A magical season on the gridiron does not happen without a complete team effort. While senior quarterback Joe Burrow's wizardry in the pocket deservedly gets most of the headlines, the LSU Tigers were a gritty team from start to finish during the 2019 regular season taking on all challengers and ending their campaign undefeated (13-0, 8-0 SEC) with an SEC championship and the top seed in the College Football Playoff.
And there is still a lot of football left to be played with a return to Atlanta for a semifinal showdown against No. 4 Oklahoma on Dec. 28 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl for the right to play the winner of the Ohio State/Clemson Fiesta Bowl in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
LSU ransacked the competition behind 48 points per game that translated into a 26-point average margin of victory. The romp to the playoff included taking down five top-10 teams (Texas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia) with two of those games on the road and another, the SEC Championship Game, on a neutral field in Atlanta. The Tigers finished their 13-game schedule racking up 554 yards per game with a passing attack that netted 387 yards each time out and a run game that generated another 168.
Looking back on the season, college football fans will remember how Burrow produced for LSU. The senior enters the playoff second in the nation in passing yards (4,715) while leading the FBS ranks in touchdowns (48), completion percentage (77.9), and passer rating (201.5). The precision in the pocket and unrelenting assault on opposing defenses led to a litany of postseason honors, starting with the Heisman Trophy, and including the Walter Camp Award, Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Associated Press Player of the Year, and SEC Player of the Year.
Fully acknowledging that Burrow is the straw that stirs LSU's elixir on the field, it's time to hand out some awards to his teammates, recognizing one of the best all-around college football performances in the game's history.
Offensive MVP: Ja'Marr Chase, WR
Chase was not only the best receiver in the SEC this season, but he also was statistically the best in the country. Averaging a video game-esque 20.5 yards per reception, Chase led the nation in the regular season with 1,498 yards and 18 touchdowns on 78 catches. Chase's remarkable season was capped off by him being named the recipient of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver.
Defensive MVP: JaCoby Stevens, S
There are several LSU players worthy of receiving the honor as the top defender. Grant Delpit won the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back, and other significant contributors on defense include Jacob Phillips, Patrick Queen, and K'Lavon Chaisson, but Stevens was the man game after game making things happen. Stevens enters the College Football Playoff second on the team in tackles (82), tackles for a loss (8.5), interceptions (3), and surprisingly leads the way with five sacks.
Best Freshman: Derek Stingley Jr., CB
Stingley proved why he was a five-star recruit out of high school wowing all who watched him play this season. The true freshman has played in all 13 games standing up to repeated tests against his lack of collegiate experience. He has been credited with 34 tackles and leads the team in both pass breakups (15) and interceptions (six). For his efforts, Stingley earned second-team All-SEC and USA Today Freshman All-American honors.
Play of the Season: Joe Burrow's game-sealing TD run vs. Auburn
This is perhaps the most unassuming of amazing plays throughout the 2019 season for Burrow and Co. Yet this stands out as a difference-maker on a very challenging schedule. No disrespect to Georgia, but Auburn was the most talented defense LSU faced all season. The resistance shows in the final score, a 23-20 victory. The headlines were Burrow goes for 321 passing yards, completing 32 of his 42 attempts, but his running ability produced the game-deciding play. Up 16-13 with 13:36 left in the fourth quarter, Burrow avoided a four-man rush on a designed QB keeper, making his way to the end zone untouched for what would be the game-winning score.
Best Performance by a Player: Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. Alabama
Through the first seven games of the season, LSU's ground game was spotty as the offense revolved around the passing attack. Edwards-Helaire had produced two 100-yard games over that span, but as the team was getting into the heart of the SEC schedule, would he show up big when needed? The answer was a resounding yes.
On his way to being named first-team All-SEC, Edwards-Helaire shinned when needed most in a 46-41 win over bitter rival Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium, rushing 20 times for 103 yards with three scores. He also made an impact as a receiver, catching a game-high nine passes for 77 yards and an additional score. Edwards-Helaire had more rushing yards in other games and more carries, but his gritty, all-around performance helped LSU snap an eight-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide, once and for all signaling that the Tigers are for real.
Best Game: LSU vs. Alabama
All roads to an SEC championship and College Football Playoff berth, not to mention a national championship, have gone through Tuscaloosa since the 2010 season. With that in mind, since the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, LSU had not been able to get over the hump that has been the Crimson Tide. After a heartbreaking 29-point loss to Alabama at home a year ago, the Tigers were poised to flip the script. LSU's offense outperformed Alabama's tallying 559 yards behind Joe Burrow's 31-of-39, 393-yard, three-touchdown performance. The Tigers jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter and stretched to 20 by halftime before holding off a late Tide rally to secure the program-changing victory.
Biggest Surprise: The passing game
No one has been more surprised, and elated, by the overall performance of the passing game than LSU fans. For years, promises have been made that the Tigers would open up the offense to feature a vertical attack, and finally it happened. There were signs of what Joe Burrow could do if handed the reigns a year ago, posting 307 passing yards against Rice and putting together a 394-yard, four-touchdown performance against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. But the differences are night and day. The Tigers threw for 228 yards per game in 2018, and have raised the bar 159 more yards per game this season, settling in at 387 each time out.
Biggest Disappointment: Loss of Michael Divinity
LSU's defense gets hammered by national media, but one who follows the program knows this unit gets after it. All the pieces are there except one, a dominating edge rusher. Divinity was that standout performer for LSU who could have taken this unit from good to great. But after five games played with 23 total stops, four tackles for a loss, and three sacks, he left the squad for personal reasons.
Senior That Will Be Missed Most in 2020: Joe Burrow, QB
No matter who may be named the next starting quarterback at LSU, and no matter how well they play, they ain't going to be Joe Burrow. Another concern beyond losing Burrow is all the draft-eligible juniors on the roster that could decide to make the jump to the NFL.
The scary thing is if all the juniors return, LSU has the talent to go back-to-back in the SEC, and possibly the national title. The Tigers will still have to figure out how to move forward without Burrow, guards Adrian Magee and Damien Lewis, defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko, and cornerback Kristian Fulton.
Player to Watch in 2020: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB
If Edwards-Helaire returns for his senior season, with Joe Burrow gone, a bigger emphasis will be placed on the running game until the new quarterback shows he can guide the offense at an elite level. This means Edwards-Helaire could be asked to put up Leonard Fournette-type numbers in 2020. If Edwards-Helaire heads to the NFL, look for current freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. to take over.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Replacing Joe Burrow
Backup quarterback Myles Brennan appears next in line, but will he be ready? Brennan has appeared in nine games, completing 21-of-37 passes for 314 yards with one touchdown, and one interception. If he can average around 300 passing yards a game while completing 65 percent of his passes, LSU will be a beast again in 2020. Anything below that, the offense will more than likely have a 2018 look to it.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.