If you’re waiting to see if the Tigers will be tamed in 2011, you’ve come to the wrong week of the season.
No offense to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, the main course being served up at Saturday’s homecoming tailgate feast, but this is a no-contest. A one-sided affair. If this was a prize fight - or whatever they do in MMA - this match would never have been scheduled.
We’re talking two different weight classes here.
Asked what his team needed to pull an upset of LSU, Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart said: “A bunch of prayers.” He was kidding, of course, but in humor we find the truth. And the truth is, for LSU this game is 180 degrees from last week’s Bamageddon showdown with Alabama, which may or may not be the game that decides everything between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide this season.
After a season of scoring TKOs of its first eight opponents by an average of two touchdowns, LSU eked out a 9-6 overtime victory in Tuscaloosa. Against the Hilltoppers, the Tigers are a six-touchdown favorite.
It would take a month of Saturdays - or more - for LSU to score six touchdowns against the Tide.
But that’s how a college football season goes. Every game can’t be a blockbuster, or by season’s end teams like LSU would have to hold their games in a rehab hospital.
No, you’ve got to have the tough games, the risky games, the games that get the voters’ attention. But you’ve also got to have the breathers, the games when your starters can go to the bench in the third quarter and the benchwarmers can get their moment in the sun - or under the lights.
You’ve got to have the occasional rent-a-win.
Western Kentucky falls into that category. LSU isn’t paying the Hilltoppers $875,000 for their old grand dad’s bourbon recipe or sparkling conversation.
No, WKU is supposed to take its beating, clap when the homecoming queen is crowned, take its check and go back to Bowling Green, Ky. And in this case, the Western Kentucky players get to tell the kids and grandkids years from now about the time they played the No. 1 team in the nation. An added fringe benefit, no extra charge.
LSU’s schedule has been, and will continue to be, filled with plenty of challenges. But they have been sprinkled with care throughout the schedule so as not to tax the top-rated Tigers too badly.
LSU opened the season with No. 3-ranked Oregon in Arlington, Texas, which proved both the Tigers’ worth as a national contender and set the tone for what the rest of their season has become.
Once the Tigers cleared that major hurdle, it was back home to take care of Northwestern State 49-3.
The Demons were the meat of a sandwich that had Oregon on one side and a Thursday night potential Tigers trap of a game at Mississippi State. But that road test turned out to be another 13-point win, and playing on Thursday night allowed LSU an extra two days to prepare for another tough road game at West Virginia.
One impressive away win built upon another until by the end of September the Tigers found themselves 4-0 and ranked No. 1, up from a preseason ranking of No. 4.
“One reason that we (eventually) jumped to No. 1 was because of the Oregon game,” said LSU assistant athletic director Verge Ausberry, whose primary task is football scheduling.
“We got a lot of media attention at the beginning of the year and played some very, very good opponents. The schedule speaks for itself. It’s a body of work.”
One factor in the schedule was the fact LSU returned Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at quarterback. Next season they’ll be gone and likely the Tigers will be breaking in Zach Mettenberger as their signal caller. As a result, LSU will play all of its nonconference games at home against beatable opponents (North Texas, Washington, Idaho and Towson).
“It’s a schedule I thought we could handle with the team we have coming back,” Ausberry said of the 2011 slate. “If we were starting a new quarterback, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now.”
Few thought LSU could be where it is now facing the schedule it has. Ausberry knows he rolled the dice and came up sevens.
“People thought I was crazy after the schedule came out,” he said. “But it worked out fine. We’ve gotten the right breaks in between.”
Now the season enters its final weeks with the tempo building to the big finale.
First Western Kentucky, then a trip to Ole Miss, then Arkansas.
By the time the Tigers face the Razorbacks, they should be 11-0.
And ready for another showdown.