LSU and West Virginia are two football schools separated by a common passion.
At West Virginia, they barbecue couches. At LSU, they barbecue anything that moves.
West Virginia fans live on the sides of mountains. LSU fans live on the side of levees, often below sea level.
At West Virginia they sell beer at the games. At LSU they don’t sell beer, but plenty of containers of adult beverages somehow magically appear at each game. Also likely to appear at LSU’s next home game against Kentucky will be a petition to sell beer in Tiger Stadium.
In West Virginia they’re known for coal mining, while in Louisiana we’re known for oil drilling.
In West Virginia, you can’t see the ocean. In south Louisiana, the only rocks are in driveways or the landscaping. Anything bigger than your thumb and again, someone would try to barbecue it (and it would be delicious).
For all their differences in customs, heritage and geography, LSU and West Virginia really aren’t that far apart. Both recognize that Saturday’s showdown in Morgantown is an opportunity to make a big statement on a grand national stage.
The Tigers travel north to try to secure what with this victory would begin to resemble manifest destiny.
If LSU can emerge from the turmoil of August (illness, injury and altercations) and the trials of September (Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia) and still be an undefeated national championship contender there will be — to pardon the West Virginia-themed pun — no mountain the Tigers can’t climb.
That which does not defeat the Tigers will strengthen their championship aspirations. Even a loss Saturday doesn’t put LSU out of the BCS picture, it will just reduce their margin of error to nil heading into the balance of their Southeastern Conference schedule. That’s what makes this game so important.
By all rights, this LSU team could already be a disheartened and downtrodden 1-2 given the level of competition it has faced. Given the circumstances under which the Tigers entered this season, no one would have been too surprised.
Instead they have not only weathered the storms, but thrived. Really, could LSU have gotten to 3-0 any more impressively if Jordan Jefferson, Russell Shepard and Josh Dworaczyk had been playing all this time? Any tougher to beat had Brad Wing or Drew Alleman been kicking at full strength the past two games or had not Chris Faulk been injured early in the game at Mississippi State?
The answer is an emphatic no. Certainly there are still huge hurdles for these Tigers to clear — improving Florida, imposing Alabama, dangerous Arkansas — but a win over the Mountaineers would add a West Virginia-sized cornerstone to LSU’s hopes.
As for WVU, it simply comes down to this: to be the best you have to beat the best.
The Mountaineers have flirted with national titles before. They lost what was in effect a national championship showdown to Notre Dame in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl and a chance to play in the 2007 BCS title game when it lost its regular-season finale to Pittsburgh, vaulting LSU into the championship game against Ohio State. WVU has never beaten a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in The Associated Press poll, going a combined 0-15 in its otherwise storied history.
Breaking that hex against LSU would put the Mountaineers ahead of schedule in terms of their development as a program under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen — quite a bit ahead.
With Holgorsen’s offensive plan and Geno Smith’s passing, an upset of LSU is certainly within West Virginia’s grasp. The Mountaineers will also have a rowdy crowd of 60,000 mostly on their side (the LSU contingent notwithstanding) and will have had hours to tune up after ESPN’s “College GameDay” show broadcasts for the first time from West Virginia. It’ll be a hostile environment to be sure, but nothing LSU hasn’t faced in Starkville (my ears are still ringing from last Thursday’s cowbells) or Tuscaloosa or Gainesville or Auburn.
If the Tigers don’t beat themselves with turnovers or uncharacteristically poor play, expect the game to follow a familiar script: close at halftime, with LSU wearing down West Virginia by the end.
Common passion is one thing. Talent and depth is another. The latter is what the Tigers will once again have on their side.