LSU has only played two games this year, and in both games, the Tigers beat a ranked conference opponent. There are teams with a better resume out there, but not many.
The Tigers opened the season with a road win against a good team in a tough environment and then followed that up with an absolute throttling of another ranked team, this one a bitter rival. There are things to criticize in these wins (the tight locks on the passing game, the fourth quarter defensive lapses, a shaky kicking game), but not enough to come close to discredit the wins. LSU opened the 2015 season about as well as possible.
And in a year in which it seems we lack a true dominant team (read: the biggest glamour teams aren't the front-runners), it should open the door for a Tigers team that went out there and answered all of the questions hovering over the team with a resounding chest thump.
Instead, LSU finds itself #3 in the TSK power poll. The team is ranked #8 in the AP poll and #9 in the coaches' poll. Of the eight voters on SB Nation's mock selection committee, not one selected LSU yet they found slots for UCLA, Alabama, Georgia, and Northwestern. For such a wide open year, it doesn't seem wide enough to let LSU in the team photo.
After the past season, LSU does not deserve to be a front-runner, standing on the pedestal above the rest of college football. This team needs to earn its way back to the top of the college football mountain. Two good wins are nice, and they go a long way to showing what this team is capable of, but two wins doesn't cut the mustard.
Tigers need to hunt. As long as this team is in the role of the hunter instead of the hunted, it is in the best position to achieve all of its goals. Let other teams run their engines into the red, set the early pace, before eventually flaming out and falling back to the pack.* LSU doesn't need to be the story in September, it wants to be the story in November and December.
*Gee, who could I be referencing? No one in particular. Why do you ask?
After this big start, the schedule settles into a rut for the next month and half. LSU will not play a ranked team until November, and depending on South Carolina's quality, Syracuse could be the second best team LSU plays over the next five weeks. There is simply no excuse for this team to reach Halloween with anything less than a perfect record.
That's a long time to try and maintain the quality of play without a big time opponent to sharpen your focus. That's why these next five weeks are critical for LSU to not get caught in a rut or overlook anyone. A tough game is coming, and it very well could be this week thanks to an early start and a long cross-country trip. LSU wouldn't be the first team to fall victim to the perils of travel.
But even without a last minute nail biter, which I think all LSU fans would greatly appreciate, this team needs to use these next games to figure out precisely who they are. The loss of the McNeese game meant the Tigers had to hit the ground running and couldn't ease into the season. Those first two game plans were all about using what we all knew worked, and risking little. But now it's time to work on the development of this team, so it can grow into a true monster over the final month.
That doesn't just mean opening up the passing game for Brandon Harris and the still developing receiver corps. It means developing confident depth in the backfield behind Fournette to prepare for if the worst happens. It means developing a reliable third linebacker. Heck, how about some depth there, too? It means finding a return game and maintaining some consistent kicking. It means the defense learning how to play a full four quarters without a letdown.
LSU is going to fall off the national radar for the next five weeks if all goes according to plan. There will be no big games and no statements to be made. We are moving into the training montage portion of the film, when our heroes go into obscurity and work on their skills for the big boss battle coming up at the end. There's nothing to be won over the next five weeks, but plenty can be lost.
Because winter is coming, and when it comes, the Tigers better be ready. After the off week, LSU plays at Alabama, home against Arkansas, at Ole Miss, and then home again against Texas A&M on short rest. The season will be decided over those four games. This team's legacy gets decided then. LSU will need all the weapons at its disposal, not just Leonard Fournette. It will take a full team to get through the November gauntlet.
These next weeks are about to building that team. No one cheers the construction, they just cheer when the building opens its doors. LSU is not going to get any plaudits from anyone until it proves it deserves them. They can win those plaudits in November, but they have to start to earn them now.
This team has taken two large steps toward the SEC title. It still needs to take seven more.