NEW ORLEANS — Ed Orgeron and No. 1 LSU stand on the brink of immortality with one hill left to climb in this tour de force of a season.
To call it a magical run feels disingenuous given the relative ease with which LSU romped its way to the College Football Playoff National Championship. LSU has taken a blowtorch to the sport’s offensive record book. Only a handful of opponents managed to give the Bayou Bengals a 60-minute fight.
But if you’re going to become the champions, eventually you’re probably going to have to go through the champions. That’s the challenge that awaits LSU in No. 3 Clemson as the two teams play for a title in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome tonight.
This ones for all the marbles, but Orgeron has preached to his team to approach this game exactly like it did the 14 victories that came before it.
“We didn’t talk about going to play for the National Championship,” Orgeron said. “We talked about we have to prepare to beat Clemson, one game at a time, just like we’ve done. We have trusted the process. Today is focus Friday. The guys are getting excited. They are getting antsy. I can feel it. I’m getting antsy, too. But I think we have to continue to work up through game time.”
Something has to give in this meeting of dominant teams. LSU has played three one-score games this season and outscored its opponents by an average margin of 27.2 points per game. Clemson only had two such close calls and outscored opponents by a whopping 33.8 points per game.
“They are going to make plays. We’re going to make plays,” Orgeron said. “We have to work for 60 minutes and focus on winning the game and not worry about all the other stuff, block out all the noise just like we did all year.”
An LSU win would cement Orgeron a place among the program’s legendary figures. It would complete an unbelievable redemption arc for a coach whose career was reduced to a punchline after a disastrous stint at Ole Miss, and it’s happening a mere two seasons after a loss to Troy that felt like rock bottom.
Being from Louisiana and Cajun heritage are essential pieces of Orgeron’s soul. To lead LSU to the pinnacle of the sport right here in New Orleans is the kind of storybook script that Orgeron couldn’t have dreamt up during his year off from coaching in 2014.
Orgeron has turned his career around by staying in the moment and never making it about himself, but what an oh-so-sweet moment that would be for the 58-year-old football lifer.
“I’m excited to be at LSU at home where we’re proud of our Cajun heritage,” Orgeron said. “We’re proud to be from Louisiana. I just feel at home here. People that made fun of my accent before, I thank them. That gave me internal motivation to do better, so I thank them.”
None of that is to suggest that anything will come easy tonight. The opposing group of Tigers haven’t lost since Jan. 1, 2018, and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence hasn’t finished second in a game since he was a senior in high school.
For all of Swinney’s bellyaching about a perceived lack of respect for Clemson nationally, his program has undoubtedly become the preeminent force in college football — arguably even more so than Alabama.
Clemson is playing for both its 30th consecutive victory and its third national championship in four years under Swinney. With a win, Clemson would become the first team this century to go undefeated while winning back-to-back titles.
That’s a dynasty any way you slice it. Clemson’s prodigious accomplishments during this run rank up there with some of the hallowed teams in football history. Swinney wants his team to embrace their chance at history without losing sight of the task at hand.
“Certainly we reinforce from time to time what their opportunity is, but it’s not like we’re giving them anything they don’t know,” Swinney said. “They know. They’re very well aware of what they’ve been able to achieve. And listen, regardless of what happens in the game tomorrow night, it’s really been a historic run.”
One way or the other, history will be made in New Orleans on tonight.