So much accomplished.
Such a long way to go.
The LSU Tigers earned a highly respectable No. 2 spot in Tuesday’s first College Football Playoff rankings, nailing down that lofty perch based on a 7-0 start that includes a big win over CFP No. 10 Florida.
But if the Tigers are to reach their goal, everyone’s goal, of winning a national championship, they’re only halfway there.
The tougher half of the task lies dead ahead, a mine field to be negotiated with hardly a chance for a mistake.
There are four more regular-season games to win, starting with Saturday’s now even more immense showdown at CFP No. 4 Alabama (more on that later).
Then there would be the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, where a rematch with Florida would be almost certain.
After that would come the CFP semifinals. If today’s rankings were the final ones, LSU would be headed to the Cotton Bowl to face reigning CFP champion Ohio State. Then it would be off to the national championship game in Arizona, the potential at least for now to again face Alabama, a PTSD nightmare if there ever was one.
That’s all it would take. Just a vertigo-inducing climb up the ever steeper and icier slopes of college football’s Everest. Fortunately, the Tigers have the nation’s best player to be their Sherpa guide, but that doesn’t mean the journey wouldn’t be treacherous at best.
Does LSU even have a chance? Repeated blown coverages of the defensive secondary and special teams variety say no.
So does the schedule. ESPN’s mathematics smarties say the Tigers have only a 6 percent chance of getting through it all unbeaten.
But the Leonard Fournette Factor counterbalances the 6 percent solution to a large degree. His talent, determination and at times value as a decoy give LSU at least a fighting chance against anyone it may come across.
Arguably, the first step on this potential path to glory is the toughest one.
As if the LSU-Alabama game needed yet another log on the fire, both the Tigers and Crimson Tide debuting in the CFP top four gives Saturday’s game a college playoff quality. Sort of a quarterfinal encounter, a World Cup-like knockout round for the loser, especially if it’s Alabama that becomes saddled with a second loss.
As for LSU, the Tigers’ national championship hopes could probably survive a close defeat, much like Alabama’s recovered from that 9-6 overtime torpedo against LSU in 2011. With a similar-sized loss, the Tigers probably wouldn’t tumble out of the CFP top 10, keeping them in line for another charge at the top.
The difference between now and four years ago is how much the world has cooled on a nonconference champion winning the national title except for independent Notre Dame (always except Notre Dame), if the world ever liked it at all. November will probably be National Demolition Derby Month as far as college football is concerned, but by early December the smart money still says it will be four conference champions who will be occupying the four CFP semifinal spots.
That means if LSU loses to Alabama, it would have to win out and hope the Tide picks up a second conference loss so the Tigers could advance to the SEC Championship Game.
As CFP lovin’ TV commercial character Larry Culpepper reminds us, three of the four teams in last year’s playoffs had a loss. But all four of them were conference champions, a distinction that’s unlikely to change this year.
As for the initial CFP rankings, not to slam Alabama or Notre Dame, but I have a big problem with two one-loss teams getting ranked at No. 4 and No. 5 ahead of a trio of deserving undefeated squads in Michigan State, TCU and Baylor.
Also pretty shocked to see Pac-12 frontrunner Stanford way down at No. 11, leaving the conference many were saying had supplanted the SEC as the nation’s top league without any representatives in the top 10.
The Tide and Irish have good résumés, especially Notre Dame, whose loss came at No. 1 Clemson. But the unbeatens, with the possible exception of a Baylor team that recently lost star quarterback Seth Russell to a season-ending neck injury and needs to prove itself anew, all deserved better treatment.
Again, though, it’s early.
Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss held down the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 spots in last year’s first rankings, and none of them reached the semifinal. Meanwhile, eventual champ Ohio State started at No. 16.
For LSU, it’s good to have the benefit of respect that its strong early ranking brings.
But that’s where the benefits end. Now the Tigers have to dig their respect out of the dirt over a brutal seven-game slog if they want to be the best.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.