The number 10.
In the sports world, it implies perfection. If you’re my age, it also still makes you think of Bo Derek and her slow motion romp on the beach toward Dudley Moore, of all people.
In our immediate context, rushing at warp speed toward the start of the college and NFL football seasons, we will think of the number 10 this way:
Can the LSU Tigers and New Orleans Saints win 10 games?
It’s not a Herculean task, like trying to improve the I-10 approach to the Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge or smooth out all the streets in Gentilly. It’s also not to mimic Lee Corso’s pick for LSU to win the College Football Playoff or to predict the Saints will capture the Super Bowl, either.
Ten wins for both teams is reasonable success.
A 10-2 record for LSU likely means the following:
The Brandon Harris experience for the Tigers turns out to be a good one. Harris provides enough of a spark at quarterback to have LSU hovering around the top 10 all season, and in a parity-filled Southeastern Conference, a contender to the end for a trip to the SEC Championship Game come December.
If all that proves true, the Tigers could find themselves in a CFP bowl. Not a CFP semifinal in the Cotton or Orange bowls, but a trip like a 9-3 Ole Miss team made last year to the Peach Bowl. The Sugar Bowl will not have the CFP semifinals again until the 2017 season, and if the SEC champion qualifies for the CFP, the Sugar will be desperate for a team that will be happy to be playing in New Orleans on New Year’s Day.
For an LSU team coming off an unsatisfying 8-5 record, that would be a great fit.
Ten wins for the Saints would mean a 10-6 record.
That doesn’t sound all that exceptional, and it certainly wouldn’t allow the Saints to wrest home-field advantage in the playoffs away from the Seattle Seahawks or the Green Bay Packers. But think back to the bowl of fondue the NFC South was last season. A 10-6 record would have won last year’s division in a walk. It’s borderline embarrassing that Carolina won it with a 7-8-1 record, except that the Panthers saved some face by advancing a round in the playoffs.
The division hasn’t advanced that much as a group to think that 10-6 wouldn’t win it again, perhaps by a couple of games. The Saints debuted in ESPN’s preseason NFL power index at No. 12, five spots ahead of Carolina. Atlanta was at No. 21 and Tampa Bay at No. 29.
For the Saints, the question of improving three games over last year’s ultra-disappointing 7-9 record — those of us who remember Bo Derek can also remember when the Saints going 7-9 was considered “success” — isn’t tied to the quarterback position.
Of course a healthy Drew Brees, who admitted two weeks ago he was more troubled by that oblique muscle injury last season than he ever let on, should only be a plus. A healthy No. 9 is still one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL.
The question of course is defense. Rob Ryan’s first season in New Orleans in 2013, the Saints ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and total offense. Last year, the offense, with a less than 100 percent Brees and an indifferent Jimmy Graham (I don’t think his loss will be as big a liability as some do), finished first in the NFL in total offense.
The defense ranked 31st. Second to last.
LSU’s Harris doesn’t have to be an All-American for the Tigers to have success. Just be average. Literally middle of the road would mean wonders. LSU was 114th last season averaging 162.9 yards per game passing out of 125 FBS teams. The team right in the middle at No. 63, Kentucky, averaged 231.2. Imagine what holes an extra 70 or so yards passing would open for Messrs. Fournette, Williams, Guice and Brossette.
The same for the Saints defense, which surrendered 384.0 yards per game in 2014. New Orleans doesn’t have to be top four defensively in the NFL to be atop the NFC South. Be No. 16. Be Houston, which allowed 348.2. Dare to dream to be Green Bay, the team some say is the team to beat in the NFC. The Packers were 15th allowing 346.4. Imagine what a few more three-and-outs would mean in Brees’ hands.
Ten wins. It’s not a moon shot. Of course, it’s what these teams should have been capable of last year, too.