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LSU is Changing the Conversation

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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One-quarter of the way through the regular season, LSU, adding former NFL mind Joe Brady to its offensive staff, has put up truly eye-popping numbers.

LSU is the most fascinating team in all of college football.

Early this season, it appears to be the Tigers who are the game's top challenger to the recent rule of Clemson and Alabama, the two superpowers who have played in four consecutive College Football Playoffs and claimed four straight crowns. With a revamped offense featuring quarterback Joe Burrow and a resume that already includes a signature victory at Texas, LSU has the all the makings of a national championship contender; with upcoming showdowns against Florida, Auburn and Alabama, all currently ranked in the national top ten, the Tigers will have the chance to prove it.

One-quarter of the way through the regular season, LSU, adding former NFL mind Joe Brady to its offensive staff, has put up truly eye-popping numbers. The Tigers currently rank number one in the country with 57.8 points per game and 30 touchdowns scored and fifth with 563.5 yards per game and 7.99 yards per play. Furthermore, they stand first in redzone conversions, ninth in third down conversions and has the third-most plays of at least 20 yards in college football. This is LSU meets PS4.

A program known for physical play and defensive dominance has added a dynamic offense to its identity. You do the math; the ultimate total might be 15 games.

Burrow, emerging as an early Heisman Trophy frontrunner, fresh off six passing touchdowns at Vanderbilt, has been the catalyst. Remarkably, he leads all signal callers with an 80.6% completion rate and ranks second nationally in passing yards with 1,520, yards per attempt with 12.3 and quarterback rating at 225.63; for point of reference, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa set a new single-season college football record with a final margin of 199.44 a year ago. By multiple measures, Burrow is off to a historic start. 

After losing to the Crimson Tide last season, with LSU falling 29-0 to open November, Burrow has been the hottest passer in the country, somehow continuing to improve in recent weeks. He, after earning Fiesta Bowl MVP honors with over 400 total yards and four touchdowns in halting UCF's famed winning streak, has opened 2019 with passing performances of 278 yards, 471 yards, 373 yards and 398 yards, respectively. Burrow, having already played at Texas and an SEC road game, has a total of just 24 incompletions compared to 17 scores.

Correspondingly, LSU's receiver rotation has been putting in highlight-reel work in this new showcase scheme. So much so that Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase are the first SEC wideouts this millennium with at least 390 yards and five touchdowns at least 18 yards per catch four games into a season; Chase, fresh off 229 yards and four scores at Vanderbilt, has only played in three.    

Even playing at a faster pace that has resulted in more time on the field, the Tigers remain a top-half SEC side defensively, currently statistically comparable to Auburn. LSU, led by All-American safety Grant Delpit, has one of the nation's most talented depth charts. Every level of the defense is loaded with star power and next-level potential. Coordinator Dave Aranda's unit is very much capable of taking over games -- and will. 

Ed Orgeron is a coach of fiery conviction, one who believes his team can beat anybody in the country. The Tigers are certainly playing like it to date. 

It's early, but LSU is reframing the national discussion. While most pundits entered the year believing Alabama and Clemson were simply on a different level than every other team, the Bayou Bengals have worked their way into the conversation. A win in Austin, unprecedented offensive proficiency and 231 points in four games will do that. Orgeron has a message that is resonating in Baton Rouge as the Tigers have already defeated UCF and Texas this calendar year. More opportunities to make an impact, and challenge the status quo, await.

This LSU team is talented and experienced, proven and confident. Like a perfect gumbo, that just might be the recipe for a run.

Though many are already looking ahead to a November 9th trip to Tuscaloosa for a seismic showdown with Alabama, there are other storylines to watch, too. First, LSU is still evolving; how the Tigers settle into this season will determine just how far they go. LSU will host Florida, play at Mississippi State and welcome Auburn before its latest tussle with the Crimson Tide. Every step is a possible springboard. Any national championship season is a journey that starts week-by-week. 

For all of the Tigers' successes, a number of teams have shined this September. In addition to Alabama and Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, boasting new quarterbacks in Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts, have put up video game-type numbers. Wisconsin is earning more and more national attention. Georgia just made a statement with a hard-fought win over Notre Dame. Many think Auburn actually has the game's best overall resume so far. That said, LSU, as it pertains to the pair of big names at the top, is making people think twice.       

In a recent era defined by two programs, another is making its presence felt. LSU, with national championships in 2003 and 2007, is no stranger to the big stage. The podium is nothing new; these performance, however, are. Winning games a little bit differently, Orgeron's Tigers are coming with a new look and the same expectations. One month into this season, LSU has been college football's most striking story.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports