By decree of the two most powerful forces in college football — meteorology and ESPN’s scheduling book — the LSU Tigers will be the last Division I team in America to officially kick off its season.
When LSU and Mississippi State finally tee it up at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, everyone else will have started playing. This is of course barring a weather delay somewhere else, a caveat that now demands to be made after LSU had its first game canceled since George M. Cohan was handing off to Black Jack Pershing in World War I.
The season’s false start has taken the tension built up going into this LSU football season and pulled it taut as Odell Beckham Jr.’s hamstrings. The drama is playing out like the plot of the latest James Patterson thriller — or the one right after that.
But now, what could be LSU football’s season on the brink is on the brink of the season. Finally. The Tigers are going to eventually, sometime, probably, play a football game. It might as well be Saturday night under a blanket of Mississippi stars and serenaded by about 50,000 cowbells.
So many questions still demanding answers despite being taken to the limit:
-- Is Brandon Harris really the man for LSU at quarterback?
-- Will Les Miles let young Harris and the rest of the offense operate out of a more wide-open and diverse attack?
-- How good can LSU’s defense be under new coordinator Kevin Steele?
-- Will LSU improve on its anemic 19-sack total from last season? Can the whole defensive operation fly without the safety net of Jalen Mills in the backfield? Mills isn’t supposed to be back until midseason, though if LSU has to keep scrapping games, he could in theory be ready for the “opener.”
As a team, these Tigers have an opening Saturday. It is an act in two parts.
The first step: Win in Starkville. The second: Return home next Saturday and knock Auburn off its top-10 perch. If LSU successfully negotiates that dangerous bit of choreography, it could be like Leonard Fournette bursting through the line of scrimmage with only a wispy cornerback between him and the goal line on the far horizon. The Tigers could run a long way, possibly all the way across Mississippi to Alabama on Nov. 7, before they’re slowed again, gathering momentum as they go.
Or, it could all be undone by the Dak Attack in a matter of a 60-minute game.
Mississippi State isn’t the team that camped at No. 1 for five long weeks last season and sunned itself in the Orange Bowl. Diplomas and NFL contracts have thinned the Bulldogs’ ranks and made them inferior to the Tigers at a number of key positions.
All except the most important one, of course. Harris may yet go down in the annals as one of LSU’s great quarterbacks, but his résumé is thin. His north Louisiana friend Dak Prescott, on the other hand, is one of State’s great quarterbacks, and his talent as a passer and runner is more than enough to cover up a multitude of sins. Simply put, the Tigers have to cut short, or at least contain, Prescott’s virtuoso talents to win.
The stakes for LSU couldn’t be bigger. While any one loss, especially early on, can be overcome in the fullness of the season, it’s just as true that a tough defeat can start an avalanche rolling downhill that’s impossible to stop. Lose Saturday, and LSU is staring the possibility of an 0-2 start squarely in the face mask. Start 0-2, and LSU’s relevance as a national power continues to melt slowly away.
Maybe it’s unfair to say that one or two games can be a referendum on an entire program or a coach’s tenure but, well, it must be said. This is an enormously important game for Les Miles and his Tigers, and there are simply too many question marks — plus last year’s loss to State in Tiger Stadium — to mark this down as an LSU win, as was the case for years with the Bulldogs. It seems the logical thing to do, but the brain throws up too many warning flags to proceed.
Soon, though, we will know. The drama will play out. The questions, at least most of them, will find answers in hard runs and thudding tackles.
One way or another, for LSU a reckoning is at hand.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.