In some ways LSU coach Ed Orgeron is a modern college football historian, the 35-year coaching veteran who has witnessed elite levels of the game from his east coast days at Miami to his west coast tenure at Southern Cal.
Even he could only chuckle and shake his head at a question ahead of Saturday's No. 1-vs.-No. 2 showdown against Alabama: Had he ever seen this much wide receiver talent on a field in a game like this?
"No," Orgeron said. "No."
There's a Heisman battle between quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa; a pass rush spectacle between LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson and Alabama's Anfernee Jennings; a top-to-bottom roster duel filled with future professionals that makes this particular "Game of the Century" reminiscent of the first in 2011.
But nowhere is the talent more concentrated, more unique, more influential than at wide receiver — a collection of players that strains memories and summons record books in search of an adequate comparison.
SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic said, "You've got three easy, stone-cold lock, early NFL draft picks on both teams." Those are the starters: LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall; Alabama's Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith.
Then there's Alabama's electric slot receiver Jaylen Waddle, LSU's dynamic tight end Thaddeus Moss. Rope in running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Najee Harris, who both have recorded more than 100 yards receiving for the Tigers and Tide, respectively, and you've got perhaps one of the biggest passing showdowns in college football history.
"You can make the argument that both of them have six pros catching passes," said Cubelic, a former Auburn center and sports radio host headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. "And that's just insane to think about."
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Orgeron said this is the culmination of the Southeastern Conference's dedication to spread offenses.
It's what happens when top programs in fertile recruiting grounds commit to a scheme that utilizes its plethora of pass catchers. It's behind LSU's meteoric rise from No. 38 in scoring offense last season (32.4 points per game) to No. 4 this year (46.8). It's why Alabama has been in the top 15 since 2016.
Tracking each starting trio's spot in its school's record book gets cumbersome. Keeping them from scoring is much more difficult. All six players rank within the nation's top 50 in receiving touchdowns.
The last time opposing teams hurled three top 50 scoring receivers at each other, Houston beat Tulsa 70-30 on Nov. 15, 2008, and former Tulsa tight end Charles Clay is still playing for the Arizona Cardinals.
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Well, not everyone feels that way.
"I think that's crazy," LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton said Monday, "because I think we both have pretty good defenses."
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Alabama's pass defense (13th, 180.1 yards allowed per game) ranks substantially higher than LSU's (60th, 217.5). The Crimson Tide's level of play has also been substantially different: Alabama's only ranked opponent this season, Texas A&M, has since dropped out of the polls, while LSU has three victories over top 10 opponents.
LSU's secondary has improved since facing its first top 10 opponent, Texas, which torched the Tigers with 409 yards and four passing touchdowns in a 45-38 LSU win. Since then, LSU has recorded at least one interception in each of its last five games, and true freshman Derek Stingley is tied for the SEC lead with four picks this season.
Trouble still brewed against Florida, when LSU struggled to match up with Gators tight end Kyle Pitts, who had five catches for 108 yards.
The matchups will be more difficult against Alabama, and it's easy enough to understand by flipping on the film of the Crimson Tide's 29-0 win last year in Tiger Stadium, when Jeudy rung up 103 yards receiving.
"I look at that game, and it sickens me how we played," LSU safety JaCoby Stevens said. "Me being a competitor, of course I don't want them to run up and down on us like they did last year. Our job now is to figure out how we'll stop that."
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Cubelic said he thought most defenses this season would play more zone coverage against Alabama, preventing deep touchdowns by protecting the deep portions of the field.
But as Cubelic talked to several SEC defensive coordinators who have faced Alabama this season, they've said there's a common problem with that theory: playing deep in zone coverage leaves too much space over the middle, and Alabama's speed and quickness at receiver makes it extremely difficult to close the space once they catch the ball.
Ruggs, Jeudy and Smith all rank within the nation's top 22 receivers in yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus College, and the corps has regularly hurt defenses with slants and crossing routes over the middle of the field.
Georgia had success against Alabama in last year's SEC championship game, Cubelic said, by having its defensive backs jam the Crimson Tide wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, playing physical man-to-man that closed the space and forced Tagovailoa into one of his worst performances in his career (164 yards passing, one touchdown, two interceptions).
In order to play man effectively, a defense needs to match the talent at defensive back. Orgeron said in the summer at SEC media days that LSU's secondary is the best he's ever coached.
Yes, there's first-round talent within both team's receiving corps; but Fulton said with he, Stingley, Stevens, nickel safety Kary Vincent and unanimous All-American safety Grant Delpit, LSU is "gonna be man all across the board."
"(This) shows what you're really made of," Fulton said. "They got NFL guys. We got NFL guys too."
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