LSU / SEC Week 3 Recap

I’m quickly growing tired of the “we’ll come along” line about LSU football.

Bad defense against Washington? It’ll come around. And they say it came around with a “great” effort against Vanderbilt, holding the ‘Dores to 210 yards of offense. Yeah, and Vandy managed just 157 yards of offense against Mississippi State this week. Oh, and it was awesome how Washington beat USC with the Huskies gaining 185 fewer yards and scoring seven fewer points in their win over the Trogans than in their loss to LSU. Idaho held Washington to 104 fewer yards than the Tigers gave them.

So giving up 272 yards to USL is supposed to feel good? Yeah, the goal line stand was awesome – it would be great if the Cajuns would have just run into the big pile of larger guys on every play. And the Tigers held USL to 14 fewer yards than they gained against 1-2 Kansas State.

I don’t buy it. LSU is sitting at No. 9 in the SEC in total defense. And this against no teams that rank in the top 50 nationally in total offense. This is not to say LSU is doomed on defense, but we aren’t where we need to be come Oct. 3 and beyond. Any thinking Tiger fan would be concerned about what we’ve seen so far. The defensive line needs to step up, close down the rush and gets some pressure on the quarterback. That, rather than pass defense, feels like the problem this year.

And the picture is more concerning on offense. I think I know why we haven’t seen Jordan Jefferson throw deep until last night – he’s not hitting guys long. But the USL game was a good time to figure that out. We don’t need the long ball to be successful, but we do need a ground game. We averaged just 4.5 yards per carry against the Cajuns, and the outside run game that saved us against Vandy and UW was gone. Keiland Williams averaged 7.3 yards per carry against the Huskies and 7.2 against the ‘Dores. He got more touches Saturday night against the weakest rush defense we’ve faced and his average dropped to 4.3 yards per carry.

Right now, nothing is working particularly well offensively. LSU is dead last in the SEC in total offense and 90th in the nation. We dropped 330 yards and 31 points on USL. Alabama dropped 523 yards and 53 points on North Texas. Kansas State and Southern both put more yards on USL than LSU did. Mississippi State put more yards on Vandy than LSU did. Idaho and USC put more yards on Washington than LSU did. There is just nothing good to say about LSU’s offense right now.

So one more relatively easy game and then these Tigers have to get serious. There’s not much I’m seeing that gives me a good feeling about October.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

I was pretty amazed at the joy expressed by Tennessee fans for not feeling embarrassed coming out of the Florida loss. A loss was a given, I guess, so anything short of looking foolish must have felt good. But I don’t like seeing that from a program the caliber of Tennessee. It was one thing to see Washington fans all full of pride for putting up a competitive game. But they were 0-12 last year. Have a little more program pride, Vols fans. Yes, I predicted a Florida blowout.

Apparently Georgia signed a secret pact to join the Big 12 when they were out in Oklahoma. All of a sudden they’re a big-throwing team with no defense. It wasn’t entirely surprising that this game became a shootout, and I give the Dawgs credit for coming out on top as I guessed they would.

On the flipside of the Tennessee attitude, I understand Auburn fans being really happy to win a game over West Virginia they probably should have lost. No, this isn’t the “great” West Virginia, but it’s still a quality non-conference win in a year when the War Eagles really need to get some wins and get off to a good start. Whether Vol fans will be happy with a feel-good loss to Auburn in two weeks remains to be seen.

I’ve talked enough about Vandy, but obviously the ‘Dores losing to Mississippi State doesn’t make LSU’s win feel that great. They played like Vandy of old, and I bought the idea that they might be something more. Silly me.

Good win for Kentucky. Expected wins by Bama, South Carolina and Ole Miss. Amazing that Ole Miss is sitting at No. 5 in the poll (and No. 4 in the one that doesn’t matter) having played absolutely nobody.

For the week: 8-1; for the season 23-4

LSU / SEC Week 3 Picks

They say we should respect or perhaps even fear USL this week, as the Cajuns are 2-0 and beat a “BCS conference” team last week. Sorry to say, Tiger fans, but if Saturday’s game is anything but a patsy blowout, No. 7T LSU is in trouble.

I’m not ready to call the Tigers’ start a bad one. Opening the season at Washington and following up with an SEC home opener against a supposedly not-horrible Vandy is unusual. We’re 2-0 this season with a combined score of 54-32, which is being viewed poorly. Last year after two games we were 2-0 with a combined score of 82-16 … beating Appy State and North Texas. And Florida is 2-0 this year with a combined score of 118-9 … beating Charleston Southern and Troy. So we can’t view this season’s starts solely by points scored and points allowed. However, loyal Tiger fans will recall 2007, when we opened 2-0 with wins over Mississippi State on the road and Virginia Tech at home … by a combined score of 93-7.

That season is the measuring stick of “damn strong” LSU teams. Clearly we are not there. But there are mitigating factors – the ghost of Jarrett Lee being the biggest one – that would make it a wise move to bring these Tigers along deliberately and carefully. If, of course, that’s what’s happening.

But now is the time to put the spurs to this team. I want to see a lot more this week than we’ve been shown so far. The USL game and Mississippi State next week are the final tune-ups for Georgia, Florida and Auburn (yes, we have to mention the Auburn game now) in October. Blowing out the Cajuns is not just good for team and fan morale, it’s an indicator of likely performance against real SEC competition. In our 2003 national championship season, our patsy games averaged a score of 44-8. In 2007, it was 45-6. Last season, it was 39-14.

And about those Cajuns – let’s not kid ourselves. They beat Southern and a Kansas State team that had a hard time with UMass. And against Kansas state USL managed just 287 yards of total offense and gave up 377 yards. LSU should easily hold them under 200 yards and throw down 450+ on them. Rain or no, this one needs to be ugly.

LSU 48 – 6

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Tennessee at No. 1 Florida. It’s too bad for Gator fans that the Vols couldn’t keep up the appearances of being a good team against UCLA. Maybe that loss and familiar Tennessee problems were anomalies, but we’ll know for sure come Saturday. Florida will be out for blood; the Vols will do well to keep it close.

Gators 52 – 10

West Virginia at Auburn. This game could swing Auburn into the “we’re back” category, swing the Big East back toward legitimacy or end up as something hideous that leaves no questions answered. The War Eagles have to be feeling good – they passed the test against La. Tech and threw a beating down on Mississippi State in their SEC opener. And they are ranked No. 4 in the country in total offense. Beating up on West Virginia would keep their momentum rolling through at least the Tennessee game. But I don’t know that it’ll really prove all that much. We’ll have to see how MSU looks in a couple of weeks, etc. before Auburn’s new offense can really be gauged. But I think things fall their way here.

Auburn 35 – 24

Mississippi State at Vanderbilt. Along with USC at Washington, this is the game Tiger fans will watch this week to see how good we should feel about ourselves. A Vandy win here would make our win over the ‘Dores feel OK. A blowout by MSU and things will be uncomfortable. I’m going with program experience, the home field and confidence on this one.

Vandy 24 – 20

No. 20 Georgia at Arkansas. They say it’s a “trap game” for the Bulldogs. And it could well be. Arkansas has played just one game, a patsy win in which they ran up 591 yards of offense. So I really don’t know what to make of them. Georgia, on the other hand, could be viewed as weak based on their Oklahoma State loss or strong in outlasting South Carolina. But I can’t overlook the Dawgs No. 98 ranking in scoring defense (influenced, of course, by the lack of patsies). If Arkansas’ offense is for real, Georgia could be in trouble on the road. But I don’t feel confident making that assumption. I’m going with trial-by-fire experience here.

Georgia 42 – 38

Louisville at Kentucky. I got nothing here, except that Rick Pitino is an exemplary husband and father.

Kentucky 35 – 10

North Texas at No. 4 Alabama. Our patsy games are the only ones that shall draw deep analysis.

Bama 45 – 13

Florida Atlantic at South Carolina. FAU lost to Nebraska 49-3.

Cocks 48 – 7

Southeastern Louisiana at Mississippi. Wow, SLU has a football team? And they throw a lot and have the No. 4 total offense in I-AA. Good to know.

Ole Miss 52 – 13

LSU / SEC Week 2 Recap

There are a couple of ways one could view LSU’s 23 – 9 win over Vandy on Saturday night. The cynical view would be that the Tigers under-performed against a weaker SEC team at home, and that portends bad things down the road. The believer’s view would be that the Tigers shut down an under-rated offense, held off a spunky SEC up-and-comer and didn’t fold in the face of a tough battle in tough conditions.

And I think the truth lies somewhere in between. Offensively, the Tigers were pretty conservative, but ultimately efficient enough to get the job done. I can’t really fault the coaches for not opening up the passing game on a rainy night with a young quarterback. It would have been comforting to see Jordan Jefferson have a 300-yard game or something, but if the strategy is to build this offense up slowly over our first four games (the easier ones), I’m fine with that. We saw a little bit from Russell Shepard, who learned about SEC hits and fumbles, Reuben Randle got more game experience – but still hasn’t been thrown to – and R.J. Jackson caught six passes on the night. The offense isn’t putting up big numbers (326 total yards on the night), but there are a lot of guys getting experience in the game. It would feel better to be putting up 40+ points, but I think the strategy is smart.

Defensively, the numbers weren’t bad even if the Tigers didn’t seem dominant. Just 210 total yards given up, 122 on the ground. If you buy Vandy as a legitimate offense, that’s not horrible. But there were still moments of confusion and missed assignments. We’ll see whether that gets fixed like one would expect, or lingers and becomes the team’s big problem like last year.

I get the feeling, though, that the mass exodus of fans in the middle of the game had as much to do with the memories of 2008 as the rain. And I can understand that. Right now I would not call LSU a serious contender for the SEC West, much less the conference title. But we’ll see where the team is come Oct. 3 in Athens.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

The Cocks and Dawgs running up 78 points, 956 yards of total offense and 735 in passing yards was, to say the least, a surprise. This one will take a bit of time to digest. Georgia gets Arkansas and then Arizona State in the next two weeks, so we’ll see if yesterday or the opening loss to Oklahoma State is the character of this team. Same for South Carolina. This game’s results and both teams’ openers does not compute.

Tennessee managed just 208 yards of offense against UCLA after throwing down 657 yards in their patsy opener. And despite holding the Bruins to 186 yards, the Vols didn’t have enough juice to close the deal. Pretty surprising turnaround, and not a good sign as the Vols head down to take on Florida this week. I had picked Tennessee here, but clearly they weren’t up to the task.

And then there’s Auburn putting up 49 points and 589 yards against Mississippi State after throwing 556 yards down against La. Tech. It’s too early in the season to mean much, but the War Eagles are ranked No. 4 nationally in total offense. Yeah, that’s a pretty big surprise and a strong start. If Auburn and Mississippi State are supposed to represent the middle or bottom of the SEC West, clearly Auburn is well ahead of MSU this season.

Alabama and Florida were playing the patsies this week and performed as expected. Not much to learn from either game.

For the week: 5-1; for the season 15-3

SEC Football Week 2 Picks

With the strangeness of playing an opening game in Seattle behind them, LSU can focus on the normal – home opener and SEC opener this weekend against Vandy. Hopefully normalcy will do this team good after a so-so opener.

It’s too early in the season for stats to mean much, so I’ll try not to get down on the numbers. But LSU gave up 478 yards of offense on the same day Vandy gained 620 yards. If that were a believable indicator, we’d be in trouble. Vandy, though, was playing a team called the Catamounts and LSU drew Washington on the road. I shall dismiss math for now.

What’s clear, though, is that LSU has to stop Vandy’s running game, which totaled 433 yards last week. That was, however, on 70 carries, which gave the ‘Dores a 6.1 per-carry average. Florida averaged 11.2 yards per carry against their patsy; Tennessee 8.6. On the Vandy scale, it was a hell of a day. On the SEC v. Patsy scale, we’ll call it a good day. LSU gave up 4.1 yards per carry to Washington’s run game.

So I’ll give Vandy the benefit of the doubt and say they’ll have a good day on the ground, but not much beyond that. We might not like the ultimate Tiger defensive numbers, but at worst should be able to contain Vandy enough to draw field goal attempts instead of touchdowns.

On offense, not much at all can be gleaned from Week 1. Vandy shut out their patsy and gave up just 115 yards, but big deal. Again – Vandy standards; that’s fantastic. And LSU showed it has tools, but didn’t have to press the full offense into service. And we have a lot we haven’t shown (i.e. Russell Shepard if needed). I think we’ll test different aspects of our ground game; play a pretty standard passing attack and save the plays marked “for Georgia and Florida” unless we really need them.

Ugly, or dominant? Hard to say. I’m going to go somewhere in between.

LSU 31 – 15

Elsewhere in the SEC:

South Carolina at No. 21 Georgia. If I know anything, it’s that this game never goes down like people expect. Both teams showed a real lack of offense last week, but I’ll say I’m more impressed with the defensive performance Georgia put in. Yes, South Carolina shut down N.C. State … but that was N.C. State. Believe the hype about Oklahoma State and you have to be impressed with holding them to 24 points and 307 yards at home and with three turnovers. But chances are this will be an ugly game.

Georgia 10 – 9

UCLA at Tennessee. A pretty intriguing game for unranked teams. The sidelines will be a USC reunion with Kiffin, Chow and Orgeron on duty. There’s also the overtime UCLA win last year in Pasadena and the Vols’ not-great home opener in 2007 against the Pac-10 (Cal) for Tennessee fans to stew about. And the Vols and Bruins both need a win in this game to position themselves against their conference powerhouses (Florida and USC) heading into conference play. For the Vols, this game will set the tone for the Gators showdown next week. A blowout of UCLA might actually get Gator fans concerned and would create a frenzy among Vols fans. Patsy comparisons favor Tennessee, as does the motivation.

Vols 45 – 20

Mississippi State at Auburn. It’s hard to ignore that 13-10 score for the first half of Auburn’s opener against La. Tech. And by recent MSU standards, 45-7 against Jackson State with 410 yards of offense is impressive. Two new coaches, uncertainly in both programs. But at home, I have to give the edge to Auburn.

War Eagles 16 – 14

Troy at No. 1 Florida. Bowling Green got 339 yards in the air against Troy last week. Troy managed to gain just 289 yards. That’s really all you need to know.

Gators 63 – 10

Florida International at No. 4 Alabama. Like the directional schools, when you see a team with “Florida” and some other random word in their name on a schedule, you have to check and see if it’s one of those schools others need to worry about. Nope, this isn’t one of those. No disgraced would-be Notre Dame coach, no legendary old man in a tie, no dominance of a weak BCS conference.

Bama 52 – 3

LSU / SEC Week 1 Recap

This trip out to Washington to play the Huskies was a real novelty; not a thing about it was normal for LSU football. So it’s a little tough to put much of an emphasis on what went down. Just like you’re not often going to be at an LSU game where good tailgates are hard to find, you’re also not often going to be at an LSU football game where the opponent is a major-conference team with a good bit of talent coming off an 0-12 year.

More on the oddities of pre-gaming in Seattle in a bit. But first the game.

It didn’t feel good watching it live. Seeing the Tigers give up 478 yards of offense brings back some bad memories. And while watching the TV version of the game didn’t add a ton of comfort, things are a little better to understand now.

Simply put, credit is due the talent and coaching of Washington. There were a couple of instances where LSU’s defense looked as vulnerable as last year, but the Huskies played smart and played well. Jake Locker is for real and he’s got skill-position talent around him. Locker spread passes out to nine different receivers to get 321 yards. Washington played quick to quiet LSU’s pass rush. And the Huskies earned their rushing yards by running away from LSU’s line, which was a smart strategy. Given that the Tigers were facing a new coaching staff and quality quarterback that was out much of last year with a new defensive coordinator and lots of personnel changes, I’m not going to worry too much about the defense – yet. Let’s see what we do with Vandy, which threw down 433 rushing yards against their cupcake Saturday.

Offensively, the best news is that Jarrett Lee got in the game for a play and didn’t throw an interception for a touchdown. Aside from that, LSU played a pretty conservative and safe offense. No Russell Shepard, Rueben Randle in the game but no touches, a safe gameplan for Jordan Jefferson – which he executed well. The big concern offensively is that Charles Scott had little support from the offensive line, gaining just 52 yards on 12 carries (4.3-yard average) as our power runner. Keiland Williams and Jordan Jefferson had better success running outside, with Williams getting 51 yards on just seven carries (7.3 yards per carry) and Jefferson netting 42 yards on eight carries (5.3-yard average). We’ll need better run production from the offensive line going forward.

Jefferson completed 11 of 19 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns, which was good to see. Washington’s thin talent base in the defensive backfield was ultimately their undoing. While Brandon LaFell – the Tigers’ No. 1 receiver – caught four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown, our No. 2 guy Terrance Toliver got 117 yards and two touchdowns from his four catches. With the defense focused on LaFell, Toliver was able to turn short passes into long scores by making a fool of the guy covering him.

In short, the LSU defensive performance has me concerned, but I want to see how good Washington ends up being before I pass judgment. And the offense was capable but unspectacular, which was OK because they didn’t need more than they produced on this night.

And then there is the one thing about the game that does disturb me greatly – Leslie and his idiotic timeouts called at the end of the first half.

To re-set the scene: LSU had just scored on a 45-yard pass to Toliver to take its first lead at 17 – 10 with 1:15 left in the half. To that point, Washington had engineered drives of 85 yards, 69 yards and 42 yards. They moved just eight yards to get a field goal on another possession and their other possession of the half was Cutrera’s interception return for a TD. So they get the ball at their own eight with 1:07 left. Then they gain 12 yards on a rush to reach the 20, followed by six yards on a Locker run to get to the 26.

At this point, it’s second and four with 44 seconds to go in the half. Washington had gained 222 yards in two quarters of play, LSU had just scored to go up a touchdown and LSU would get the ball to start the second half. So, of course, Les Miles calls a timeout.

Washington seemed content to run the ball and get out of the half. Another Washington run on second down gained three yards for a third-and-one at the Huskies’ 29 with 40 seconds to go. So, of course, Les Miles calls another timeout. This was, by the way, LSU’s final timeout of the half. So the best case scenario for LSU – unless Steve Sarkisian is as stupid as Les Miles – is that Washington runs the ball, is stopped and everybody heads to the locker room. In this sport, you know, we have a 40-second play clock. And, you see, if you snap the ball with 40 seconds left, time will expire before you have to snap it again.

So what happened? Well, Washington did run the ball and got five yards and a first down. Then Locker stepped up and completed a 46-yard pass that set up a Huskies field goal to end the half. Well played, Leslie.

The demonstrable evidence that Les Miles isn’t all that bright remains my biggest concern about LSU. The Tigers’ defensive problems last season were a direct result of Miles deciding he did not need a defensive coordinator. I imagine he was told to hire a Chavis-type coordinator after the season; I only hope Miles is letting Chavis and Crowton make the decisions about this team.

My favorite part of pre-gaming Saturday pretty well sums up my impression of Miles as well:

Les Miles - The Ass In The Hat Shirt

Les Miles - The Ass In The Hat Shirt

As far as pre-gaming itself went, it’s fair to say LSU fans brought a lot to the party. We took a walk around the stadium and around campus around 11 a.m. and it looked like there was going to be a football game – the next day. Settling in to the excellent dive bar Earl’s on the Ave around noon to watch UGA / OSU we met a bunch of like-minded LSU fans, but it was 3 p.m. before there was a significant Husky presence there. This for a 7:30 kick, of course.

After the UGA game it was off to the Seattle/Portland LSU Alumni tailgate, which was a heck of a time. Imagine several hundred Tiger fans herded into a big fenced-off area on campus (a requirement of Washington alcohol laws) forming a perpetual line to the way-too-small-for-LSU-fans bar. I have to figure the Washington fans walking by wondered what we all did to get detained by campus police. I didn’t notice any similar pens for Husky fans.

A lot of game planning involved wondering how serious UW law enforcement was about RCW 66.44.100:

Opening or consuming liquor in public places – Penalty.  Except as permitted by this title, no person shall 
open the package containing liquor or consume liquor in a public place.  Every person who violates any 
provision of this section shall be guilty of an infraction. 

In advance, we were warned they were serious. On gameday, I asked somebody from LSU Seattle and she said keep it in a cup and you’re fine. Standing outside the stadium gate finishing the drinks we smuggled out of the LSU tailgate, we struck up a conversation with a Washington State Trooper who wasn’t concerned at all about what was in the cups. I was happy to see that “game day is different” applies in Seattle as well.

In the end, pre-gaming in Seattle was certainly different, but really a good time. There was a camaraderie among all of the Tiger fans who made the longest road trip in LSU history. We met and talked to a ton more random LSU fans than I ever have in Baton Rouge, Auburn, Knoxville, etc.

It really wasn’t until we got into the game that we met a lot of Washington fans. On the whole, they were pretty good folks. The really odd thing was their attitude about their program. It comes with going 0-12, I guess, but almost every Husky fan I talked to wanted me to know they’re not as bad as people think. I got history lessons about Pac-10 dominance, comparisons of the “real” football they play at Washington vs. the “junk” they play at Oregon, and a lot of “you didn’t expect this, did you?’ during the game. On one level, it was sad – a proud program brought to its knees begging for respect. But mostly I empathized with and appreciated fans who just want some respect. We are, after all, just a decade removed from three-win seasons.

And I think in Washington I now have a team out west I can root for. They could surprise some people.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

I’m not going to pretend I saw a lot of football last weekend or have much smart to say about it. Bama passed its test; Georgia did not. Carolina won ugly; most everybody else won big in patsy games.

Interesting thing to me is that LSU’s 31 points were the third-lowest scored by SEC teams in week 1 (S. Carolina with 7, Georgia with 10). Tennessee and Florida scored 60+, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss scored 40+.

I missed the South Carolina and Georgia picks.

For the week: 10-2; same for the season.

SEC Football Week 1 Picks

Well hot damn. We’re about to start playing some football. Week one in the SEC features a Thursday night game, a Sunday afternoon game and an indoor game on a neutral field. The Dome Opener I can live with, but I still hate seeing the SEC’s march of acceptance of non-Saturday games.

But anyhow …

I’m curious to see how Les Miles approaches the Washington game Saturday night. Defensively, I think it’ll be a proving ground for Chavis’ game plan and our execution of it, and that’s pretty straight-forward. But offensively the temptation will be there to show the guns and make a statement. LSU fans want to see what Jordan Jefferson is really capable of, they want to see Russell Shepard get the ball, they want to see Charles Scott look like a Heisman candidate and on and on. Though Washington is at a bottom, throwing down an offensive show would be quite a statement coming off of the disaster that was 2008.

But there’s also great value in honing execution and putting fundamentals to the test in your season opener. An elite-level program like No. 9 LSU has to look at these first four games as preparation for Georgia and Florida in October. The wins will – or had better – come, so making sure the line understands run schemes and pass coverage assignments is more important than showing off Shepard. Ideally, things would be working so well that focusing on your fundamentals results in a lot of offensive production.

I think we’ll see a largely methodical effort to hone the offense with a few bones thrown to the fans by way of Wildcats, home run balls and the like. Hopefully the Tigers won’t be in a position where they have to really press the offense.

And, of course, a lot of attention will be put on how well the defense works. I really hope not to see receivers standing alone where one might expect a defensive player to also be. I got my fill of that last season, thanks.

What do I expect to see from Washington? I have no idea. They say Jake Locker is a good quarterback; the Huskies are pressing some freshmen into service and their offense should have a decidedly USC flair now. I have to assume they will be better than an 0-12 team, but certainly not quite “there” in their first game under a new coach facing a top-10 team.

LSU 38 – 17

Elsewhere in the SEC:

No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 7 Va. Tech: I can’t imagine any team has been more eager to get back out on the field than Alabama. The Sugar Bowl was a huge embarrassment for Fonzie and his boys, and they have a chance to erase that bad taste in a showcase game to start the season. But it’s also a huge game for Virginia Tech. A win here would give the Hokies the inside track for a BCS title game run.

Season openers between top-ranked teams are hard to put a lot of analysis against. There’s just too much that’s unproven and untested. This one could swing anywhere from a convincing win by either team to a real squeaker. I’m going to go with Bama’s motivation to set things right and Fonzie’s proven ability to make that happen.

Bama 27 – 21

No. 13 Georgia at No. 11 Oklahoma State: When Ole Miss dropped 47 points on 11-1 Texas Tech in last year’s Cotton Bowl, it brought home the notion that the Big 12 is all offense, no defense. I’m going to give Georgia the benefit of the doubt here and say that a strong SEC team should have the defense to shut down a strong Big 12 team and have a little faith that Georgia’s offense will be sufficiently strong to put numbers up. Speculation, to be sure, but I’m going with it.

Georgia 45 – 41

Charleston Southern at No. 1 Florida: Pointless to even talk about.

Gators 144 – 3

No. 10 Ole Miss at Memphis: The Rebels need a dominating performance to keep their hype going. A close game with Memphis would shatter a lot of opinions about Nutt and company. I’m going somewhere in-between.

Ole Miss 38 – 20

South Carolina at North Carolina State: I don’t really have much of a read on South Carolina and know nothing about North Carolina State. But Spurrier inspires no confidence any longer, so I’m not going to have much hope for them opening the season against a decent team on the road.

N.C. State 24 – 20

Louisiana Tech at Auburn: Oh how I would like to see Tech win this game. They are a second-tier school on an upswing going against a troubled SEC program. Would it shock me if they pulled it off? No. But I’m not going that far.

Auburn 10 – 9

Western Kentucky at Tennessee: I always have to check and see if [geographic direction] [state] is one of those schools they say people have to worry about. Apparently the school on the side of Kentucky closer to Indiana isn’t. So I guess this is a chance for Tennessee to get a little pride back.

Vols 38 – 13

Western Carolina at Vanderbilt: Catamounts!

Vandy 27 – 17

Kentucky at Miami (not Florida): I’m just ashamed that Kentucky would go play a game there.

Wildcats 28 – 10

Missouri State at Arkansas: Congratulations on losing the “Southwest” thing.

Arkansas 52 – 6

Jackson State at Mississippi State: SWAC action in Starkville to kick off the Dan Mullen era.

MSU 34 – 18

Gearing up for a strange football trip

I’m going to the LSU game Saturday. I’ve been to more than my fair share of games, especially considering I moved away from Louisiana 17 years ago. Most of the Tiger games I’ve been to have been played in Baton Rouge, but I’ve been to games in many of your finer Southern college towns as well as here in Atlanta.

But the game experience Saturday is going to be different. Way different. LSU football in Seattle is still a concept I’m trying to get my head around.

First of all, Seattle is a damn long way away from Baton Rouge. Consider this: Google Maps tells me Seattle is 2,645 miles from Baton Rouge. Google Maps also tells me you can drive from Baton Rouge through each of the other 11 SEC towns and travel just 80 miles farther than driving to Seattle.

So it’s a long way. And, of course, I’ll be flying to Seattle, which is also a strange concept for me. Heading out to an SEC game from Atlanta in a car is an experience in itself. If I’m driving to Auburn to see LSU play, I’m going to encounter fellow LSU fans and Auburn fans heading to that game, but I’m also going to see other fans on the move. Maybe it’s a Bama fan from Mobile heading to Tennessee or a Georgia fan from Columbus heading over to Athens. The flag-borne troop movements across the Southeast each weekend is a big part of SEC life. Maybe TCL and I will bring along our car flags and put them up in the cab from the airport.

These things I know will be different. What I’m curious to see is how familiar the game weekend and game day experiences feel out there in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a handicap, of course, for Washington fans. Fourteen straight losses, to be exact. Will Husky fans be lively and enthusiastic with the hope of a new coach, a new season and a season opener against LSU? We’ll see. I can’t say I’ve ever been to a game where the home team went 0-12 the season before.

But what is Pac-10 pre-gaming like? In the SEC, you can count on a fairly consistent experience. Lots of food, lots of drinks and a familiarity with your opponent that leads to interesting interactions with your foes. But I expect the Washington campus to be pretty much dead. The “no open alcohol” law is a big part of that assumption. When we travel to road games, though, a lot of our time tends to get spent at campus bars watching other games on TV, and the late-night start and west-coast time zone really lends itself to that here. UGA / OSU kicks off at 12:30 local time, you know. And from what I hear, UW has a pretty active bar district. Whether that atmosphere resembles what you get in Athens, Auburn or Gainesville remains to be seen.

And then there’s the boat aspect. My boy Meathead has himself one out on the lake and will be doing his tailgating afloat. I’d love to experience that, but getting yourself on a boat is an inherently limiting move. In my dreams we come across some crazy Cajun boiling up the Pacific Northwest species of crawfish or making gumbo with things he found at Pike Market that morning. I don’t think we’ll find that, but I at least want to look for it.

Then we move inside the gates to the stadium and game itself. A proud old venue, I’m told, is Husky Stadium. But it’s got one of those stupid tracks around the field and its claims of being an intimidating place to play will have a high bar to meet for boys used to being in Tiger Stadium, Ben Hill Griffin, etc. The Wikipedia entry on Husky Stadium has amusing bits about the fear factor of the place:

Husky Stadium was once considered one of, if not the loudest stadium in the country before attendance to home games began dropping. This was in part due to the stadium’s design; almost 70 percent of the seats are located between the end zones.

Well, boo. We’re 20 years too late to be intimidated. And let’s see – 70% of 72,500 = 50,000. If you buy the idea that concentrating seats “between the end zones” makes things louder than 360 degrees of insanity coming at the field, I’m pretty sure LSU puts at least 50,000 of their seats between the end zones.

During televised games, it has been known to become so loud that the cameras shake, although this could also be due to the fact the stadium is in need of structural repair.

OK, I’m sorry. That’s just a hilarious tidbit to be in their Wikipedia entry.

In the final analysis, I have no idea what to expect. But I do know this – it’ll be different and interesting, which is why we’re going.

An all-encompassing college football preview

Typically, I put up a number of posts about my impressions and predictions for college football in general, the SEC East, the SEC West and LSU in the weeks leading up to the season. Obviously that shant be the case this year. So as the days peel away before the season kicks off Thursday, I’ll at least ponder some big-picture things in this year’s landscape.

The Global Outlook: Pre-season poll politics can have a tremendous effect on how the BCS plays out, so I always like to look at out-of-the-gate positioning and what that suggests for teams at the top. Of course, things don’t always play out as you would expect. The now-classic example is West Virginia in 2007. A No. 6 ranking to start the year helped them weather their first loss, and they were set to play in the BCS Championship Game if they could just get past Pitt. They didn’t, of course, and LSU fans thank them for that.

But starting positions can matter a great deal, so it’s worth looking at and projecting.

At the tip-top, of course, is Florida. But let’s put aside the SEC teams (Gators, Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Georgia) in the Top 15 for a second, as ours is a conference where a team making the BCSCG will have proven itself on the field. Ditto the Big 12 South teams (Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) in the Top 15.

So the futures to focus on are No. 4 USC, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Virginia Tech, No. 8 Penn State, No. 12 California, No. 14 Oregon and No. 15 Georgia Tech.

USC, Cal and Oregon will, of course, play each other in the Pac 10. Should any one of those teams go undefeated, they would end up in a good position to be in BCSCG consideration. USC, of course, has the inside track and is the most likely to go undefeated in the conference, but the Trojans also have the hardest out-of-conference schedule, playing at Ohio State and at Notre Dame. Cal has the easiest schedule, playing Maryland, Eastern Washington and Minnesota out of conference and getting USC at home. Oregon pulls Boise State, Purdue and Utah out of conference and hosts both USC and Cal in Eugene. Let’s say Cal beats Oregon Sept. 26, USC beats Cal Oct. 3, Oregon beats USC Oct. 31 and all three win their other games. That would make for an interesting scenario. In the end, of course, USC will beat everybody except Oregon State or Stanford and want to be in the BCSCG.

In all likelihood, the Sept. 12 USC / Ohio State game eliminates the loser from BCSCG consideration. It’s doubtful the winner will go on to lose two of their other games, so head-to-head politics would dictate things there.

Virginia Tech, of course, faces No. 5 Alabama to start the season. The winner of that game will be sitting pretty, but clearly Va. Tech has the easier road afterward. Should they beat Bama, they will have little excuse for not making the BCSCG. And the loser would have a very hard time passing up the winner again since both conferences have championship games. If a No. 4 Alabama beat a No. 1 Florida in the SEC title game, I wouldn’t see them passing a No. 3 Va. Tech to get in the BCSCG. No. 15 Ga. Tech would have to have a near-perfect season and get past Va. Tech and the ACC title game to have a shot at clawing their way up. Not likely.

And then there’s Penn State. Everybody’s Grandpa starts the season at No. 9 and has exactly two ranked teams (Ohio State and No. 21 Iowa) on his schedule. And, of course, there’s no messy conference championship game to play. The old man is sitting pretty to coast through the likes of Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois, Northwestern and Indiana and rise to the top. Come November 7, we’re likely to see a one-loss Ohio State playing at an undefeated Penn State. The winner of that game stands a good chance of making the BCSCG (should USC drop another game in Ohio State’s case). Pathetic that this can be so easily projected.

My prediction for BCSCG participants – USC and Penn State. I don’t think either of those teams will be among the two best this season, but BCS politics favor them. Again, things don’t tend to work out as you expect, but I have a hard time predicting near-perfection for the top dogs of the SEC or Big 12, which is what’s required to overcome the advantage of weakness others enjoy.

So on to the SEC.

In the East, it’s hard to pick anybody but Florida. Defending champs returning their entire defense and The Child; just hard to argue with. So I’m picking the Gators to be in Atlanta. Unbeaten? Possibly. Their schedule works out real well this season – they get Tennessee at home after two patsy games; they have a week off before LSU; they get Mississippi State the week before Georgia; they skip Alabama and Ole Miss and they have a patsy tune-up before hosting Florida State. Things fall well for them.

If there’s a team in the East that might challenge, I’d pick Georgia. I don’t envy the Dawgs’ schedule – seven straight weeks against Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona State, LSU, Tennessee and Vandy before they get a week off before the Florida game – but even if they fall to OSU in week one, I think they have the potential to go in to the Florida game undefeated in the SEC. If they go into Jacksonville with no more than one SEC loss, that game will be for the SEC East (at least in the Dawgs’ minds) and to topple the Tebownator. Georgia represents the best chance for a division’s second-best team to be in the SEC title game. A two-loss UGA playing in Atlanta while a higher-ranked one-loss Florida watches – that would be fun.

Tennessee? Whatever the Vols shall be will be crystal clear after UCLA on Sept. 12 and Florida Sept. 19. I don’t expect a dramatic turn. Kentucky? Maybe an upset here and there. South Carolina? Not buying it. Vandy? Please.

And then there’s the SEC West, which is obviously the thing I’m really interested in. Depending on who you ask, this is Alabama’s or Ole Miss’ race to lose, with LSU understandably a bit of a shaky prospect coming off an 8-5 season.

First things first – I don’t buy the powerhouse Ole Miss argument. Yes, yes, they beat Florida and inspired a plaque. Sure, they rolled Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Blanked MSU 45 – 0 … beat LSU badly … came within 4 of Alabama … sure, sure sure. Is Ole Miss better now with Snead and Nutt? Absolutely. Are they in the top half of the SEC West? Most likely. Could they win the division? Maybe so. But they are squarely in “prove it” mode, so I’ll wait for them to do that. We can assume, I guess, that they get by Memphis, USL, South Carolina and Vandy before meeting Bama Oct. 10. And unless you believe Arkansas or Auburn will be formidable, they should roll through to Tennessee on Nov. 14 then LSU on Nov. 21. Win two of those three and I’ll be impressed. But that’s a long way off. I’m not picking Ole Miss to win the SEC West.

Maybe Auburn or Arkansas could spring a surprise year and make the race interesting, but I’m not betting on that either. I’ll mention Mississippi State. There.

So I’m looking at Alabama and LSU. Granted, LSU would be among the “looking at” teams even if I were picking us third. But I’m not.

After the Virginia Tech opener, Bama should not see a challenge until the Ole Miss game. Not insignificantly, that game is the same day as LSU / Florida. Beat Ole Miss and the Tide should only see challenges from Tennessee (it’s a rivalry – never discount it), LSU and Auburn (see: rivalry). But if Bama is really a national contender, they should only be challenged by Va. Tech, Ole Miss and LSU. There’s no Florida; no Georgia to face before Atlanta.

The Tide should be stout on defense; untested on offense. But that suits Nick Saban’s game – dominate on defense; manage the game on offense. Last year showed Fonzie has Bama where he wants the team to be. I don’t expect any back-sliding.

LSU, of course, faces both Florida and Georgia during the season. But Washington is no Virginia Tech, so the Tigers should be able to ease into the beefy middle of the schedule against UW, Vandy, USL and Mississippi State. Anything less than a 4-0 start would be very concerning. Facing Georgia on the road and Florida at home in consecutive weeks already concerns me. Beyond that, the Alabama game comes Nov. 7 and Ole Miss Nov. 21 – both on the road. It’s not a favorable schedule draw.

That’s the rough-sketch setup. I buy Alabama as a powerhouse; Ole Miss not so much. And I think beyond week one, Alabama has a much more favorable path than LSU.

What, then, do I think about this LSU team? That’s the toughest part of this exercise.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the offense. Our opening set of games should give the team time to come together, Jordan Jefferson has enough tools (i.e. feet) to avoid becoming Jarrett Lee should he have rocky patches, Charles Scott is a rock to lean on and hopefully Gary Crowton has learned a bit more about managing young quarterbacks. Will I feel comfortable with the offense going into the Georgia game? Time will tell.

Defensively, I’m cautiously nervous. Yes, John Chavis will be a huge improvement over not having a defensive coordinator, but we’re talking about a massive change in both personnel and scheme. I worry about a really rough transition. Assuming Chavis is the answer on the sideline, how well this unit executes and how quickly the gameplan comes together is a concern. Hopefully the first four games won’t present enough of a challenge for the defense to screw it up should there be issues. The slow ramp-up to Georgia and Florida will be the defense’s best friend. But I want to see low numbers in yards and points to get comfortable with the LSU defense again.

As always, I see pre-season predictions as semi-educated guesses. Games must be played before much is really known. And I don’t look back on my pre-season predictions when I evaluate individual games. In other words, don’t hold me to this …

I see LSU finishing this season 9-3, second place in the SEC West. Losses to Georgia, Florida and either Alabama or Ole Miss (with a win over the other). I expect much better execution than last season and much less frustration. But in the end, I think LSU is a step behind the SEC’s best and not far enough along to win two out of three tough road games.

SEC Championship Game: Alabama vs. Florida. The winner will be in a position to go to the BSCCG. And my pick for SEC Champion – Florida.

Now on to the season.

The scariest prospect for LSU’s season

After a really unpleasant 2008 season, Les Miles set about casting the demons of last year away. Using his superb H.R. skills, he made his idiotic decision to not have a defensive coordinator fade away by finding his minions other jobs and bringing John Chavis in from Tennessee. And he embraced the political reality that Jarrett Lee could not continue as quarterback in the face of his love of throwing the ball to the other team and the unfortunate result of many touchdowns given away.

Quarterback play last year was a no-win situation for Miles. I think he managed it pretty poorly, having this guy as the season starter:

Hatch should have been on the bench and Lee and Jordan Jefferson sharing early snaps to help develop both. But the Hatch / Lee rotation was chosen and then Lee was given the full-time gig with no consideration for Jefferson’s playing time after Hatch broke one of his lady parts.

Then Lee collapsed and was yanked for Jefferson, who became the clear choice for QB this season by virtue of being the guy on the field for LSU’s dismantling of an over-rated Ga. Tech team in the Chicken-Biscuit Bowl. Never mind that he was also the guy on the field for LSU’s loss to Arkansas and split time with Lee in LSU’s loss to Ole Miss – Lee is damaged goods and Jefferson is the future, at least until Russell Shepard is ready.


Check out this note from The Advocate’s (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper) Tiger Tracks blog:

Of the four scholarship quarterbacks, Jarrett Lee is throwing the ball much better than anyone else. His passes are crisper, more on-target and he carries himself with more general confidence than the other three. Jordan Jefferson has struggled at times, in particular with short out patterns.

At Wednesday’s morning practice, Jefferson misfired several throws in a row and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton draped an arm around his shoulder and gave him a quick pep talk.

Uh oh.

So suppose that observation is accurate and persists through fall camp. If Jarrett Lee emerges as clearly the most capable quarterback, does he get the start against Washington? In most cases it’s an easy choice – the best guy gets the job. But it’s not unreasonable to say Leslie’s seat is the SEC’s warmest, and while Miles has this silly reputation for ballsy decisions, this one would be supremely gutsy to make.

It’s not a choice I’d want to be faced with in Miles’ shoes. Lee is the Suspicious Package of quarterbacks – likely benign, but nobody wants to be the guy not treating him like a bomb, just in case. So the likely result is calling in the SWAT team, cordoning off the package and rendering it harmless with a water cannon, even if it’s just somebody’s lunch.

LSU fans want no part of Lee. They want to see Jefferson and they want to see Russell Shepard get some snaps. If Jefferson fails, I don’t think there will be many calls for the return of Lee. Give Shepard the ball; put Chris Garrett in – whatever. But if Lee is the best guy we have, I want him in the game.

We won’t know, of course, what Miles and Gary Crowton’s honest assessments of the quarterbacks are – unless it’s Lee we see on the field in Seattle.

LSU license plates for Georgia

OK, Tiger fans, it’s time to get cracking on this. I wasn’t aware until this week that LSU Atlanta Alumni had kicked off the process of creating an LSU plate here in Georgia (very likely because of my decades-long refusal to be associated with the LSU Alumni Association).

But the process has begun, and the clock is ticking. The order has to reach 1,000 before April in order to get this plate made. My two applications are going in this week, but LSU fans in Georgia need to step up. Order a plate if you haven’t already, and spread the word. It’s just $25 per plate, and that buys you the satisfaction of pissing off the UGA fans in the Ga. Legislature.

Here’s the link to get the PDF application and instructions.

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