BATON ROUGE, La. — At dictionary.com, one can find the definition for just about anything. Type in a word into a search bar, smash the enter key and up pops a list of defining characteristics about said word. For example, if you input into the search bar “jambalaya,” you’d get this: A dish of Creole origin, consisting of rice cooked with ham, sausage, chicken, or shellfish, herbs, spices and vegetables, especially tomatoes, onions and peppers.
If you type in “gumbo,” you’d first see this: A stew or thick soup, usually made with chicken or seafood, greens and okra or sometimes filé as a thickener. As you’ve probably figured out, these words are synonymous with one state, Louisiana, and with one school, LSU. They are special words at this place, affectionately used here, a meaning that goes well beyond food, much deeper than any dictionary can define. However, here this week there was one word with even more meaning—at least for one week. That word? Complete.
Having all parts or elements; lacking nothing; whole; entire; full.
On Tuesday night, in front of television cameras broadcasting a segment to millions of ESPN viewers, one of the most powerful men in college football provided unneeded motivation for one of college football’s best teams. College Football Playoff Committee chairman Rob Mullens referred to Ohio State as a more “complete team” than LSU. Four days later, the Tigers defined the word itself, delivering their most complete game of the season in a bloodbath of a victory, 50–7, over Texas A&M. The Tigers led 31–0 midway through the second quarter, out-gained A&M 553–169 and opened the game by forcing seven consecutive punts. This was, as they might say, complete. There are plenty of definitions for it, too.
Having all the required or customary characteristics, skills, or the like; consummate; perfect in kind or quality.
Earlier this week from a stuffy board room inside a ritzy hotel in the suburbs of Dallas, the selection committee made a stunning move with the top of its rankings, swapping Ohio State and LSU to send a collective groan throughout this state and across this riverside campus: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU. In an explanation during an ESPN interview, Mullens not only referred to OSU as a “complete team” but he underscored what’s been the one soft spot—maybe the only soft spot—about this football team: its defense. “It is the defensive piece,” Mullens said. “This week, the committee felt Ohio State is a little better on the defensive side.”
Rob, they heard you in Baton Rouge—loud and clear. “It hurt,” says LSU outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson. “It was personal.” Similar comments funneled out of LSU’s post-game media session. Safety Jacoby Stevens says he and other players did indeed watch the rankings show and heard Mullens’ comments. “We were motivated,” he smiles. “It was good we went to No. 2.” Even Joe Burrow, LSU’s likely Heisman Trophy–securing quarterback, understood the motivation on the other side of the ball. “The defense wanted to send a message to the country,” he says. “They wanted to make a statement.”
Mid-answer, Burrow turned to LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette to ask how many yards the Jimbo Fisher–coached Aggies (7–5) gained. “One sixty-nine,” Bonnette replied. Burrow’s eyes widened. “Oh, gosh,” he said. “That’s a pretty dominant performance by those guys.” Also, complete. A complete performance. An LSU defense saddled with criticism completely suffocated an offense captained by their former offensive coordinator. Fisher’s unit finished with two drives of longer than 25 yards, converted two third downs and averaged 2.8 yards a play. The Tigers picked off A&M quarterback Kellen Mond three times. He finished 10-for-30. At one point in the first half, the yardage separation between the two teams was a jaw dropping 286–18. The Tigers beat the Aggies by 43 points. Georgia and Clemson beat A&M by a combined 20 points.
This, of course, all sets up a titanic clash next week in the SEC championship game, where No. 2 LSU (12–0) meets No. 4 Georgia (11–1) with playoff possibilities on the line, another marquee win possibility for the Tigers and their hopes of usurping Ohio State as the top team in the land. Many believe the separation between the Buckeyes and the Tigers is razor thin, both having detached themselves from any other squad in America. Entering this weekend, the numbers from Sagarin.com bear out this neck-and-neck competition, one that will rage at least one more week. LSU’s strength of schedule is 40, Ohio State’s is 46. LSU has four top-30 wins, Ohio State has three. They’ve each won impressively on the road against a bitter division rival, LSU at Alabama and Ohio State on Saturday at Michigan.
Few here expect the committee to swap back the teams this coming week, but what about on Selection Sunday after championship weekend? While Ohio State will play a top-15 Wisconsin for the Big Ten, LSU meets a top-four team. On a normal year, the difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds isn’t all that large. This year, it’s big. Not only does the one-seed get preferential treatment on geography—Atlanta or Phoenix—but it avoids the three-seed, which is setting up this year to be defending national champion and undefeated Clemson. You know, the squad that has won 27 games in a row. The playoff picture cleared some on Saturday with Alabama’s loss at Auburn, likely boiling this thing down to three scenarios for the No. 4 seed:
(1) a 12–1 Pac-12 champion Utah
(2) a 12–1 Big 12 champion (Baylor-Oklahoma winner)
(3) two SEC teams advancing to the playoff, if Georgia were to upset LSU
Barring a UGA upset, one of these teams—Ohio State or LSU—will get Clemson in a semifinal and one of them will not, the latter will of course be the most complete. There’s that word again, the one circling around Baton Rouge. This fight for the one-seed looms over this place. On Saturday afternoon at a local Baton Rouge watering hole, I sat silently watching Ohio State pull away from Michigan, only to see an LSU fan out the corner of my eye. “I guess they’re going to say that’s a quality win!” he barked. Well, yes, they are and they would be right too.
Oh what fun it would be for an LSU–Ohio State national title in New Orleans, the site that hosted the Tigers’ win over the Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS championship. The storylines go well beyond that. Burrow is an Ohio native who transferred from Ohio State to LSU two years ago. Ohioans, many of them still big fans of Burrow, are clamoring for the matchup, says Burrow’s dad, Jimmy. His boy put on a show Saturday, an outing that should lock up the Heisman Trophy. He threw three touchdowns on 23-for-32 passing for 352 yards, tying one single-season SEC record (TD passes) and breaking another (passing yards) in the process.
He received a royal sendoff from more than 100,000 piled into Tiger Stadium on a rather warm November night. Orgeron sent his QB onto the field to start a drive while up 41–7 with less than 13 minutes left, only to use a timeout and set up the sendoff, Burrow walking slowly off the field to a standing ovation. Fans chanted “Joe! Joe! Joe!” and the LSU band played a tune normally reserved for those times its defense makes a third-down stop. Fans bowed to a kid who helped resurrect a stagnant offense and lead this team to an SEC championship game for the first time since 2011.
There in Atlanta, the Tigers will attempt to again impress the committee and try to be… complete. As for the third different definition of that word, well, it is below.
LSU 50, Texas A&M 7.