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Burrow, Tagovailoa Making, Sharing History

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Burrow and Tagovailoa, faces of college football, have ebbed and flowed their ways through the record books.

Joe and Tua. Tua and Joe. The two legendary college football quarterbacks and first and fifth picks, respectively, in the NFL Draft will forever be linked.

Historical greats and top draftees almost always are constantly compared. Such sentiments are even more exaggerated for the former direct competitors. One, for both Burrow and Tagovailoa, has already been the other's barometer. Burrow, the recent Heisman winner and 15-0 national champion, arguably just had the greatest single season of all-time. Tagovailoa, who became an instant-legend with his walk-off title game strike as a true freshman, has had a career the likes of which the game had never before been seen. Burrow and Tagovailoa have countless SEC and national records, along with legacies that will long be intertwined.

Burrow and Tagovailoa may be this generation's Herschel and Bo.

The similarities, for the two record-setting national champions and two top five picks, are simply stunning. The more research you do, the more of a mirror the natural point of relativity becomes. Over his final two seasons at LSU, Burrow completed 69% of his passes for 76 touchdowns and eleven interceptions. Tagovailoa, his last two years, completed 70% of his throws for 76 touchdowns and nine interceptions. If imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, Burrow and Tagovailoa are the perfect compliment to each other.   

For a proper frame of reference for what Burrow just accomplished, he, statistically-speaking, just had more passing touchdowns than fellow first round NFL Draft picks Justin Herbert and Jordan Love combined and over 2,000 more passing yards than the likely 2021 number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence. Burrow set a number of new standards, including the single-season NCAA marks with 5,671 passing yards and 60 passing touchdowns, very nearly setting the mark for completion percentage at 76.1% as well. He led LSU to a perfect season, helping the Tigers lap the field with 568.4 yards and 48.4 points per game along the way. 

Burrow went up against five teams, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson, who finished  in the final AP top eight. In those spotlight pairings, facing four opponents in the Gators, Crimson Tide, Bulldogs and Tigers, who still finished in the national top 13 in scoring defense after facing LSU, Burrow's collective stat-line was absolutely unfathomable: 140-of-189 (74%), for 1,991 yards, 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Add in Texas and Auburn and Burrow was 203-of-270 (75%) for 2,783 yards, 27 scores and two picks.

The second half of the 2017 national championship game unfolded like a movie script all its own, with Tagovailoa emerging as the hero. Coming in cold off the bench, he led Alabama to 26 total points after the break, throwing a trio of touchdown passes, most notably his improbable 41-yard game-winner to DeVonta Smith on 2nd-and-26. As if completing one of college football's most famous passes ever thrown wasn't enough, Tagovailoa continued his rise from there. He finished as the NCAA career record holder for passer rating, yards per pass attempt and yards per play, among other marks.

The Hawaii-native was often so remarkably effective that he barely played in the second half of games at all. In 2018, Tagovailoa only took the field in the final period in five outings, throwing a total of merely 17 passes in the third and fourth quarters all season. Though he was injured late last year, Tagovailoa only attempted 24 combined throws in the fourth quarter this past season. Not counting his famed comeback effort against Georgia, Tagovailoa still finished 22-2 as a starter. 

Beyond being just direct heavyweights in college football's toughest division, Burrow and Tagovailoa were all-time parallels of proficiency. It was Tua who set the new single-season passing rating mark with a tally of 199.4 in 2018. The very next year, Burrow, following in those footsteps, promptly established a brand new mark of 201.9. Though Tagovailoa didn't meet the statistical minimums because of his late October and November injuries, his junior season passer rating total actually finished at 206.9. 

Mere months ago, the two superstar signal callers were the obvious centerpieces of one of the greatest and most significant and entertaining games of the year. On November 9th in Tuscaloosa, Burrow completed nearly 80% of his passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns, adding 64 yards rushing, with Tagovailoa throwing for 418 yards and four scores. The end result was a dramatic 46-41 road triumph for LSU, along with countless highlights and memories.

Over the last calendar year, Burrow and Tagovailoa, faces of college football, have ebbed and flowed their ways through the record books. As QB1 and QB2 in the most recent NFL Draft, those comparisons will only undoubtedly continue and rightfully so. Their respective starting points, leading rebuilding efforts in Cincinnati and Miami, come in relatively similar spots. Expectations are as high as can be all of the way around. The full-circle, for both, has become a spotlight. That process continues. 

After watching Burrow and Tagovailoa lead the way at LSU and Alabama, more, as they head to the next level, may continue to be the ultimate measure.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports