BATON ROUGE, La. — Beating Alabama is the biggest “if” in all of sports right now — a fine-sounding theory that is seemingly impossible to put into practice. That said, if LSU is able to beat the Crimson Tide for the first time in six tries next week, the sentiment will be strong to take the “interim” tag off coach Ed Orgeron first thing Monday morning.
And it should be. That is how sentiment works. The emotion of the moment overtakes logic.
But LSU athletic director Joe Alleva cannot allow himself to give in to the emotion when making a decision that will shape the program’s long-term future.
That’s not to say Orgeron isn’t the man for the job, because so far he has done everything that could be expected of him and then some.
However, even with a win over Alabama, there is one test that Orgeron has yet to pass simply because he hasn’t had an opportunity to take it — taking the Tigers on the road.
Had LSU been able to play at Florida as originally scheduled on Oct. 8, this problem would have taken care of itself already. But that didn’t happen. As a result, we still have not seen how an Orgeron-coached team plays on the road.
The first opportunity will come at Arkansas on Nov. 12, and for a number of reasons, that is the game Alleva should use as a litmus test before potentially promoting Orgeron to full-time.
Orgeron’s intensity is a perfect match for Tiger Stadium, but how will it travel? Will LSU have the discipline to clean up some of the untimely penalties and mistakes that have kept opponents like Southern Miss and Ole Miss lurking around for a half?
It seems unlikely that LSU would experience a road meltdown. But like a scientist, Alleva needs to be able to test this hypothesis before coming to a final conclusion. There is simply too much at stake, particularly for Alleva personally, as his hires in men’s and women’s basketball enter their seasons on roasting hot seats. He has to be as meticulous as possible when making a decision, even though Orgeron has done a superb job of rallying support from his first week on the job.
Making the matter more interesting are the Razorbacks themselves, who despite their current struggles have been every bit as problematic for LSU to handle in recent years as Alabama has been. The Hogs actually have dominated the Tigers more than the Tide have, winning back-to-back games by 17 points in 2014 and ’15 compared to Alabama’s wins of 30-16 last year and 20-13 in overtime in ’14. The ability to demonstrate that he can game plan for Bret Bielema better than Les Miles is another test Alleva should make sure Orgeron can pass.
A third bird that could be killed with one stone? Orgeron showing how well he can get his team to play in a classic trap game.
If the Tigers are able to beat Bama — again, a big “if” for those of you who for some reason skipped the first paragraph — the Arkansas game takes on all the classic symptoms of a letdown.
You’re on the road against an inferior opponent on paper. It probably will be chilly, if not downright cold. Bodies will be hurting and some key players possibly will be out after a brutal, physical battle with Alabama. A grudge match with Florida looms the following week. It’s nothing short of every coach’s nightmare scenario. And frankly, naming Orgeron the head coach before that game happens might be a mistake that lulls players into thinking “mission accomplished.”
So while most fans will be ready to hand Orgeron the job if he can beat Alabama, in reality his biggest proving ground should come a week later. If the Tigers beat the Tide and the Razorbacks, then Alleva should make the move to promote Orgeron the week of the Florida game, which also would serve as perfect fodder to rile up the Tiger Nation for the unexpected home date against the Gators.
In all likelihood, if Coach O is capable of beating Bama, following it up should be no sweat for him. But for Alleva, there’s too much on the line to jump to that conclusion.
To exercise caution would be no insult to Orgeron — the man has waited his whole life for this job. He can wait one more week to erase any doubt it should be his.