Travin Haney, one of ESPN.com’s national college football writers, has a friend who lost his fantasy football match this past weekend. His friend’s running back: LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who ran for 11 yards on two carries in the Tigers’ 10-play rainout against McNeese State on Saturday.
“If Fournette would have played a full game, guy probably would have won,” Haney said.
Kiley Ray Greathouse, an LSU fan originally from Lake Charles, drove from Omaha, Neb., to Baton Rouge over the weekend for the season opener. What’d he get? Less than 5 minutes of game action.
LSU, meanwhile, likely lost thousands of dollars in concession sales – and that excludes any refund the school might pay those who purchased tickets for Saturday’s game.
“We can’t control the weather,” athletic director Joe Alleva said Saturday. “I’m sorry.”
LSU’s cancelled game against McNeese State, the first in nearly 100 years for the program, affected thousands of people – from college football fantasy league participants to those who traveled 1,000-plus miles for the contest to financial-conscience administrators who rely so heavily on home games.
More important, maybe: How the heck does it affect the LSU football team?
What’s it mean for the Tigers in Saturday’s game against Mississippi State and, more so, how will it affect the squad at the end of this season if it only played 11 regular season games and everybody else played 12?
“I think it’s something to think about,” said Dennis Dodd, senior football columnist for cbssports.com.
“It’s a talking point,” Haney said. “That’s for sure.”
“I think it’s significant,” said Tim Brando, a national sports commentator for Fox Sports. “I think it’s a game changer.”
Opinions ranged from a bevy of interviews with national college football reporters and pundits. One thing does not: This was a rarity.
The Tigers and the Cowboys’ “no contest” – that’s the official term for it – does not happen often. Dodd, for instance, has covered college football for several decades and, outside of Florida’s weather-induced cancellation against Idaho last season, he can’t remember a major college team completely canceling a football game in the modern era.
“There’s a higher sensitivity on weather now,” Dodd said. “In the old days, teams might have played through that.”
It thrusts the Tigers and coach Les Miles into some rarely charted territory. LSU now opens its season on the road against an SEC team – something that’s happened just once in the last 25 years. In 2007, the Tigers won at State 45-0 to open a season that ended with a national championship.
“We’ll have to make sure we give a view of a road game to some of our young players and put them in a position to excel,” Miles said Saturday. “We talked about that, and either way, play or not, we’ll be prepared to play our next opponent.”
One of those young players: quarterback Brandon Harris, a sophomore making just his second career start. LSU ran just five offensive plays Saturday, and Harris threw just two passes.
An expected tune-up for Harris and the other young guys – LSU, after all, played six true freshmen in the 10 plays – turned into a washout. And, now, the Tigers unproven quarterback gets his first official start in a rowdy road environment in front of an ESPN audience Saturday night.
Sound familiar? Harris went 3-for-14 in his first career start at Auburn last year – an ESPN-televised night game that ended in the Tigers’ worse loss under Miles. LSU hosts Auburn in two weeks.
“I think they would have liked to have seen how a lot of pieces look, including the quarterback, before having to play two big early games,” Haney said. “They lost a glorified scrimmage opportunity.”
“They probably could have used a game,” said Ralph Russo, the Associate Press’ national college football reporter.
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples compares LSU’s cancellation to the 2012 postponement of Texas A&M’s season-opening game against Louisiana Tech. Hurricane Isaac pushed that game into October, leaving the Aggies to open the season against Florida at home – a game they lost 20-17.
“That’s Johnny Manziel’s first start,” Staples said. “Manziel is not live in practice. They don’t know what he has until they play Florida, but at that point they didn’t have an offense designed around him. I think if that game would have been played after they played Louisiana tech, they would have beat Florida.”
The two situations aren’t completely similar, Staples said. Harris is less of an “unknown” than Manziel. He’s a sophomore who played in eight games in 2014.
Most national experts aren’t changing their predictions on a winner in Starkville after LSU’s cancellation. A couple have LSU winning and a couple are undecided. LSU opened as a 2-to-3-point favorite in the game.
That might be baffling to some. Brando, for example, says the Tigers have a “decided disadvantage” having had a game canceled. Brando led the broadcast of State’s 34-16 win at Southern Miss on Saturday night.
“Mississippi State got a road win in a more competitive environment than even they had expected,” he said. “They were challenged. LSU wasn’t.”
LSU players don’t seem to share the feeling.
“So disappointed, not being able to put on a show for the fans that stuck through last night,” safety Jamal Adams tweeted Sunday. “Hope to see LSU fans @ MSU! We’ll be ready!”
“Can’t even express how mad I was.... Next week tho,” Fournette posted on Twitter.
Looking beyond next week, things get even more uncertain. Not playing a 12th regular season game has to have an impact on bowl games or College Football Playoff implications, right?
Dodd and Brando seem to think so, but ESPN’s Heather Dinich, specifically covering the CFB for ESPN, disagrees.
“The committee said last year that TCU and Baylor didn’t have a 13th game,” said Dinich of the two teams left out of the inaugural four-team playoff. “It’s not like that with LSU-McNeese. What would the committee have learned from that game? I mean, that’s the reality.”
Russo says it’s not the number of games played, but the opponent and the date. TCU and Baylor didn’t have a conference championship game, while other teams like Ohio State and Alabama played a highly ranked team in the title match.
“Scratching an FCS off your resume in September … I think at the end of the year, it’s a non-factor,” he said.
“Yes, it’s McNeese State, but it’s a game,” Dodd said. “Only people who could answer that are those on the committee. And that’s a big what if.”
What if LSU doesn’t win the SEC title and finishes the season at 10-1 or, even, 9-2, and the league has a shot to get a second team into the CFP? The Tigers may lose out to a fellow SEC team that’s 11-1 or 10-2, Dodd suggests.
“They look at it, ‘Well LSU only played 11. Auburn played 12, Alabama played 12,” he said.
And if LSU does win an SEC title and has one loss? Brando says the Tigers could still have problems getting into football’s new final four.
“Sorry, but 12-1 trumps 11-2, and 13-1 trumps 12-1,” he said.
“If they’re SEC champions,” Dodd said, “they’re going to be taken care of.”
Guess who holds the same opinion? The team’s coach.
“If you march through conference and end up as conference champion, it won’t make any difference,” Miles said. “If you’re the best 11-win team at the time, and there are some better 12-win teams, you’ll see how that might play out.”
In the end, some say the biggest loser is Fournette, the Heisman Trophy hopeful who broke LSU’s freshman rushing record last season.
Forget about the fantasy league owners. LSU’s star tailback has one fewer regular season game than any other Heisman contender.
“He just lot the opportunity for a 200-yard game,” Haney said. “The (Heisman) voters, they’re not going to look at them not playing a game. They’re going to look at a stat total. What if Fournette is at 1,800 (yards) and Chubb has 2000?”
So many questions from LSU’s rainout. So few answers.
“The only time that anything like this has happened was 9/11,” Miles said. “They took football from us for a week. But this here was the weather.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.