Rabalais: Marquee names missing from Tiger Stadium marquee _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU coach Les Miles watches the field and crowd during pregame warmups for the Sam Houston State game on Sept. 6 at Tiger Stadium.

The debate over how LSU schedules in football has grown to where it almost rivals the debate over how the Tigers play that schedule.

It’s part of paying the cost of being good at your business. Folks haven’t had much reason to worry for the last 15 years whether or not LSU is winning.

Instead, they’ve concerned themselves with who the Tigers are winning — and occasionally losing — against when they aren’t sparring with the likes of Alabama, Florida and, next week, Mississippi State.

Saturday’s game against UL-Monroe is squarely part of that conversation.

With the arrival of the College Football Playoff, strength of schedule is more critical than ever. At least one champion of one of the big five major conferences will be left out of the game’s biggest party (I’m looking at you, Big Ten), meaning you’d better impress the selection committee with your overall body of work.

There is increasing discussion over whether teams from those big five conferences like LSU should be playing FCS opponents like last week’s victim, Sam Houston State, or a mid-major like UL-Monroe. Some argue the top 65 teams in those big five conferences (plus Notre Dame, always Notre Dame) should only be playing each other.

That kind of thinking may strike a nerve with LSU fans paying around $700 and more per season ticket (with surcharge) and thousands for club seats and suites, but it draws cries of “Whoa, nelly!” from the front offices.

“Let’s be realistic,” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said. “You can’t play 12 Wisconsins a year. Not if you want to win the national championship.”

LSU has already played Wisconsin, beating the Badgers 28-24 on Aug. 30 in Houston.

Where the Tigers played Wisconsin is part of the grumbling about LSU’s schedule. The Tigers are basically playing one marquee non-con opponent per year, and those (Wisconsin, Oregon, TCU, North Carolina) have all been at neutral sites since 2009.

The home folks are left to watch a revolving door of midmajors and FCS squads (and left with the only drama — how soon can the game become a blowout so they can win the race to beat the traffic jam on the way home?).

LSU will no doubt benefit from a football recruiting, alumni giving and certainly university-wide exposure basis for having played in Houston. And there are home-and-home games sprinkled across the next 15 seasons with Syracuse, Arizona State, UCLA and Oklahoma, though the latter continues to be pushed back.

LSU is hardly alone in how it schedules.

Alabama played its big non-con foe, West Virginia, in Atlanta. Its home non-Southeastern Conference slate includes Florida Atlantic, a now downtrodden Southern Miss and Western Carolina.

Ole Miss also opened in Atlanta with Boise State. Visiting Oxford will be UL-Lafayette, Memphis and Presbyterian.

Lordy, who’s that?

There is also the guarantee factor. LSU is paying UL-Monroe $975,000 for its visit Saturday. According to UL-Monroe Athletic Director Brian Wickstrom, that guarantee comprises about 15 to 20 percent of his program’s budget.

The Warhawks could make it up in other ways if they didn’t play LSU for pay, but their third trip to Tiger Stadium since 2003 is certainly welcome despite the fact the Tigers won those first two meetings by a combined 100-7.

“It allows our program to move forward, travel better, fund the cost of attendance, help pay for our training tables,” Wickstrom said.

He doesn’t see games with schools like LSU going the way of leather helmets.

“The schools in the power five (conferences) won’t get rid of them, because it gives them better balance to their schedule,” he said.

“If the power five only play each other, there will be a lot fewer undefeated teams come week 2 or 3. It’ll be harder to make the CFP.”

An all power five non-con schedule would certainly be more appetizing for the ticket-buying fans. That is until their team starts dropping two or three of those games per year.

The current scheduling format is a balancing act with something for everyone — sort of. As for the ticket buyers, which schools are having to lure to the stadium like fish to a shiny lure, the game itself has to be the thing that moves you, if not the opponent.