The LSU Tigers go for their 800th victory Saturday night against Northwestern State.
It’s a mark reached by only 11 other programs. The bluest of college football’s bluebloods. The upper crust. The elites.
The elitist, some other in-state football fans might say of the Tigers. But if you’re high enough up on Mount Olympus you can ignore the detractors down below.
It’s a date with destiny LSU is sure not to miss. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gave the Tigers a 99.9 percent chance of winning. The 0.1 percent chance of Northwestern State springing an upset is one that Troy would envy. It comes on the lottery-like possibility of Joe Burrow tripping his way onto the field and getting his helmet stuck in a tuba.
So by the end of the night, LSU will have joined the ranks of the Michigans and USCs and Tenneessees, though we’ve heard the Volunteers (838 wins) may be subtracting victories at this point.
For LSU, this is a special achievement, just two weeks into what may turn out to be a most special season.
Getting to 809 or 810 victories by the end of this season. That’s the goal now after last Saturday’s thrilling 45-38 victory at Texas. Frankly, even after such a small sample size of a season, anything less than that long-elusive College Football Playoff appearance might already look like a disappointment. But such is the hyperventilating excitement generated by LSU’s high flying adored new offense.
To win big, schemes and talent are only part of the equation. You need a sprinkle of good fortune, as well. Like a well-timed cushion in the schedule.
LSU sped out of Austin’s city limits toting a huge prize of a road win against a top-10 nonconference opponent, the first such win among the Tigers’ 799. But it wasn’t without a price.
LSU players were tumbling like the proverbial dominoes all over the Longhorns’ toasted artificial turf. Some of them, like defensive linemen Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan, and edge-rushing linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, didn’t get up in time and were expected to sit this one out.
But this is a game in which the Tigers have the luxury of resting a few starters — and pulling a few more after a couple of quarters' worth of work. There is no point in pushing the issue, especially as LSU coach Ed Orgeron will have the dual objective of winning without leaving his alma mater overly embarrassed and bleaching the green out of as many of his younger players as possible.
In other words, by the time you get back from the concession stand with that last beer, you shouldn’t be able to tell most of the Tigers scurrying around on the field without a program.
Next comes a road trip to Vanderbilt, LSU’s Southeastern Conference opener. Any SEC road game is to be handled like a box of TNT.
But it is certainly true that trading last season’s home game with Georgia (which the Tigers won 36-16) for a road game with Vandy is desirable.
Then comes an open date and a home game with Utah State — another quality mid-major on the schedule (but then again, so was Georgia Southern).
Boiled down to their essence, the next four weeks (including the open date) give the Tigers a real chance for a running start at the next four games that will pretty much be the make or break heart of this schedule: Florida, at Mississippi State, Auburn, at Alabama.
Is LSU ready for that gauntlet? Not completely. Not after the Tigers’ defense spent the second half last week being little more than a speed bump for Texas’ offense.
There is no need to panic — virtually every defense good or bad gets skewered by modern offenses in this era — but LSU’s pass rush and its pass coverage could stand to be better. At least if anything approaching championship dreams are to be realized.
Those dreams are not in danger of getting dashed on this particular Saturday. Unfortunately for Northwestern State, this may be one of the worst teams in NCAA Division I (just ask Division II Midwestern State, which bounced the Demons 33-7 last week). But maybe this can be a small building block in the foundation of what may turn out to be a superior campaign down the road.
Winningest college football programs
1. Michigan 955
2. Ohio State 913
3. Texas 909
4. Alabama 907
5. Nebraska 898
Notre Dame 898
8. Penn State 889
9. USC 841
10. Tennessee 838
11. Georgia 821
12. LSU 799
13. Auburn 769
14. West Virginia 751
15. Clemson 746