BATON ROUGE, La. — There was no LSU football game this week, but that does not mean we are going to stiff you on LSU football content.
The season really starts for the Tigers when No. 1 Alabama visits Baton Rouge on Saturday. After that much-ballyhooed game, things don’t lighten up much with trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M sandwiching a home game with SEC East leader Florida.
Even with all that work left on the schedule, it already has been a whirlwind year. We’ve narrowed down the top five storylines of the 2016 LSU season for your convenience. And no, it was not easy.
5. Injuries (probably) derail Fournette’s Heisman hopes
Leonard Fournette went into the season with hopes of becoming LSU’s first Heisman Trophy winner since Billy Cannon in 1959. But before the Tigers even kicked off, those hopes took a big hit as Fournette suffered a high-ankle sprain in preseason camp that drastically altered the course of his year.
Fournette missed a total of three games with the nagging injury, but came back with a bang last week against Ole Miss with a single-game school record 284 yards on 16 carries.
Right now, the trophy is Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson’s to lose, but with a strong finish against the last four teams on the schedule, Fournette could at least make his way onto the stage in New York City.
4. Danny Etling takes over at quarterback
Les Miles promised a new-and-improved Brandon Harris coming into the season, but if anything, the junior quarterback regressed in the five quarters in which he served as LSU’s starter.
Harris went 13 of 25 for 139 yards with a touchdown and 2 interceptions — including a fatal pick to end the Wisconsin game — before he was pulled in favor of backup Danny Etling after the first quarter of the Jacksonville State game.
Etling, who transferred from Purdue, made for an unlikely offensive savior. However, he played well enough to keep the offense humming through the month of October.
Etling is completing 60 percent of his passes with 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and has recently connected on enough deep balls to potentially keep quality defenses honest.
3. The Florida Fiasco
Somehow this season has been so convoluted that the biggest SEC-wide story of the year only checks in at No. 3 on LSU’s list.
LSU and Florida were supposed to play in Gainesville on Oct. 8. And then things got weird.
At the start of that week, it became evident Hurricane Matthew would threaten Florida’s Atlantic coast, and by the middle of the week it was clear Jacksonville and to some extent Gainesville would deal with the storm. But as LSU offered alternative sites and days to play the game, Florida dawdled until there was no choice but to postpone it the Thursday evening before the game.
Or so Florida said. In LSU’s mind, the game was canceled, but the conference insisted an alternative date would be found. Things escalated the Monday following the postponement as LSU athletic director Joe Alleva insisted the Tigers would play at home as scheduled on Nov. 19.
He ultimately got what he wanted. Florida canceled its scheduled game against Presbyterian, LSU canceled its scheduled game against South Alabama, and the Gators will come to Baton Rouge on Nov. 19.
The trade-off? LSU has to go to Florida the next two seasons, and the league office is none too pleased with Alleva.
2. The Coach O Show
This pretty much gives away what No. 1 on the list is, but Ed Orgeron is building momentum to become something more than LSU’s interim head coach after a 3-0 start in which the Tigers offense has been unchained from the shackles of dull.
LSU has gained more than 400 yards in every game since Orgeron took over, and the fact he’s just the second Louisiana native to helm the state’s flagship program since the turn of the 20th century seems to be carrying a lot of weight in the re-energized fanbase.
There’s no telling what Orgeron’s future holds until the next month is over. But we can probably rest assured it will be entertaining.
1. Les Miles fired in 12th season
Les Miles was the face —and hat — of LSU football for 12 seasons. But after surviving a coup attempt last November, his promises of a more-dynamic offense proved untrue through four games.
An unsightly 18-13 loss at Auburn on Sept. 24, complete with a signature weird Miles ending/clock management issue, was the final straw. Whether LSU sticks with Orgeron or moves on to a big name like Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher or Houston’s Tom Herman, things will be very different in Baton Rouge next season without the quirky character who was the SEC’s longest-tenured coach.