Exactly seven days from when this column was being written, LSU’s Drew Alleman or Oregon kicker Rob Beard will thump his foot against a ball and between 80,000 and 90,000 fans in Cowboys Stadium will roar with delight that college football season has begun.
For LSU, it won’t just be joy. It’ll be more than that.
It’ll be relief.
That will be a cathartic moment for those who follow, participate in, coach and cover LSU football. It will be a moment to, at least in a symbolic way, bid a bitter adieu to the most sordid, scandalous offseason LSU football has probably ever had.
You know the lowlights by now, so we’ll be brief. Roll the ugliness: NCAA probation, Willie Lyles, bar fight, a search warrant, arrests, three player suspensions (two from the fight, one from violating a rule of NCAA protocol concerning an investigation), and Steve Kragthorpe’s illness thrown in for good measure (not a scandal, of course, but a major jolt to LSU’s offensive plans).
Whether or not LSU wins the game is debatable. Surprisingly, a Tigers defeat isn’t seen as a foregone conclusion among oddsmakers. For those who haven’t pulled LSU-Oregon off the board, the Tigers are generally listed as only a 1- to 2-point underdog. That has to rate as something of a moral victory, anyway.
Trying to peg the win total for LSU football at this point is also an exercise in graduate school-level guesswork.
On one hand, the remaining Tigers have to be mightily distracted by the insanity of this August. And whether you count yourself among the camp of Jordan Jefferson supporters (some would argue they should be called apologists) or critics (some would argue they should be called Zach Mettenberger fans), you have to admit that having Jefferson’s elusiveness is an arrow it would be useful to have in LSU’s offensive quiver.
Just as difficult to replace, perhaps more so, is Russell Shepard’s dual-threat talent as a receiver and runner.
But for LSU, winning or losing this game may be less about who lines up for the Tigers against the Ducks and how closely the Tigers line up shoulder-to-shoulder.
The whole bar-fight saga isn’t over. The legal process still has gears to crank. The same for the Shepard saga, though it is a reasonable expectation that he could be back by October.
But the Jefferson/Shepard/Josh Johns suspensions are at least some form of closure. As painful as closing your hand in a car door, perhaps, but closure.
And in that, the Tigers may find a way to rally the troops and give a strong accounting of themselves against Oregon, a team that has been no stranger to offseason upheaval itself.
Remember how North Carolina played against LSU last year? The Tar Heels, minus 13 suspended players and rampant scandals, somehow pulled themselves together down 30-10 at halftime and were one desperate pass in the end zone away from upsetting the Tigers.
If LSU is that close to Oregon on Saturday, that may be all you can ask.