to a 10-4 record and SEC West title that Daniels may not be the guy to lead LSU’s offense. In road wins over Auburn and Arkansas, both of which he threw for less than 100 yards, those murmurs were more prevalent.
Before the team’s Citrus Bowl victory over Purdue, Daniels announced his return for a fifth season of eligibility where thoughts of an SEC Championship and national championship were at the heart of his decision. Instead of leaving for the NFL Draft where he was believed to be a second-day selection, he wanted to be the catalyst, a leader for a rebuilding program in the second year under coach Brian Kelly.
What he’s delivered has been one of the greatest seasons in LSU history that’s usually been prefaced, the best since Burrow’s Heisman year in ’19.
Consider this is the 154th season of college football and Daniels has done things no other player has ever accomplished. He’s the first to pass for more than 12,000 yards and rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career. In consecutive weeks he’s became the first player with 350 yards passing (372) and 200 rushing yards (234) in the same game, and he matched Burrow’s school record of being responsible for eight touchdowns in a game.
“He’s got toughness,” Kelly said on this week’s Paul Finebaum Show. “He’s playing football. I’m going to give it every chance I can to talk about his (Heisman) candidacy. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. He still is the best player in college football this year.”