No college football program in the country has underachieved like the LSU Tigers over the last six years. Since playing for the national title in 2011, the Tigers have failed to even reach a major bowl game. This is despite elite recruiting classes that put their core talent base on a par with Ohio State—which is to say, better than anyone else outside of Alabama. Somewhere along the line in the funnel of development, what came out was a lot less impressive than what went in. But in 2018 they might finally be ready to change.
LSU’s 22-21 win at Auburn on Saturday gave them two big scalps in the first three weeks of the season, along with their season-opening dismantling of Miami, a game the Tigers led by thirty points after three quarters. The Tigers are up to #6 in the current AP poll.
Now, the question is, how high can they go? Does head coach Ed Orgeron have this program ready to again be a viable challenger to Alabama and making their now-traditional first Saturday in November showdown must-see television again? That might be getting ahead of ourselves, but breaking the drought on major bowl bids is highly realistic.
For all their talent, LSU is winning because they take care of the football. They did not turn the ball over in either of the big wins. Defense is what has traditionally defined this program and this year’s team is no different. Dave Aranda is one of the outstanding coordinators in the country, he has a terrific inside linebacker in Devin White, while corner Andraez Williams leads up a veteran secondary.
Simply avoiding mistakes and letting that defensive personnel win football games can push LSU ahead of other SEC West challengers, from Texas A&M to Mississippi State to now-defeated Auburn. But while quarterback Joe Burrow doesn’t throw the ball to opposing players, he doesn’t complete too many to his own either. A sub-50 percent completion rate in this day and age is almost unheard of, but Burrow has thus far pulled it off. Obviously that won’t be enough to compete with Alabama.
But three weeks ago there was talk that Orgeron might not survive the season if his team didn’t beat Miami. The head coach’s seat was hotter than hot. The mere fact that we can even open discussion of how the Tigers match up with the Tide is a victory in of itself.
The only thing working against LSU is the schedule—they had the misfortune to draw Georgia in the crossover games against teams from the SEC East and also play Florida. But if the expectations are simply getting back to a major bowl, that means they’ll have at least two losses to give. And we know the talent has always been there. It’s good to see it finally come together on the football field.
TheSportsNotebook’s updated Top 11 is below, with eleven being the number of power conference teams that will make the New Year’s Six bowls, along with a representative from the mid-major. The key changes to this week’s rankings are as follows…
*Auburn is replaced by LSU at #6 and getting the SEC’s Sugar Bowl spot.
*Wisconsin falls out after their loss to BYU
*Stanford falls out through no fault of their own, but because I liked what I saw from the Big 12.
*TCU and Oklahoma State both enter the rankings. The Cowboys blew out Boise State. And I was impressed with the Horned Frogs in their loss to Ohio State. If the Buckeyes are #4, then TCU seems logical at #10.
*If this were a season-ending poll, I’d have to keep Auburn in ahead of Washington based on the head-to-head win. But projection is a big part of this exercise and I really have not liked what I’ve seen from the Tigers. I felt Auburn was fortunate to escape against Washington and fortunate their loss to LSU wasn’t more decisive.
The 12th: San Diego State
PROJECTED BOWL MATCHUPS
Cotton (College Football Playoff): Alabama-Ohio State
Orange (College Football Playoff): Georgia-Clemson
Rose: Washington-Penn State
Fiesta: TCU-San Diego State
Peach: Virginia Tech-Oklahoma State