This could be a wreckage-filled weekend in the top 25.
In some marvelously tantalizing alignment of the scheduling planets, 12 of the nation’s top-25 teams are on the road this weekend.
Of those walks with danger, only two of the dozen are playing at ranked teams: No. 1 Oklahoma goes to No. 5 Florida State for Game of the Year 2.0 (following LSU-Oregon two weeks ago) and No. 3 LSU plays at No. 25 Mississippi State.
The mere notion of LSU walking into the pit known as Scott Field is enough to send the proverbial shivers down to your hip pads.
It’s because of the bells ? the bells! Quasimodo after a three-day bender never had to deal with this kind of torment. Imagine a flash mob materializing around you banging hammers on colored pieces of tin.
“Cowbells,” said sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery, making his first trip to Starkville, Miss. “I’ve heard about the cowbells.”
LSU piped in crowd noise at practice this week sans the cowbell aria, but that didn’t change anything for senior offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert.
“I can hear them in my head,” he said.
Then there’s the headache of State’s team itself.
The Bulldogs are averaging 588 yards per their first two games, 321 of those on the ground. With Chris Relf, Vick Ballard and Chad Bumphis, the Bulldogs have morphed into an imposing threat under third-year coach Dan Mullen, whose program manhandled Les Miles’ alma mater in the Gator Bowl 52-14.
The cherry on the sundae is the expectation that the Bulldogs will play with desperate intensity after their 41-34 loss Saturday at Auburn. An 0-2 Southeastern Conference start would surely torpedo the Bulldogs’ hopes to win their first conference title in 70 (yes, 70) years.
It all sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it? It does, except for one fact:
It’s LSU. It’s State. And the Tigers always win.
It isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it’s downright miraculous, like Chad Jones 30, Mississippi State 26 in Starkville two years ago.
But it always ends up this way: LSU more, Mississippi State less.
If you’re driving to the game Thursday, you are likely to spot a billboard with Mullen’s big mug on it saying, “Welcome to our State.”
This week, it should carry a little extra message like a surgeon general’s warning on a cigarette ad that says, “Except when we play LSU, then it’s THEIR state.”
I know history doesn’t block, catch passes or kick field goals. But it will be the 700-pound intangible gorilla sitting in the open north end of Davis Wade Stadium, munching on a bag of boiled peanuts left by late State player turned comedian Jerry Clower.
LSU has won 11 straight against State and 18 of the past 19. Look up the word “dominance” at Dictionary.com and there will be an amended reference to this series.
It’s like this poster of the Three Stooges I once saw entitled, “Eat, drink and beat Larry.” The plots may have changed (slightly), the supporting cast refreshed, but eventually you knew Moe was going to squash Larry’s nose with a pipe wrench.
Same with the Tigers and Bulldogs. Players come and go, but LSU wins and State loses. End of story. LSU is Moe and State is, at best, Shemp.
The particulars haven’t mattered very much.
LSU has a bad team and State has a good team - Tigers win.
LSU has a good team and State has a good team - Tigers win.
LSU has a good team and State has a bad team - chance of upset, to pinch a line from Dan Borne ? never!
The Tigers would have won 19 straight if not for the evil curse of the dropped linebacker that decided Gerry DiNardo would be out as LSU’s coach no matter what.
It was 1999 and a limping 2-4 LSU team led 6-0 State 16-10 when Bulldogs fullback Rod Gibson appeared to fumble a pass from Wayne Madkin and was ruled down at the 1. A few plays later on fourth-and-goal, Madkin scored and State escaped, 17-16.
Three losses later, DiNardo’s fate was sealed, ushering in the Nick Saban era.
You know the rest.
So does State.
Intellectually, I know that Mississippi State can beat LSU.
And yet, the gulf between State and the established SEC West elite in some ways remains as wide as ever. Mullen’s Bulldogs are a combined 0-9 against LSU, Alabama, Auburn and Arkansas, their only two wins within the division against Ole Miss.
That’s not bullish - that’s a bummer.
LSU’s players are not acting overconfident - but getting there wouldn’t be a stretch.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Montgomery said. “It should be interesting. We’ve got to come together and take it (Scott Field) over.”
When it come to hostile takeovers, that’s part of the script when LSU plays State.