Well, LSU sits at 6-2 at the break. A shocking journey to a not-that-shocking record. Thoughts on the season to date?
To date, LSU lost embarrassingly to an average team, got beat at home by a bad team and beat one good one. The resume isn't terribly impressive, and the team greatly benefits for sitting atop the trash heap that is the SEC in 2017. Sounds awful?
Well, it's not quite so bad. The staff and players deserve credit because this Chevy was careening into the ditch and they rallied to bring it out. Beating Auburn is huge and their demolition of Arkansas shows the other Tigers aren't a bad team in disguise. That's a legitimate good win on the ledger. You can only play the teams on your schedule and LSU has done a good job of taking down what's in front of them after a rocky September.
To be in position to control your own destiny entering November is always the goal. Losing to State by 30 and to Troy, at all, probably weren't milestones on that path, but here we are. This team clearly isn't on the same level as the Alabama team we will see in 2 weeks, so I don't think anyone should get their hopes up for that trip to Tuscaloosa.
But they are believing in themselves, playing hard and taking care of the teams they should. That will put them right in line for another 10-win season, which, as stated in the pre-season, is the standard now.
If you had told people before the season LSU would be 6-2 at the bye and in control of their own destiny with regard to the SEC, I think everyone would take it and a fair few would have been pretty surprised. And I'll take it, even with the fact LSU lost at home Troy. I'm not saying lose to Troy every year, but losing that game created as fun a 3 game win streak in SEC play as LSU has had in a long time. It's been a very weird journey for LSU, but I think we've gotten the team we expected this year.
You look at us at 6-2 and can grab a hold of the SEC lead with an upset in Tuscaloosa next week and you would be ecstatic. That Troy loss does sting, but in a way, I think it was needed. It was the kick in the ass this team needed at the right time. You get embarrassed by Moo State, hang on to beat Syracuse (which may be a little more impressive after their win over Clemson, albeit Kelly Bryant going down) and then humiliated by Troy. This team was just treading in the mud. Whatever Duke Riley told that team, I need to hear it to get motivated in my own life because it helped awake this team to the level we're expected to see.
If you had told me I would be happy with the team at the midpoint despite a loss to Troy, I wouldn't have believed you, but here we are. A lot of people described that loss as rock bottom, but there is no reason that had to be the bottom. Things could have gotten so much worse from there. Coach O was on the verge of losing the team, the fanbase, even his staff. Instead, he regrouped, stressed what worked, discarded what didn't, and has salvaged the season. Let's give credit where credit is due, this has been a spectacular coaching job in October. Things were on the verge of spiraling completely out of control, but he stopped the bleeding against Florida, turned the tide against Auburn, and maintained the momentum against Ole miss. three wins, all in a different mental place.
I'm a huge proponent of the standard being 10 wins, but I will cut O some slack in the final analysis. Part of the confidence many had about this team was that he had arguably the best player in the SEC on each side of the ball. Well, neither has been able to play at anywhere near the level they are capable of due to injury. He didn't just lose his security blanket, he lost his blanket and his heating system. I think the roster issues were overblown when trying to explain potentially winning just four or five games, but it is a valid excuse when dealing with winning nine games instead of 10.
This team still has problems, the run defense first and foremost among them, but it does feel like he navigated this team past the iceberg, and that's no small feat.
Obviously, October has been pretty good for LSU. Beating 3 rivals back to back to back is always fun. At the same time, we can't forget about September. All of a sudden, this program, who we expect to be a National Championship contender, has four September losses in two years. That's not good enough, right? Tough to be the team we expect LSU to be when you go into the Alabama game with two losses already. I guess when it comes down to it, the question is who do we think we are? Are we Auburn? A team that's going to spike every few years and be elite but the rest of the time just be average? Or are we a true contender every year. Our recruiting rankings (fifth in the last two years, third in the last fifth) would suggest this is a team that should compete every year. Unfortunately, we're not that team right now and that is frustrating.
Many thought the LSU program had hit a special kind of low after the loss to Troy. As in, to the point the season was lost and we were entering one of the worst downhill slides we'd seen in a long time. And when you look at it, that really wasn't too extreme of a notion given how clueless the team looked in every facet of the game. But while it was a humiliating loss, it did serve its purpose in a sense. It humbled the team, helped them find their ugliest flaws and gave them some extra motivation to fix what desperately needed fixing.
Since then, the Tigers have defeated three major rivals in Florida, Auburn and Ole Miss. The Florida win was not the prettiest, but the team seemed to show more control and growth in the following couple of contests. There's still a long journey ahead to consistently being on par with the likes of Alabama, but I wouldn't expect this team to fall into the category of just average. When the season comes to a close, this year will likely end up being just what we thought it might be — a rebuilding year.
As a Braves, Pelicans, and Arsenal fan, I'm seeing the three different stage of a rebuild occur all at once. There's the decline/crater (Arsenal), the construction (Braves), and the emergence (Pelicans).
LSU is fast tracking their way through all three phases to the point where we went through them all in about a month. The Braves' rebuild is scheduled to last nearly half a decade.
Losing to Mississippi State and Troy is obviously the bottoming out of the program, or at least what we hope is bottoming out for the program. But after the Troy loss the team looked different. They had the fire back, be it from Duke Riley's talk or just from reading social media or plain ole embarrassment, but against Florida and Auburn the team looked into the game mentally for the first time all season. They actually fought and laid out for everything. They looked like they wanted to be there, like they wanted to get popped in mouth so they could return the favor.
Now, they didn't exactly play good football, quite the opposite, but they did enough to win those two games. Last week against Ole Miss was the first week where we got the LSU that we thought we would get. There are still some flaws, like the offensive line being virtually non-existent when it comes to pass protection and the defense being very hit and or miss (literally) but for the first time since last season, LSU looks visibly improved. Losing to State and Troy are unacceptable for what the program currently is, but the proof of development and growth helps ease the pain.
But of course, once LSU rounds into semi-expected form, they draw Bama.
Out of the group, I probably came into this season with the most modest of expectations. That said, losing to Troy certainly wasn't among them. Still, as bad as things looked at the nadir, this team and coaching staff has clawed its way back in a way that looks, for lack of the better term, organic. Not so much that they flipped a switch and started caring, but that they just started playing better, while figuring out some things that can work.
And of course, getting the two best players on the team healthy.
So here we are at the end of October, and there's still at least a slight chance for a championship. Albeit one that requires upsetting Alabama as a three-touchdown favorite in Tuscaloosa. But even still, there's a real shot to finish with just two conference losses, and maybe in the Sugar Bowl or something equivalent to that, which is well on the high end of what I would have considered a realistic outcome for this team in August. Finish strong on the field, finish strong in recruiting, and depending on what the draft-eligible upperclassmen do, have a chance at a much bigger 2018. Not bad for a new head coach.
So on that note, how do y'all view this final month of the season?
After penning a piece about quitting loser talk, I'll be the hypocrite that says I don't see a likely outcome of victory in Tuscaloosa. There's just not enough pieces there for me to believe it will happen.
But if we learned anything from O's interim run, it's that he knows how to turn the team forward. They lost a heartbreaker to Bama last year, got back up, dusted themselves off and mopped Arkansas. So I expect the same. LSU plays two very bad teams in November, one great one and one so-so one. That gives them three out of four games where they should be betting favorites, if not by huge margins. Hell, two of those four programs may fire their coaches by the time LSU shows up. Losing to anyone but Bama and A&M the rest of the way would be nigh inexcusable. They should win three of the final four and get a nice bowl placement against a hopefully fun opponent. Maybe if some breaks go their way, a New Year's Six slotting.
Simple. If they lose to anyone except Alabama, they have underachieved. Unless there's a rash of injuries to key players or the offensive line or something, LSU should dominate Arkansas at home. Should comfortably take care of Tennessee, even in Knoxville. And while A&M is a solid team and won't be easy, LSU should absolutely beat them in Tiger Stadium. The Alabama game is house money. Go out there, empty the playbook, roll the dice, see what happens. You lose, whatever. Alabama is miles ahead of everyone and is a bad stylistic matchup. But LSU should finish this season no worse than 9-3 barring unforeseen circumstances that make things go haywire.
Just go 3-1 and hope the bye week gives us what we need to upset Alabama. If not, a 9-3 record is solid for implementing a new offensive coordinator with a marginal at best QB and the first full season for a new head coach. I think anything less than 9-3 would be a disappointment at this point. Where this staff will need to show it is in the months leading into February. They need to strengthen that border around the state and finish this recruiting class strong
I agree with Dan re: Bama, and after that the Arkansas and Tennessee games are imminently winnable. Orgeron's shown he can rebound from a loss, and I don't think this team has the pressure of championship expectations, either. So there's not likely to be too much of a hangover. The big question will be injuries.
Texas A&M may be a different animal by Thanksgiving. They've been surprisingly decent, so they could be playing for the same stakes as LSU in regard to a high-profile bowl game. Or, if things go south for them over the next few weeks, Kevin Sumlin's job. It's still a good matchup for LSU, especially at home, on a probable Saturday night, but that's something to watch over these next few weeks, in my opinion.
I don't want to say Bama is a paper tiger, as they are a really good team. However, they aren't AS good as their statistical profile suggests. They have been beating the tar out of some really bad teams. Yes, you can only beat who is in front of you, but I don't put as much stock into beating up on bad times. It doesn't mean as much to me as it does to the analytical community. Which is to say, I think Bama is more vulnerable than they think they are.
The problem is, we play right into their strengths and none of their weaknesses. Bama is terrific at running the ball and I don't trust their passing game. LSU has a great pass defense but the run defense has been victimized by everybody, even Ole Miss. Bama should be able to run the ball down LSU's throats relentlessly. It's a bad matchup for us.
But after that? LSU should win its next two, setting up a game against A&M for a potential New Years Six birth, but likely for the Citrus Bowl. This team can set itself up for a nice holiday trip, but seems like it is on pace to win about nine games (that would be splitting the A&M game the bowl game). Given where this team was in September, I will happily take that.