Last year was the first season in ten years I did not write a preseason Delusional Optimism piece. That means that obviously, the 2020 season was my fault.
The thing is, there just wasn’t much to be optimistic about last year, about LSU or well, anything. The Zombie Season was a brutal slog in which everything that is great about college football was absent, and the main reason the games got played before empty stadiums is so the schools could fulfill their TV contracts.
It was depressing, and served as a weekly reminder just how not normal things were last fall. It wasn’t just LSU, most teams across the country had difficulties playing out the season with a bare minimum of a roster.
But few teams were harder hit by the pandemic than the Tigers. Just think of all of the things which went wrong last year. After nearly the entire starting lineup on both sides of the ball declared for the draft, LSU suffered through a record number of opt outs: four players, three of them starters, opted out prior to the season’s start, and three more players opted out as the season went on.
Beyond the draft and the opt outs, ten players transferred out in 2020. All told, 18 different players left the program after the deadline to declare for the NFL draft. That left the roster completely hobbled, as LSU essentially cycled through its title winning starting lineup two times in one year.
And that doesn’t even get into the predictable rash of injuries. LSU used three different starting QB’s and was forced to list its punter as its second string quarterback. The team went through so many running backs that a walk on started the final game of the season. And as the season slipped away, star players sat out games with injuries so as not to jeapordize the season that would actually count: this one.
The team broke in a new coaching staff without the benefit of fall practice though, watching the year of Bo Pelini’s misrule, I’m not sure more practice would have helped. But this was a team with staggering personnel losses, which continued unabated all season, and they had to figure out how to implement a new scheme with a constantly rotating cast of characters without the benefit of a full amount of practice time.
Oh, and they did this all during a global pandemic, playing games in front of cavernous, empty stadiums.
The fact that LSU went 5-5 last season isn’t a sign how far the team has fallen, but how strong the program is. Almost literally everything went wrong, and LSU still won half of its games. That’s damn near miraculous.
And now… we’re back, baby. Not just LSU is back as a major contender, because we never left. No, I mean football—real football—is back. Even better, so are we. The thing that makes college football the great game it is, especially at LSU, is the unhinged crazies who support this team.
You know who is back this year? Basically everybody. And thanks to having to scrape the bowl last year to find anyone who could play, LSU sports more experienced depth than it has likely had in a decade. Last year, LSU had four eligible scholarship offensive linemen the week before its season opener. Four.
This year, LSU returns four linemen with significant starting experience. Somehow, LSU returns five starting defensive linemen (put that in your noodle for a while), on what could be one of the best lines in the nation.
To speak nothing of the secondary and LSU getting the chance to reassert itself as DBU. Yet again, there is an embarrassment of riches, and a completely stacked roster.
The difference is, this year’s team has waited a full year to have a legitimate opportunity to defend their title. And in that time, the world fell apart and put back together again. LSU is just as talented as they always are, go check out the blue chip ratio, but only now they’ve had a year of people telling them how much they suck.
You know why coaches are always playing the Nobody Believes In Us card? Because it works. Even better when it happens to be true. There is no better motivator than spite. A cornered tiger is so much ore dangerous.
Oh yeah, we’re back. And I don’t just mean the program. I mean all of us. This last year of being denied all of the things that make college football great will make this kickoff all the more special. So fire up that grill, start the roux, and pump that keg.
Football is back, baby. Let’s savor every second of it.