ARLINGTON, Texas — LSU took a risk by agreeing to open its season against No. 3 Oregon in the Cowboys Classic on Saturday night in Cowboys Stadium.
Though the Tigers didn’t know when they accepted the game a year ago the Ducks would be preseason No. 3, they had every reason to believe they would be taking on a very highly-ranked team, adding a heavyweight to a nonconference schedule that already included a road game against a light-heavy in West Virginia. They also knew they would wind up with just six games in Tiger Stadium, but coach Les Miles rightfully said, in essence, “bring ’em on.”
You don’t build, or in this case enhance, one of the elite programs in the country by shying away from games like this because you’re afraid you might lose, because you’re concerned about what a loss could do to your championship hopes.
You embrace games like this because you expect to win them and because you know that, win or lose, playing this type of game against this type of team, in this type of environment, at this point in the season will challenge your players, your staff, even your head coach in greater ways than your standard opener that forces your fan base to Google your opponent’s name to confirm that they do indeed field a football team.
When you have a program like the Tigers’, you set the bar as high as it will go, you recruit players capable of, and willing to commit to reaching that bar and you don’t avoid scheduling opportunities that can elevate your team a little closer to reaching that bar.
Of course, Oregon and coach Chip Kelly should be lauded for taking on the same challenge. They assumed the same risk and now face a long, uphill climb if they are to re-enter the national championship picture. But, like the Tigers, the Ducks have a vision of something bigger than one win or loss.
As a practical matter, LSU’s victory saved the Tigers from burning a BCS mulligan. It means they can withstand a loss and still be in the title picture — if they win the Southeastern Conference. Conceivably they could lose two and still have a shot, if an unlikely series of events play out as they did four years ago.
For now, though, the important thing is LSU is hanging around the top of the polls, and it has posted the most impressive victory of week one in terms of BCS implications. Boise State’s decisive win against Georgia is a clear-cut number two.
The Tigers will certainly move up to at least No. 3 in this week’s coaches poll. Whether they can catch No. 2 Alabama or No. 1 Oklahoma is uncertain and unimportant.
“I don’t really care if we’re ranked No. 1 (this week) or not,” Miles said. “That’s so far away from really counting. I appreciate the fact that we’re close enough to end up No. 1, and that’s really all I care about. If we continue to play well and do the things we’re capable of doing, we’ll earn our way.”
Miles embraced this risky challenge because he had faith in his program and this team.
His faith was rewarded.