This is the worst time of the year. The calendar is just crawling along, as time slows to a virtual standstill, keeping football at a distance. I feel like a soldier in Napoleon's army marching towards Moscow. I see it on the horizon, but it never gets any closer and I'm pretty sure we're never going to get there.
And then I die of frostbite. Which would be kind of a welcome change of pace. I don't know about y'all, but here in Dallas, it's been over 100 degrees for about 30 or 40 days. It's really beginning to sap away my will to live.
Anyway, we've got way too much time to obsess over this first game. But what a great game to obsess over -- two teams ranked in the top five gearing up for a battle to become the early pace-setter in the chase for the national title.
The thing is, we really don't know what teams are going to show up. We have a pretty good idea, but really, both fanbases are engaging in a lot of hope when it comes to how their team is going to look. Both teams have pretty big holes to fill, and big questions to answer. We have an idea of how those questions will be answered, and its a good bet both teams will be pretty darn good, but we don't really know.
In fact, both teams see one of their biggest question marks go up against the opposition's strongest unit. After the break, let's look at how we'll each team will answer one of its biggest questions.
Jordan Jefferson v. the Oregon secondary
All of the preseason talk surrounding the LSU program has centered on how great Jefferswag looks in practice. He's a new QB and all that. Look, this is a pretty standard story that always gets trotted out for a senior quarterback having a promising yet disappointing career. This is the college equivalent of an aging veteran showing up to camp in the best shape of his life.
Jordan Jefferson saw his ATVSQBPI dip from 6.096 in 2009 to 5.545 last season. That ain't good. But, not to give away a future column or anything, but Jefferson's ATVSQBPI went from 4.00 in his first eight games to 7.916 in his final five games. So, it is fair to say that a light went on for Jefferson late last season, not just in this offseason. The germ of improvement was there.
However, finding out if this improvement for real against Oregon's secondary is a dangerous thing. OK, Cliff Harris will not play in this game because of his almost-impressive arrest (speeding at 118 MPH -- that's fast, people). But the rest of that secondary is pretty good, too. The Ducks return three starters in the secondary, and have some impressive underclassmen pushing for playing time.
It's an opportunistic and deeply talented unit that will absolutely punish Jefferson for any mistake he makes. I'd like to see LSU throw the ball downfield more than they did last year, take some chances and risk the interception. Against Oregon, that might not be a risk worth taking. The last thing LSU needs is Jefferson spending the game trying to tackle Oregon defensive backs.
Oregon's front seven v. LSU's offensive line
We're currently working on our offensive line roundtable, but not to give anything away... we all think it's a pretty darn good unit. In fact, it should be LSU's strongest unit on offense by a rather wide margin. LSU returns four starters plus Chris Faulk plus T-Bob Hebert. You want to talk deep and talented? LSU has an embarrassment of riches at the offensive line position, a real change from three years ago.
Oregon had a pretty good front seven last season, and they have lots of young talent who got significant snaps. That said, Oregon returns two starters in their front seven. Two. Of the five players they lose, three of them were All-Pac-10 last season. That kind of attrition hurts.
Now, Oregon does have some talented players waiting to get their shot. They have a defensive tackle rotation that Ducks fans are clearly excited about. But earning your first start against a smash and bash line like LSU's is a tall order. It's possible they are ready to go and will have a great game, hitting the ground running and not missing a beat from last year. But the safe bet is on the deep and experienced line.