It has been a year on this road, a year of unpredictable changes, controversies galore, eras fading out and emerging and crashing into each other.
Fortunes lost, won, lost again, and perhaps about to be made in ways only Jimmy Sexton can dream of while dozing in a cash-stuffed wingback leather chair in his sumptuous study.
For LSU — a football program currently with no championships, no permanent leader, no definitive clue as to what or who comes next — it has been like several seasons in one.
The regular season will draw to a close Thursday night when LSU plays at Texas A&M. Appropriate it is that the Tigers and Aggies play one last time (for the foreseeable future) on Thanksgiving day, because there is a measure of thanks to be given that this chapter is on its final page.
For a game designed to become a be-all, end-all rivalry between these two Deep South college football titans, it could hardly feel more anticlimactic. The urge is to get through it quickly, opening up the playing field for the next big game to come.
The game to name the man who would be king of LSU’s football program.
What a strange play this has been so far. The king (Les Miles) got killed off in the first act, replaced by a member of his court (Ed Orgeron) who had the kingdom in his hands but had it wrenched out of them by two villains: perpetual public enemy No. 1 Nick Saban of Alabama and the smarmy Jim McElwain from Florida.
If Thursday’s game is the last episode of the Orgeron era — and it is right to say “if,” because it would be a mistake to say he’s completely out of the running to be LSU’s permanent coach — then he deserves a great measure of respect and admiration from Tigers fans everywhere.
Orgeron was dealt a tough hand in order to stay on top, had a lot of success, made some mistakes. He played the game as best he could, knowing the odds were not in his favor. It was a task with great risk and great rewards, and Orgeron didn’t shy away from that. He had to know going in that this would be his one great chance to land a great job in his home state.
“No, I’m going for it,” Orgeron said Monday. He was asked if he thought about begging out of being the interim coach after having his heart ripped out in a similar situation at Southern California. “I’m going for it. I always believe in accepting challenges to better yourself, to compete at the highest level.”
Orgeron’s last words illustrate a cogent point about LSU’s now two-month-old search to replace Miles. This is about trying to identify who can guide LSU’s football program back to competing at the highest level, something the Tigers have not truly been able to do since the 2011 season ended with that Hindenburg of a crash in the BCS national championship game.
Which brings us back to the immediate reality at hand, which may be LSU's most overlooked football games against a peer Southeastern Conference program in recent memory.
The Tigers are playing for little more than pride against Texas A&M, though the Aggies at least have a shot at the Sugar Bowl bid LSU tore to bits with that clumsy loss to Florida.
This is the Tigers' motivation at this point:
- Win to go to a better bowl — the Outback, perhaps, instead of the Liberty.
- Win to allow the program to have a shot at extending its run of eight-win seasons or better dating to 2000, the nation’s longest such streak. (LSU already extended its string of bowl-eligible seasons back to 2000 when the Tigers beat Arkansas.)
- Win to give Orgeron a boost in the coaching search in its final hours or, rather, keep him in the mix. Another loss to drop to 4-3 as interim coach would surely sink him for good.
If LSU's players wanted to help Orgeron win coaching jobs and influence deep-pocketed boosters, they would have helped him beat the Gators. As it is, the ship bearing Orgeron's aspirations may have already sailed, though if LSU swings and misses at the upper end of its strike zone in terms of coaching candidates, Orgeron will still be there to keep the school from being called out.
But all of this is postscript to what has the makings of an intriguing showdown between the Tigers and Aggies, who believe it or not haven’t beaten LSU in five straight tries dating to their last win in the series in 1995.
So, LSU and A&M, play the game, punch each other on the shoulder, promise never to make us all miss Thanksgiving with our families for one of your football games again — and let the Tigers head back to Baton Rouge.
The show, the real show, is about to commence.