Marcus Musings: National championship, Joe Burrow, Bengals

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 13: Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers reacts against the Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff National Championship game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 13: Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers reacts against the Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff National Championship game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Credit: Chris Graythen

Credit: Chris Graythen

Another college football season is over. It concluded with a championship game that was far more satisfying than the previous one. Here are some thoughts to wrap it up… 

  • From what I have gathered, I was far from the only person from Ohio who enjoyed watching LSU win the national championship. Of course there is the Joe Burrow factor, but I have always felt like that is a pretty cool program from the uniforms to the mascot to the band and fight song and stadium and everything else.
  • Burrow's lasting legacy on college football should be fascinating. Aside from putting up historic numbers in 2019, he challenged a lot of narratives by improving so much at the end of his career. As some have noted, the legend has already been embellished by people claiming he was not a major recruit coming out of high school, but still his whole career arc is amazing. It moved along fairly typically for a few years: Ohio's Mr. Football lights the world on fire, enrolls at Ohio State and has to wait his turn, showing a few flashes when he got the chance but not looking like a world-beater either. He appeared to be the next in line after J.T. Barrett until a preseason hand injury dropped him behind Dwayne Haskins, who himself saw his career path forever altered by a memorable relief appearance at Michigan when Barrett was injured. I still believe that was the deciding factor in the QB race the following spring: Urban Meyer was not going to demote Haskins without something extraordinary happening, so it was basically an unwinnable fight for Burrow. He looked better in the spring game than Haskins, but Haskins appeared to have the higher ceiling because of a more electric arm so there was not necessarily a wrong answer.
  • Burrow then decided to transfer, which was not a surprise and is not unusual now or really even in the recent past for a quarterback, and proved to be just OK when he did get his chance at LSU. This tends to be where we leave the story nowadays, fairly or not. The next step is he is drafted in the fifth round and spends 5-10 years holding a clipboard in the NFL, right? Not that the CFB world at-large would notice because by then we are always looking for the next big thing. A fifth-year senior quarterback who has OK measurables and numbers is not moving the needle anymore.
  • Watching a guy progress from OK, to good to great used to be fairly normal, but nowadays don't we more often expect players to be Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields? Yes, I realize they were five-star recruits but still they provide a more familiar path to greatness. Lawrence was great pretty much immediately while Fields had to wait a year but still became a star as soon as he got a chance. We never had to doubt if they are the real deal, which is nice because doubting is inconvenient for everyone.
  • If a dog's gonna bite, he'll bite as a pup, right? Well here comes Joe Burrow to turn that John Cooperism on its ear.
  • I can't think of any other transformations from year four to five lately, though the Troy Smith story is similar. Smith was better as a junior than Burrow was — a lot better by the end of the year. Most Ohio State fans probably would have been happy to take 2005 Michigan Game Troy Smith right out of the box and play with him every week in 2006, but Smith came back as an almost completely different quarterback his senior year. He went from dual-threat weapon to precision passer (J.T. Barrett to Dwayne Haskins, for you youngsters in the audience) and like Burrow morphed into a Heisman Trophy winner. (Smith probably had a lot better odds before his senior season, but the way he ultimately did it was surprising.)
  • Up to now, the Smith example was always the one that gave me second thoughts in writing off a player before we saw the full body of work. Now it will be Burrow… fair or not because how often will something like this happen again? (As another aside, this is also why I will probably always believe Braxton Miller would have had an unbelievable 2014 if he had not hurt his shoulder.)
  • Of course that doesn't cure Ohio State's hunger for another national championship. Can the Buckeyes get back into the final winner's circle next year? They might need their quarterback to have a transcendent season, but Justin Fields looks capable of it if he continues to build knowledge and confidence within Ryan Day's offense. Ohio State will be talented for sure, but I will be very surprised if the defense doesn't take a step back. On the bright side, elite offenses are what win national championships now, and Ohio State should have one of those.
  • I also didn't mind seeing Clemson lose because I thought the whining about disrespect in the media got really mind-numbing by the end. Pretty much everyone agreed Clemson was good and certainly deserved a spot in the playoff, but lots of people also correctly pointed out their league stinks and so did their schedule. Hang with 'em, Dabo.
  • Clemson will be back anyway, perhaps better next year as the Tigers have kicked up the recruiting over the last couple of years. Meanwhile, LSU was already recruiting like a national champion but couldn't get over that Alabama hump. Now they have, but they'll have to defend the title without Burrow of course.
  • I like the Ed Orgeron story, and seeing LSU complete such a great season is also satisfying for the CFB historian in me because I felt like the 2011 Tigers got the shaft having to play Alabama twice. That LSU team also had an amazing regular season, going undefeated against a very tough schedule, while Alabama kinda backed into the title game and in no way deserved a second chance, especially if "the regular season is a playoff," but at least that was what finally killed the BCS.
  • I've come around on the Cincinnati Bengals taking Burrow with the No. 1 pick. Chase Young might be a safer choice, but now I'm convinced that going all in with a quarterback with Burrow's mix of talent and intangibles is the kind of thing the organization needs to really start a new era. His arm could be stronger, but accuracy is not a fluke, and his ability to throw with anticipation should translate to the NFL, too. That is also why I liked Baker Mayfield as a pro prospect despite his lack of size, but I think Burrow has a few advantages on Mayfield. He is bigger but also coming from a system that translates more directly to the NFL.
  • Burrow also seems to handle the chip on his shoulder better than Mayfield does. While the tail wags the dog at times with Mayfield — his desire to be motivated by slights overwhelms him and leads to bad decisions — Burrow seems to be better at channeling his emotions and going with the flow. I suppose the next challenge for Burrow will be handling success… and Southwest Ohioans figure to get a front row seat.

“Marcus Musings” is a semi-regular feature here at the blog. While most of our other coverage is concentrated on news and analysis, this is a place to share opinions on various stories permeating the sports world and (hopefully) have some fun. Have your own thoughts? Send them along to marcus.hartman@coxin.com or find us on Twitter or Facebook.  

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