LSU is bowl-eligible.
That’s been a preseason given since the first year of this century. And yet two weeks ago, it wasn’t a certainly — at least in some folks’ eyes.
Oh, ye of little faith — although that 41-7 beatdown at Auburn would have tested even Job’s.
That was then, though.
Now back-to-back victories against SEC Least (1-6 vs. the SEC West) foes have the Tigers assured of playing in the postseason for the 15th straight year.
Whether that postseason vacation is spent somewhere that a fickle LSU fan base deems worthy of its presence (Cotton, Chick-fil-A) or not (Duck Commander Independence, Franklin American Mortgage Music City) or somewhere in between will be determined over the next six weeks. It’s an oddball schedule that features two home games against top-10 teams (Ole Miss and Alabama), two road games against unranked or about-to-be-unranked teams (Arkansas and Texas A&M) and two open dates, during which the coaching staff no doubt will be on the road replenishing the talent pool that keeps producing successful seasons.
It’s worth noting that this is the first time since 2008 that the Tigers needed eight games to get to six victories, and it’s only the third time in coach Les Miles’ 10-year tenure that that’s happened.
How many programs have played that consistently for the past decade?
No, it doesn’t look like LSU will be part of the first College Football Playoff, although as the number of unbeatens continues to dwindle, the worthiness of two teams from the SEC West will be in the discussion. And, as 2007 proved, it’s never over till it’s over.
But neither should disgruntlement set in because in one year excessive players leaving early for the NFL and programs like Mississippi State (and maybe Ole Miss) that have to build to be in the position LSU is in every season crossed paths.
Certainly there should be no complaining about Saturday’s 41-3 victory, although beating Kentucky never seems very satisfying unless it’s in basketball.
But this wasn’t a typical Kentucky team, at least not the kind that used to be a regular visitor to Tiger Stadium.
The Wildcats were 5-1, with the only loss coming in triple overtime at Florida — the same team LSU needed a 50-yard field goal to avoid overtime against last week. So despite a 10½-point spread, the game at least looked competitive.
Like Ole Miss, Mississippi State and the rest of the SEC’s lesser powers, Kentucky is using the league’s ever-increasing financial resources to build its program to the level of the top dogs. The Wildcats’ media game notes pointed out that second-year coach Mark Stoops out-recruited everyone in the Big Ten last year, save for Michigan and Ohio State.
So maybe someday they’ll get there. Not this season, though. And especially not on this night.
LSU was superior from the start offensively, defensively and especially on special teams.
It was 17-0 before the visitors had a first down. It would have been 21-0 had fullback Connor Neighbors not demonstrated that he’s a much better blocker than he is a receiver when he dropped a sure touchdown pass.
And even after the offense went into a lull, punting on the next three possessions, the Danielle Hunter, Ronald Martin and Jamal Adams-led defense limited Kentucky to a field goal and 131 first-half yards.
Then, just when it looked like the Tigers would remain conservative, Travin Dural hauled in his seventh TD reception of the season in the final minute of the half.
And then Les went Mad Hatter, calling a timeout before the kickoff to order up a tricky bouncer by Trent Domingue that was recovered by Lewis Neal at the Kentucky 37. That led to a four-play, 19-yard drive over the next 35 seconds that resulted in a 35-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye that made it 27-3 at halftime.
Who says Les can’t manage the clock? Or win games that matter? At least most of the time. The man is now 101-26 at LSU — 54-22 in SEC regular-season games.
That’s the kind of success that draws an announced crowd of 101,581.
It’s the kind of success that spurs a school to expand its stadium beyond 100,000 to begin with.
And Saturday, when the undefeated Rebels come calling, it’s going to be filled to the brim.
Enjoy the week, Tigers fans.
And don’t forget to make those bowl plans.