When LSU won the national championship at the end of the 2019 season, there was a huge debate about whether the Tigers were the best team ever.
Their resume was strong. A perfect 15-0 season, including 7-0 against teams ranked in the top 10. The Heisman Trophy winner. A record-setting offense.
And then along along came Alabama in 2020.
The Crimson Tide just finished a perfect season with 11 wins against Southeastern Conference competition, including 6-0 against ranked opponents. The Heisman Trophy winner. A record-setting offense.
It many ways it was very familiar.
Both teams won the Joe Moore Award for having the best offensive line.
Both defenses had some sensational players, especially in the secondary.
Both teams had a lot of future NFL players on the roster. For example, LSU long-snapper Blake Ferguson was a sixth-round pick in the NFL Draft, while Alabama's Thomas Fletcher could be chosen this year.
You know you're good when even your long-snapper is getting draft attention.
But both teams were especially known for their offenses. Here's how they stacked up statistically:
Average points per game
2019 LSU: 48.40
2020 Alabama: 48.46
Average yards per game
Average per play
The overall numbers are eerily similar. Even the turnovers lost are the same, with both having 12, and even though LSU played more games the opponents Alabama didn't face were the kinds of ones it shouldn't have had any anyways.
In turnover margin, LSU was second in the SEC in 2019 (to Alabama). The 2020 Crimson Tide was first again, ahead of the Tigers.
It's when you look a little closer that a pattern really starts to develop.
Average rushing yards
2019 LSU: 166.8
2020 Alabama: 183.5
LSU: 91-183 (49.73 percent)
Alabama: 86-146 (58.9)
Sacks by opponents
LSU: 35 for 221 yards
Alabama: 19 for 116
Individually, there's more of a contrast between the teams.
LSU had four consensus All-Americans in 2019, but only two were on offense.
Alabama had six overall, including five on offense.
LSU had 14 players selected in the 2021 Draft, including five first-round selections, two second-round picks and three in the third round (the offense's numbers were seven overall, three in the first round, zero and two, respectively).
Alabama could top that despite having four first-round picks last year, all on offense, and 10 overall (Jalen Hurts included).
Moreover, going position-by-position one could almost (stress the word almost) make the case that the Crimson Tide was better across the board, which no one thought was even imaginable at the start of the season.
2019 LSU: Charles Saahdiq (6-4, 295 pounds) played in 32 games with 28 starts and was a fourth-round selection in the NFL draft.
2020 Alabama: Alex Leatherwood (6-6, 312): Outland Trophy winner as best interior lineman and unanimous All-American. Also co-winner of the Jacobs Trophy as the SEC's best blocker.
LSU: Adrian Magee (6-4, 343) was versatile, started at three different positions over 40 games and had 20 starts. The second-team All-SEC selection was not drafted.
Alabama: Deonte Brown (6-4, 350): Man beast. Nicknamed "cornbread," he was named All-SEC by the coaches.
LSU: Lloyd Cushenberry III (6-4, 315): Named a second-team All-American by the American Football Coaches' Association and the Football Writers Association of America. Third-round selection in the draft.
Alabama: Landon Dickerson (6-6, 325). Unanimous All-American and won the Rimington Trophy as most outstanding center. Co-recipient of the SEC Jacobs Blocking Trophy,
LSU: Damien Lewis (6-2, 332) was named a second-team All-SEC. Started all 28 games of his career after transferring from Northwest Mississippi Community college. Third-round pick in the draft.
Alabama: Emil Ekiyor Jr. (6-3, 324) played 749 snaps and missed only one assignment and committed only one penalty. The technician was credited with allowing eight quarterback hurries, one pressure and two sacks as a sophomore.
LSU: Austin Deculus (6-7, 322) was the only returning starter on the offensive line in 2020. Played in 39 games with 24 starts.
Alabama: Evan Neal (6-7, 360) played 724 snaps after moving over guard where he was a Freshman All-American. Had just six missed assignments and three penalties. Was credited with 1.5 sacks allowed while surrendering just four quarterback hurries and two pressures. Has a good chance to be Alabama's starting left tackle in 2021.
Tight end (I)
LSU: Thaddeus Moss had 47 passes for 570 yards and four touchdowns during the only season he played for the Tigers. Wasn't selected in the draft.
Alabama: Miler Forristall caught 23 passes for 253 yards with one touchdown. Finished career with 44 catches for 505 yards and five touchdowns.
Tight end (II)
LSU: Stephen Sullivan played both at wide receiver and tight end at LSU. For his career played in 49 games with 11 starts, resulting in 46 receptions for 712 yards and three touchdowns. Had 12 receptions for 130 yards as a senior. Was selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft.
Alabama: Jahleel Billingsley became a significant part of the offense midway through the season, with 15 catches and 247 yards coming in the final six games. Overall 13 of his 16 receptions resulted in a first down or touchdown.
Wide receiver (I)
LSU: Ja'Marr Chase set the SEC record for receiving touchdowns in a season, which was broken by Smith. Had 1,780 yards en route to being named a unanimous All-American and winning the Biletnikoff Award
Alabama: DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Biletnikoff Award and the Paul Hornung Award (nation's most versatile player). The unanimous All-American was also named the Associated Press Player of the Year, the first wide receiver to ever win the honor.
Wide receiver (II)
LSU: Terrace Marshall Jr. caught 46 passes for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. Had he done that the year before Marshall would have set the school record for receiving touchdowns in a season.
Alabama: Jonathan Metchie III averaged 17.8 yards per catch to rank fifth in the SEC. The sophomore totaled 835 yards and six touchdowns on 47 receptions.
Wide receiver (III)
LSU: Justin Jefferson. Had a school-record 111 receptions for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns, but was only a second-team All-SEC selection. Was a first-round draft selection, No. 22 overall.
Alabama: Jaylen Waddle was averaging 139.2 yards per game, which led Alabama and ranked fourth nationally, when he suffered a a fractured ankle. In 2019 was named a first-team All-American by the FWAA and The Sporting News, and was a second-team selection by the Associated Press and Walter Camp.
LSU: Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Had a stellar senior season with 1,414 rushing yards and 453 receiving yards on 55 receptions. Was a first-round draft pick, No. 32 overall.
Alabama: Najee Harris. Won the Doak Walker Award and is the Crimson Tide's all-time leading rusher. Had 1,387 rushing yards to lead the SEC, and totaled 1,733 all-purpose yards to average 144.4 per game.
LSU: Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy by the largest margin in the 85-year history of the award. He's the only player in SEC history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a season. Set NCAA single-season record for TD passes (60) and total touchdowns (65). His 76.3 completion percentage ranked second in NCAA history. Connected on 402 of 527 passes for 5,671 yards, and had only six interceptions. Set the NCAA record for passing efficiency (202.0). First-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Alabama: Mac Jones finished third for the Heisman Trophy, but won the Davey O'Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Manning Award for most outstanding quarterback. Selected as the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Alabama's all-time single-season passing yardage leader had 4,036 yards, completing 311 of 402 attempts with only four interceptions. He led the nation in completion percentage (77.0) and adjusted completion percentage (83.6), and set the NCAA single-season passing-efficiency record (203.06).
• LSU had more close games. The 2019 Tigers beat then-No. 9 Texas 45-38, and No. 9 Auburn 23-20. The only top-five team it faced during the regular season was No. 2 Alabama, and posted a 46-41 victory. The only opponent to finish within two touchdowns of the 2020 Crimson Tide was then-No. 4 Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
• Remember, when Alabama lost that No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tua Tagovailoa was only 20 days removed from ankle surgery. Even though he wasn't 100 percent, he finished 21 of 40 for 418 yards and four touchdowns, but with an interception and a costly fumble.
• As for the defensive side, there's no comparison. In 2019, LSU was ninth in the SEC in total defense. In 2020, Alabama was first at the end of its 10-game SEC regular season, but dropped to third.
• Character. LSU didn't even get off the field at the National Championship Game without getting into trouble. It self-imposed sanctions including a one-year bowl ban stemming from the NCAA's investigation into improper booster payments to players.
In 2020, Alabama had to deal with a deadly pandemic, a huge social movement for racial justice and a presidential election that turned the nation on its ear. It didn't flinch.
LSU was really, really, really good ... yet it's pretty obvious which was the better team.
Did you notice?
• Even though Alabama basketball has a two-game cushion in the SEC standings, oddsmakers still have it third for winning the conference tournament: Tennessee +135, Missouri +325, Alabama +465
Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW, which can soon be found on the BamaCentral+ section, appears weekly