BATON ROUGE, La. — Ed Orgeron’s takeover and Leonard Fournette’s return have breathed life into a previously moribund LSU football season as the Tigers ran through the month of October without a loss.
But now the fun really starts.
Following their actually scheduled bye week — as opposed to their hurricane-imposed bye week — the Tigers run through a four-team gauntlet that ultimately may determine Orgeron’s future with the program. In theory, it is a piece of scheduling so strong that running the table could even put LSU back into the playoff picture with some complete chaos in the Top 10.
Here, we rank LSU’s remaining schedule in order of difficulty.
4. at Arkansas (Nov. 12)
It’s pretty telling that the easiest remaining game comes on the road against a team the Tigers have lost to by 17 points the last two seasons. But Bret Bielema’s Hogs are showing why an Arkansas professor felt the need to yell f-bombs at the coach until he got arrested.
In games against quality opponents — sorry Ole Miss, at 3-4 we’re not giving you that designation — Arkansas has been pulverized, losing to Texas A&M by 21, Alabama by 19 and Auburn by 53. Worse still, the A&M and Alabama debacles were at home, so Reynolds Razorback Stadium hasn’t exactly been a nightmare destination for opponents this season.
The problem is the Razorbacks can neither run the ball (12th in the league at 160.4 yards per game) nor stop the run (13th at 221.8 yards per game).
Bielema had Les Miles’ goat, but it will take some kind of magic for him to stop the Orgeron version of the Tigers.
3. Florida (Nov. 19)
It’s pretty telling that there are two tougher games on the schedule than the one against the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense. The Gators are allowing just 12 points per game.
However, that number has been helped by a Charmin-soft schedule. The only team of any consequence Florida has played is Tennessee, which hung 38 points on the Gators in their lone defeat.
If this game still was in Gainesville, it would obviously pose a much stiffer test for the Tigers. And in theory, it is possible that quarterback Luke Del Rio will hit his stride in the next couple games and prove a more dangerous threat for LSU’s secondary than he would have had the teams played in the days after Hurricane Matthew.
But in all honesty, this is another game LSU should win.
2. at Texas A&M (Nov. 24)
Here’s where the Gators are more likely to cause problems for LSU.
There is no doubt the Florida game will be a physical one. And on Thanksgiving night, just five days after that fact, LSU will have to suit up again to face Texas A&M in College Station. The Aggies should be pretty well-rested at that point, with a Nov. 19 game against Texas-San Antonio likely allowing them to rest most of their starters in the fourth quarter.
A&M’s Trevor Knight is also the most dangerous quarterback the Tigers will see the rest of the way because of his ability as a dual threat. Knight has run for more than 500 yards and nine touchdowns in addition the the 11 he’s thrown. LSU is very aggressive on defense, so there will be chances for him to break loose on some runs.
And we have a feeling defensive coordinator John Chavis won’t have much of a problem getting his fellas fired up to play the school he’s still going to court with.
1. Alabama (Nov. 5)
Who was going to be No. 1 other than No. 1?
There is plenty of background noise. The challenge of beating Nick Saban off a bye week. The fact that LSU hasn’t won this game since 2011. The fact the Crimson Tide unquestionably have been the best team in the country through the end of October.
But outside all of those things, there’s some purely football reasons this one will be a challenge. The fact is the Crimson Tide match up very well against LSU’s strengths.
The front seven is insanely good and is allowing only 70 yards per game on the ground. If LSU can’t get it moving, is Danny Etling up to the task of beating the Tide through the air?
On the other side of the ball, Alabama may have the only receivers and tight end in the league capable of challenging LSU’s talented secondary. And like Knight, quarterback Jalen Hurts can use his legs to escape danger.
It’s a heck of a task — which is why a victory gives plenty of reason to believe Orgeron wouldn’t be walking around with the “interim” tag much longer.