This weekend is somewhat of the calm before the storm.
Next weekend, the college football world will see an explosion over in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Heads are set to roll next weekend when No. 1 LSU heads to the north and east to take on No. 2 Alabama.
I want to say this is a rivalry game for LSU. It’s not. Rivalry games are made when both teams win. Alabama has dominated this series since 2011 and is going to be favored by a touchdown again in 2019.
I think most people who follow college football think that this year’s LSU/Alabama game will be different. In a series long dominated by elite defense, both teams not feature explosive offenses that could make this one a shootout — one of the most exciting games of the season in the sport.
And yes, journalistic objectivity aside, there’s absolutely, positively, no doubt that I’d love to see LSU win this game and finally slay the arrogant SEC Goliath.
But no, the outcome of this game will not in any way change my opinion on LSU, its football program, coach Ed Orgeron, nor the direction of the program.
The Tigers are humming.
Every, single last thing that Orgeron promised he’d do when he took over the Tigers’ job in 2016, he’s done.
Orgeron promised he’d be a CEO-style head coach and not a dictator like he was at Ole Miss. He promised he’d let his assistants do a lot of the in-game coaching, while he stuck to situational decisions and recruiting.
In the process, the Tigers … FINALLY … have a modernized, explosive offense. The tag-team of Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady has been a marriage made in heaven, and LSU’s offense is smooth as silk — one of the best units in the country.
The Tigers have been able to retain Dave Aranda, despite being wooed by other schools around the country.
And the special teams issued that LSU faced in Les Miles’ late tenure are mostly fixed, as well.
LSU is now an elite-level national brand — the type of program that’s positioned to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff every, single year.
LSU is recruiting like a machine. The upcoming 2020 class is going to be one of the best classes in school history featuring almost 2 dozen players who hold either 5 or 4-star rankings.
Louisiana recruiting is a little bit light this go-round, which sometimes makes LSU’s classes have a hiccup.
But the Tigers have pushed past that, have gone get some of the best players from all over the country — a truly star-studded class.
Coach O had haters galore when he was hired at LSU, but those haters are now mostly mute, because of a job that’s been absolutely, positively well done.
So now, let’s talk about Alabama.
I think LSU will be able to move the ball on Alabama next Saturday for the first time in a long, long time, but I think the key of the game will come down to three factors.
For one, LSU has to score touchdowns when they get close. The Tigers’ red zone offense the past two weeks has been awful. That can’t happen against the Tide. When you get close, you need six points — every, single time. If LSU does that, it can win the game. If not, it won’t.
For two, you have to corral Alabama’s special teams. Those guys block kicks, run back punts and just absolutely dominate the third phase of games — a true Nick Saban specialty. That can’t happen next week. LSU doesn’t have to necessarily win the special teams game, but it can’t be dominated.
And for three, LSU has to have something happen early in the game to stem the momentum. By now, the word “Alabama” isn’t just a monkey on LSU’s backs, it’s a gorilla that’s 1,000+ pounds. LSU needs to establish early in the game that, yes, it can play with Alabama and, yes, it is here to win.
Do all three, and we may like the results. Do two of the three, and we may have a thrilling ballgame. Anything less than that, and the gorilla likely stays on LSU’s backs another year.
And look, that’s OK, too.
A win would be great. Trust me, I’d be doing cartwheels in the streets.
But I’m not blinded enough by one game to lose track of the amazing direction this program is headed — one of the brightest periods for LSU football in school history.