I try to view schedules in blocks, and to me, the first one for LSU sets the tone. If LSU can through September undefeated, than I believe they still will be when they make the trip to Alabama in November.
The TCU game forces this group to focus early, and I think we saw two years ago that can be a very good thing. And while TCU's no pushover, they're definitely not what Oregon was in 2011. That's a losable game, especially if Casey Pachal is anything like his former self, but it's also a very winnable one. After that, there's a solid escalation to Georgia of opponents that will be progressively tougher. The big matchup in Athens just might wind up being the game of the year in the SEC. Two teams expecting big things on offense with defenses that are in varying stages of rebuild.
October is not easy by any means, but navigable with its toughest game at home. Ole Miss is getting a lot of run but could easily have a losing mark by that time. Plus LSU has generally played them better in Oxford than in Baton Rouge. Miles seems to focus the team well for road games.
By November, it's all a toss-up with Bama, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
One thing I like about 2013 is its comparability to 2011, with a big neutral-site opener and big road test at the end of the month in Georgia. Right out the gate we have the TCU game, which is completely winnable I'm also thrilled at the presence of MACtion in our September slate, as well as what I feel will be a nice benchmark game for our rebuilding defense against Auburn and the rabid, run-heavy jack rabbit of an offense that Gus Malzahn likes. If anything it'll be a nice tune-up game for Georgia, a big road game which could make or break our schedule like West Virginia did in 2011.
October's an interesting month partly because of the resurgence of Ole Miss in 2012. LSU winning the last three straight will have the Rebels hungry for a victory, especially after the last game in 2011 at the Vaught - Mettenberger probably won't be taking reps from the victory formation in practice that week). The toughest game of the October slate is Florida, who is looking at the possibility of having an even more anemic offense than it did last year after losing some key players to injuries and other ailments. If the revamped Cam Cameron offense emerges in September and can handle the typically-stout Florida defense, it could be a nice turnaround from last year's forgettable offensive performance in the Swamp.
If we can get through the tests of September and October undefeated - which isn't impossible - I'm just going to sit back and hold onto the rails for November. It's going to be one hell of a ride.
I like TCU early as a team that is "just tough enough." Playing Oregon early brings inherent risks, which we benefited from. TCU isn't in that realm, as you mentioned Billy, but they are still a team that come season end people are likely to put in the "quality win" bucket. Also forces the team to focus, because they sure as hell ain't North Texas.
The real meaty part of the schedule is mid-September through October. Auburn is never a look over game, which we learned last year. Now that they have a competent coach and identity, don't be surprised if that one is tougher than we want it to be. It's a good early-ish test for our young defense, as well. Georgia is just plain good. Playing them at Athens, I almost anticipate a L there. Mississippi State is the one breather game of the stretch, and they aren't miserable. It's nice to get UF in Baton Rouge, as the home team usually pulls that one out. I think we're a notch above them this year as well.
Ole Miss at Oxford is a big one, unfortunately. They pushed us last year and we always get their best shot. They have a lot of momentum off a strong signing day and Hugh Freeze's goofy antics seem to be currying favor not only amongst the fan base but garnering attention nationally.
If LSU somehow survives that stretch undefeated, you are talking about a one-game season. I don't mean that as a slight to Arkansas, who I think will be tougher than advertised, but they just aren't at that level yet, especially not in Tiger Stadium. We will remind A&M once again, that we were better than them last year and again this year, by beating them again. So it really comes down to the Bama game... again.
There's a decent chance that Nov. 9th will be a showdown for the division once again. We've won in Tuscaloosa before, but that game -- as we well know -- is about as toss-up as toss-ups get.
I do like that we start with a real challenge in our opener to get the team focused. Last year, the team started lethargically, and a lot of that had to with the fact they felt they could roll out of bed and just beat the teams on their schedule with minimal effort. The fact they were right made the lack of effort even more infuriating. It reinforced bad habits.
However, it's a stretch to compare this September to 2011. 2011 had a brutal first month with a neutral site game against Oregon and a road trip to West Virginia. A trip to a ranked Mississippi State squad was thrown in for good measure. In four games, LSU played three ranked teams, none of them at home. This year, LSU has a tough opener and then two traffic cones followed by Auburn. Sure, September ends on a high note with a trip to Athens, but that's not quite the relentless pressure of 2011. It's still tough, but it's not an insane schedule.
The Georgia game is the highlight of a critical five-week stretch in which LSU will play five consecutive SEC teams. This is the stretch that will determine LSU's season, though strangely the marquee matchup with Georgia is the one game LSU can lose with minimal impact. That stretch closes with a road trip to Oxford, which is always a tough game for LSU. That's the Ole Miss Super Bowl. It's not that any one game in this stretch is such a killer, save Georgia who I put on a higher level than Florida this season, but the sheer grind of a five-week stretch in which you have to play near your best football to win. Last year's team had a real problem with focus, and this is a stretch that will test this team's focus to the max.
If LSU gets to November with at least eight wins, then the fun begins. LSU's schedule builds to a crescendo. After that five week grind, LSU will find itself going up against Alabama and A&M, each with a bye week beforehand so we can ramp up the hype to a fever pitch. The SEC West gets decided in November in those two games, followed by the denouement of the Arkansas Thanksgiving game in which LSU hopes to not destroy whatever they have built.
It's a tough schedule but not an impossible one. It is also has a built in difficulty in which one loss will not disqualify LSU from the title race, unless that loss is to Alabama. Also, after a tough opener, LSU will have time to break in its underclassmen and find the team identity before the slog of the SEC schedule. That could be crucial.
I tend to think that the realistic goal for this team is to go into the first bye week, and thus into the Alabama game, with only one loss. Ideally, that loss would come to a SEC East opponent or even out of conference to TCU rather than to someone like Ole Miss. If LSU can do that, then the game in Tuscaloosa is for everything. Obviously, it won't be easy though.
Playing at Georgia looks like the toughest game during that stretch. If LSU can get by TCU, then they have a relatively easy stretch until Athens; although, Auburn should never be discounted as we learned last year. But getting through the second four game stretch of @Georgia, @Mississippi State, vs. Florida and @ Ole Miss with no more than one loss will be a pretty tough challenge. It's certainly doable though, and I suspect LSU will be favored to win three of those four games.
Ole Miss will be interesting. Like Poseur said, the LSU game is often their Super Bowl, and they frequently play LSU tough. But the Black Bears have a hell of an early season schedule which could very well deflate all the optimism they have going on over there right now. LSU marks the last game of their gauntlet before their schedule eases up. Will LSU get a beaten down Ole Miss team who is disappointed in how their season started? Or will they have the "backs against the wall" factor working in their favor? Or does it really matter....because it's LSU/Ole Miss and LSU will have to fight like hell to get out of there with a W anyway? For what it's worth, LSU has played those guys much better in Oxford than they have at home recently. The only comfortable wins recently (05, 07, 11) were all in Oxford.
If LSU gets to the bye week at 7-1 (or better), you've got to be exceptionally pleased with things, right?