We are less than four months away from the start of the 2016 college football season, and perhaps no SEC team has more at stake this year than the LSU Tigers.
A popular favorite to emerge from the SEC, LSU has one of the most talented and veteran-laden squads in all the country.
Of course, LSU also boasts a handful of new coaches, including defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig and running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, all new tools for veteran coach Les Miles, just a couple of months removed from almost losing his position.
The Tigers kick off the 2016 campaign with a major non-conference showdown before quickly dipping into their conference slate.
LSU will be tested early and often, which may help or hinder its chances of reaching the SEC Championship Game and beyond.
Best Matchup: Sept. 3 vs. Wisconsin (Lambeau Field)
The Tigers open up what should be a promising 2016 season with a date with Wisconsin at historic Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc. It should have an electric feel to go along with the primetime showdown. Aranda will also be coaching against his former club in his LSU debut. This will be our first opportunity to see the new-look Tigers offense and defense as Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette take the stage against a potential top-25 team. Heisman Trophy campaigns and playoff chances begin with this tilt.
Toughest matchup: Nov. 5 vs Alabama
Last year’s showdown between LSU and ‘Bama had the feel of a high-stakes game, but only the Crimson Tide looked the part in the lopsided victory. The Tigers will attempt to exact revenge in this go-round in a home game at Tiger Stadium. Adding fuel to the fire, LSU will have a week off prior to the Alabama game to prepare and focus for Nick Saban’s return to Louisiana. Expect LSU’s defense to be fired up after getting steamrolled in last year’s contest, and expect Fournette to play like a man on fire.
Toughest stretch: Oct. 22 to Nov. 12
You may recall a similar stretch of games during the 2015 season in which LSU faced off against these same three opponents — Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas — which derailed the Tigers’ entire campaign. LSU opened the season 7-0, but went 0-3 against those three SEC West foes and in the process put Miles on the hot seat. The LSU offense, which scored 30 or more points in six of its first seven games, was held to a combined 47 points during that span. Conversely, the Tigers’ defense had allowed more than 24 points one time in the first seven games, then allowed Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas each to rack up 30 or more points in that stretch.
Biggest trap game: Oct. 8 at Florida
LSU will play six of its first nine games in the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium. The exceptions include the opener at Lambeau Field and two SEC road games against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and against Florida in The Swamp. The latter — on Oct. 8 — comes right smack in between home games against a Mississippi State team without Dak Prescott and Missouri. The Tigers face Jim McElwain’s club in between home games against Mizzou and Southern Miss . The Tigers must be careful not to overlook the defending SEC East champions, particularly in their own building.