It turns out LSU’s championship season in 2019 is more comparable to Auburn from 2010 than Alabama from 2009. And that’s not a good thing for the Bayou Bengals.
Every time a new program ascends to the top of college football there’s optimism from fans that the success signals the start of a dynasty. Most recently, that was the case when Clemson broke through and has since maintained its position at the top of college football.
But there’s also a chance the magical season is an anomaly and the program will soon revert to being good but not great.
It took only one game to learn LSU is most definitely the latter.
The Tigers were dominated at home Saturday by a Mississippi State team that was supposed to be at a preparation disadvantage. The Bulldogs had a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes, a quarterback who couldn’t find Starkville on a map a year ago and the difficulty of trying to prepare with no spring practice and an uneven fall camp as a result of the pandemic.
But new coach Mike Leach and Stanford graduate transfer K.J. Costello (who didn’t arrive on campus until June 1) made the LSU defense look completely helpless. A year ago, Costello couldn’t even throw a football as he recovered from an injury. Against LSU he passed for more yards than any player in SEC history. His 623 passing yards were 115 yards more than the school record set by Dak Prescott and 79 yards more than the conference mark established by Georgia’s Eric Zeier.
Mississippi State won by 10 points despite four turnovers by Costello (two interceptions, including a pick six, and two lost fumbles).
In 2009, Alabama went 14-0 and won its first national championship in 17 years, its first under Nick Saban. Since then, the Tide has claimed four more titles and won at least 10 and lost no more than two games every season.
Auburn went undefeated and won the crown with Cam Newton and Nick Fairley in 2010, but in the nine years since has gone 76-45, an average of 8.4 wins and five losses per year.
That’s still good. It’s not like Auburn was a one-hit wonder.
LSU won’t be either. But while they aren’t in the category of the rock and roll cheerleader Toni Basil and her only successful song “Mickey,” they appear headed toward Joan Jett after “I Love Rock ’N’ Roll” territory. Don’t let anyone tell you “I Hate Myself for Loving You” isn’t a quality hit. But it’s not going to lead to any stadium tour dates.
That’s LSU football. The Tigers have recruited too well to become irrelevant. But in the first game after being perhaps the most dominant team in college football history, the lightning had clearly escaped from the bottle.
A 6-4 season looks like a reasonable prediction for the Tigers this season. Against a conference-only schedule, that’s not bad. But it’s a far cry from the dynasty LSU fans had dreamed of building.
LSU wasn’t alone in struggling against a big underdog during a wild opening weekend for the SEC. Road teams went 5-2, with the only home winners being Auburn and Texas A&M.
Auburn used a 3-0 turnover advantage to beat Kentucky in a good game between evenly matched opponents.
Texas A&M trailed 30-point underdog Vanderbilt in the second half before avoiding an embarrassing loss.
Even outside the SEC, Oklahoma blew a 21-point second-half lead to lose at home to Kansas State.
The theme of the first week played during a season that will forever be remembered for being played during a pandemic is the bad teams appear to be not as bad as expected and the good teams appear to be not as good as expected.
Of course, all that could start to change this week. Both Alabama and Auburn have high-profile matchups coming up. The Tide hosts Texas A&M, while Auburn will visit Georgia. Those are the only two conference games featuring two undefeated teams.
After Week 2, we will be down to a maximum of five undefeated league teams. It’s not that far-fetched to think Auburn and Alabama could be the last two undefeated teams after just two games.
It’s also possible none of the opinions in this column are salient. (Except the one about Joan Jett. I stand by that one.)
But it’s so refreshing to be able to argue about something so unimportant in the grand scheme of the world but so important to the happiness of football fanatics.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on Sports Talk 99.5.
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