LSU has the talent, the experience, and the coaches. Does it have everything in place on the Path to the Playoff
Last season, LSU positioned itself perfectly to be in the College Football Playoff, shooting off to a 7-0 start and garnering weeks off to prepare for Alabama. One month and three losses later, the Les Miles era was hanging by a thread, Leonard Fournette’s Heisman campaign was kaput, and the potential dream season had turned into a total disaster.
But the Tigers rebounded to beat Texas A&M before throttling Texas Tech to come up with a solid 9-3 season – one that would’ve been 10-3 if the opener against McNeese State wasn’t cancelled thanks to the weather.
Miles survived, and now he has a heater of a team returning. It’s a good enough squad to be deep in the hunt for the SEC title and the national championship, so what’s LSU’s Path to the Playoff?
Step One: Come out roaring
Style points matter, and setting the tone with a strong performance against Wisconsin is a big deal. The Tigers have to give themselves a little bit of wiggle room overall, and that means looking great throughout the year in case there’s one key loss that keeps them from taking the SEC West. With their schedule, 11-1 still might be strong enough to get into the CFP even without a conference title. For that, though, they’ve got to blast the Badgers, Mississippi State and Auburn to get through September. To do that …
Step Two: Brandon Harris has to be fine
He doesn’t have to be Aaron Rodgers, and he doesn’t even have to carry the offense. Harris simply needs to be the prototypical game manager quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes, keeps the chains moving, and occasionally comes up with one or two big throws to take advantage of his tremendous receiving corps. Every defensive gameplan against LSU will be the same – stop No. 7, Leonard Fournette. Harris doesn’t have to force anything – he has to come up with the plays that need to be made. But …
Step Three: Leonard Fournette has to be the best player in college football
Or close to it. He led the nation in rushing yards per game last season, averaging 163 yards per game on the way to 1,953 yards and 22 scores. He’ll have to deal with the fired up Badger defense to start the season, and will face some of the nation’s stingiest run defenses when going against Missouri, Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama.
That can’t matter.
Everyone focused on stopping Derrick Henry last year, forcing Alabama to try win by making Jake Coker throw the ball, but the running game dominated anyway. Fournette must be a 100-yard machine against everyone, though he can stumble against …
Step Four: Alabama
It doesn’t matter if the final score is 3-2 or 55-52, style points get thrown out the window when it comes to Alabama as long as you win. Again, a loss wouldn’t be a killer for the CFP hunt – LSU could slide into the playoff at 11-1 – as long as it’s really, really close. It worked for the Crimson Tide in 2011, and that was to finish in the top two, not get into a four-team tournament. LSU has lost five in a row in the series, and if it busts through the streak it should have the SEC West right there for the taking as long as …
Step Five: It shows up against Arkansas
Teams that play Alabama 1) are usually sad after a loss and/or 2) beaten up. Losing to the Crimson Tide on the road wasn’t all that big a deal for LSU – it was still in the hunt for the West after the loss – but the 31-14 thumping at home against Arkansas changed around the season and set the tone for the Ole Miss loss. It’s the same three-game stretch this year, but the game against the Rebels is first before getting two weeks off to get ready for Bama. Then comes the road trip to face the Hogs – the last type of team LSU is going to want to face in mid-November.
Step Six: Let the coaches be the coaches
While Les Miles might be the big toe, the entire LSU coaching staff is amazing on its own, and good enough to match up with everyone and anyone on the schedule. The Tigers have a boatload of assistants good enough to be high-end head men – and some already have been.
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is about good as any assistant in the game – he’s right out of central casting. Cam Cameron is a pro offensive coordinator, Dave Aranda is a rising superstar of a defensive coordinator, and Steve Kragthrope is a former head coach at Louisville and Tulsa.
This group is really, really good. The talent level for the coaches to work with is really, really good. So …
What Are The Chances To Get To The Playoff?
Excellent. This is the nation’s best team coming into the season with the most NFL talent, the most high-end experience, one of the best coaching staffs, and after getting through the storm of last year, the pieces to put it all together and come up with an SEC championship.
There will be a blip along the way, whether it’s against Florida or Arkansas on the road, at home against Alabama, or in a strange week when everything goes wrong, but LSU doesn’t have to be perfect to get to the promised land.
11-1 is where the bar has to be set. 10-2 is more realistic, but this year even that would be a massive disappointment.