“Once more we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary.”
— The Hunt for Red October
The hunt is on.
LSU. Alabama. Prime time on Nov. 7 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with Southeastern Conference, SEC West and College Football Playoff stakes in play on a national stage.
Before the game week hype grips us, let’s taken an open date week look at some of the big issues surrounding this game …
Les Miles met with reporters Tuesday night, the first day the Tigers returned to practice since Saturday’s 48-20 win over Western Kentucky.
Miles said three key players — defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, safety Tre’Davious White and fullback JD Moore — worked out but didn’t practice. He hopes they’ll be back doing that by Monday. How much that’s realism or rampant optimism on Miles’ part was hard to figure out.
All three players are must haves for LSU going into the Alabama game. Of the three, I figure LaCouture is the most likely to return, White the easiest to replace (not easy, but easiest) as a safety and punt returner, and Moore is the must-have.
Leonard Fournette has still been mighty effective since Moore left the Oct. 10 South Carolina game with a knee injury. He rushed for 180 yards on 31 carries against Florida and 150 yards on 26 carries against WKU.
But the yards have definitely been harder to come by, either in one-back sets or with backup fullbacks Bry’Kiethon Mouton and Ronnie Feist clearing the path.
It’s funny to think a player as talented as Fournette, still the prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite, needs a former walk-on to help him get the job done, but he truly does. Moore was a road grader for Fournette — on one play against Auburn blocking defenders on the right then left side of a hole at left tackle to spring No. 7 for a huge gain.
More than anyone on the team, Moore’s potential recovery bears watching. And for LSU, maybe a little praying.
The season’s first College Football Playoff rankings will be revealed Tuesday, and it seems all but a certainty that 7-0 LSU will earn one of the coveted top four spots that correspond with the number of CFP semifinal berths available.
Not that they have any bearing on the CFP committee’s rankings, but the Tigers are No. 4 in the two major traditional polls: AP and coaches.
It’s new territory for LSU, which was never higher than No. 16 in any of the CFP rankings during its inaugural season, but not for Miles’ program overall when you take into account its seasons as a BCS contender.
Miles wants this team to enjoy the acclaim, but not lose sight of the fact that the season’s hardest work may be ahead.
“It’s certainly a compliment to what they’ve accomplished,” said Miles, adding that being in the CFP top four isn’t “quite the number we want.
“(They) understand they have to earn it. There are a couple of games left to play.”
Respect for LSU’s program seems to be stronger outside Louisiana than within it.
Locally, fans and media have thrown into harsh relief the Tigers’ struggles with special teams, struggles to finally improve the passing game and overcome touchdown-erasing penalties.
Nationally, though, LSU is seen as one of the nation’s most consistent teams, one of a handful of worthy though flawed title contenders. On the ESPNU show “CFB Daily” on Tuesday, all four analysts had LSU among their four teams in the CFP playoff. Dan Hawkins and Edward Aschoff had the Tigers as the No. 1 seed, albeit based on where things stand at this point in the season.
“I like the Tigers,” Aschoff said. “To me, they’re the only team that hasn’t played down to the competition all season. Everyone looked at that Western Kentucky game and said, ‘Maybe this is a chance for an upset,’ but they blew right past them.”
A lot of anxious Tiger fans may take issue, but the truth is there are no truly dominant teams in college football this season. There are at least 10-12 teams with legitimate hopes of being in the CFP semifinals, and LSU certainly is one.
For the sake of political correctness, they don’t call the Florida-Georgia game the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” anymore, a name coined in the 1950s when a sportswriter saw a drunken fan stumble to a offer uniformed police officer a drink.
If Florida wins Saturday, though, Gators fans will definitely be doing some drinking in celebration.
Even before the calendar flips to November, Florida can clinch the SEC East with a win over the Bulldogs. That means a rematch for LSU if the Tigers can navigate that deeper, more shark-infested SEC West and also get to Atlanta.
LSU would be favored to repeat its 35-28 victory over the Gators in Tiger Stadium, but it would be an unappealing chore to have to play Florida again.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.