ATLANTA — All four coaches in this College Football Playoff were promoted from within, allowing schools to maintain continuity and save on moving expenses. Ohio State’s Ryan Day had Urban Meyer’s blessing, though, as we have learned, Meyer is not that selective about whom he blesses. Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley came pre-approved by OU legend Bob Stoops. Dabo Swinney earned the Clemson job with a brilliant campaign slogan: “It’s About Time Clemson Hired A Guy Named Dabo.”
Then there is LSU’s Ed Orgeron, one of the most widely mocked hires in recent college football history. A lot of people like to make fun of Coach O’s voice, but the truth is that when you stand near him, away from the crowds and hysteria of a football stadium, you can actually understand at least half of what he says.
Orgeron gets my vote as the sport’s coach of the year, not just for going undefeated, and not just for making fools of all of us who doubted him. College football has lost a lot of the quirks and regional charm that made it so appealing in the first place, but Orgeron is the ultimate regional phenomenon.
If you asked every athletic director and NFL general manager to choose between Orgeron or Riley, Riley would be an overwhelming and perhaps unanimous choice. He is the coaching phenom: 36 years old, a brilliant play-caller, already coaching in his third playoff. Orgeron is 58, and when people give him credit, it’s often for finding other people to figure out where to put the X’s and O’s. Yet, most would also agree Orgeron is coaching the better team here in Atlanta, and even the most skeptical critic must admit he has done a marvelous job.
In his first head-coaching job, Orgeron went 10-25 at Ole Miss and got fired. He is easily lampooned as a guy who was best suited for throwing cement blocks at opposing recruiters and would do crazy stuff like say football games were war.
“This is going to be a war,” Orgeron said Friday.
Anyway: There is more than one way to skin a cat, and Orgeron may know all of them. While Riley prepares for another round of NFL job rumors, and perhaps offers, Orgeron is clearly staying right where he is. Coach O continued thumbing his nose at the establishment Friday by giving what is believed to be the first honest injury update in college football history, on running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Orgeron said Edwards-Helaire will probably play, but he isn’t sure how much, because Edwards-Helaire doesn’t know if he can cut. Adjust your wagers accordingly. LSU is favored by around two touchdowns over Oklahoma, which would make a Sooners win the biggest upset in the six-year history of the College Football Playoff.
“We put 11 men on the field and we fight like Tigers,” Orgeron said. “I’m sure they’re going to say the same thing.”
They did not, though perhaps Auburn would have. Riley did not even give many hints as to what makes him an offensive genius. He said, “It doesn’t matter where it comes from, it’s how you package it,” which is something you often hear from companies that make hot dogs.
An Oklahoma upset would be Riley’s biggest win, and Orgeron promises his team understands how good OU is. He said his roster has a perfect curfew record this week.
“I’m not saying we have a bunch of angels,” he said, which is good, because angels do not win football games, or, for that matter, the American League West.
Orgeron has been fretting about Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb. Sooners cornerback Parnell Motley understands why: “I don’t think he has any weaknesses. He’s immortal.”
Football experts disagree on how Lamb’s immortality will affect his performance. On the one hand, he will not fear contact, but on the other, why would he have any sense of urgency?
If Oklahoma wins, Orgeron’s critics will jump out of their chairs, screaming. But LSU hasn’t lost yet. The Tigers’ offense is so good that Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow said that ever since the Florida game Oct. 12, opponents have changed their schemes just for LSU.
“It’s pretty frustrating going out there on the first play and going, ‘Well, this is not what they’ve done all year,’” Burrow said.
Burrow is completing 78% of his passes. He has thrown eight touchdown passes for every interception. Every quarterback in history would love to be that frustrated.
This is the machine that Orgeron built and that Riley must dismantle. Oklahoma is the No. 4 team, with an excellent senior quarterback (Jalen Hurts), more playoff experience and an outstanding coach. This should not be as impossible as it seems.