Preview 2017: LSU was close, but that wasn’t good enough last year.
LSU was closer than you might thing to getting into the College Football Playoff. It was three plays away.
LSU was three plays away from the College Football Playoff.
Okay, okay, okay, this doesn’t work this way, because, of course, a thousand things could’ve changed along the course of the season – a butterfly in Peru flaps its wings twice instead of three times and Hurricane Matthew doesn’t move the Florida game to Baton Rouge.
But the team really was that good.
We might be crazy, but we’re not dumb. There was a reason we went all in on making LSU the No. 1 team in the country before last season.
Leonard Fournette was special. Jamal Adams was special. The linebacking corps might have been the best in decades, the receivers were good enough, the NFL talent was all there, and the coaching was top-shelf. There was even a veteran under center who’d been through the SEC wars.
And then Brandon Harris threw the one interception he couldn’t.
LSU struggled against a great Wisconsin team in Green Bay, but it had the game won. Control the final moments, kick the field goal, leave with the W, but Harris threw a pick and the Badgers held on.
Yeah, if Harris doesn’t throw that pass, he might have stayed the starting quarterback. But he did, and a few games later, new starting quarterback Danny Etling was part of the second key play to the season.
The clock management wasn’t great late against Auburn, but even with the issues, LSU had the game won when Etling connected with D.J. Chark for a touchdown on the final play. But the replay took it off the board when it was ruled LSU missed getting the snap off by a millisecond.
Yeah, if those two plays go the other way – or if even one of them does – then Les Miles is still the head coach, and again, the dynamic changes. But work with me here.
Fast forward to the fantastic game against Florida, finished up by an epic Gator goal line stand holding future NFL starting RB Derrius Guice out on a 4th-and-1.
Three plays. One Harris pass, one flickering lightbulb, one stuffed run. And if you want, throw in the 21-yard fourth quarter, third-and-long touchdown run by Jalen Hurts in Alabama’s 10-0 win over the Tigers, and that’s how close LSU came to being special.
But the Alabama game didn’t matter. If the Tigers had made good on those other three plays to finish the regular season 10-1 – with the lone loss coming to the Crimson Tide – out goes Ohio State, and in comes a second SEC team to face Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
If, if, if, if, if …
The fact is that LSU really did have one of the best teams in college football last season, and it didn’t get the job done.
You are what your 8-4 record is.
And now it’s up to Ed Orgeron to try coming up with something more with a lesser team and a schedule vs. nine teams that went bowling – which doesn’t include the road trip at Ole Miss – and dates at Florida, Alabama and Tennessee.
By the way, thanks to that Florida hurricane snafu, there’s a stretch of four road games in six weeks without a break, not made any easier by two home games against Auburn and Arkansas.
It’s LSU, so there’s plenty of talent returning, including Guice as part of a terrific backfield working behind another great O line. Etling doesn’t have a veteran receiving corps to work with, but he’s experienced enough to be able to get by.
The defense takes a massive personnel hit, but defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is one of the best in the business, and he has plenty of athletes who can make his 3-4 alignment rumble.
The secondary will be great – as always – and the linebackers will be fine, but the team needs pass rusher extraordinaire Arden Key to be back and ready to roll after sitting out the offseason.
The Tigers are good enough to beat anyone on the schedule – including that team from Tuscaloosa – but they’re not great enough to be everyone on the schedule. And for LSU, that’s all that matters.
But maybe, those three plays go the other way this time around. Maybe, the team is able to find that magic and stability that last year’s version never had.
Or maybe, LSU missed its massive opportunity.
Three of them.