LSU: Chris Curry

LSU running back Chris Curry (24) runs through a tackler during preseason camp.

Far too much of September has passed for college football not to have started in Baton Rouge in any normal year.

The air is far too cool — a brisk 72 degrees Sunday morning — to be associated with the first week of LSU football, a time normally greeted by the sweltering south Louisiana summer.

Far too many teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 haven't yet played a down this season, and far too many months are ahead before this state feels complete and normal and whole again, comforted fully by the game most people here love.

But less than a week separates the purple and gold faithful from a partial reprieve in a global pandemic and from what was perhaps the most turbulent offseason in the history of the sport.

The LSU Tigers are scheduled to play football Saturday.

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That sentence alone was once thought unlikely, if not impractical, in mid-summer, when the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences postponed their seasons to the spring after swaths of FCS conferences elected to do the same.

Now, the Big Ten has voted to return Oct. 24, and Pac-12 leadership is in the middle of taking similar action.

Meanwhile, FBS football has completed its third week of the season. Power Five teams within leagues like the Atlantic Coast have already played two games, and Group of Five schools No. 13 Central Florida, No. 14 Cincinnati, No. 17 Memphis, No. 19 UL and No. 25 Marshall have snuck into the rankings while other leagues lie dormant.

Six SEC teams rank within the Top 10 — No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Florida, No. 6 LSU, No. 8 Auburn, No. 10 Texas A&M — and none has yet played a game.

The SEC is scheduled to start its 10-game, league-only season Saturday, which means coaches like LSU's Ed Orgeron have been sitting at home on the weekends watching their contemporaries get a head start.

"It feels odd to be watching teams and your team's not playing," Orgeron said last week. "You kinda feel lost a little bit. Should I be here? I feel like I should be in the stadium coaching."

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Familiarity will arrive soon enough. Saturday's season opener against Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium will be the first game for Orgeron and his restructured staff since LSU beat Clemson in January for the school's fourth national championship.

The game day energy won't be the same at 25% capacity for fans, with understandable COVID-19 health restrictions that also mean no tailgating on campus for the year.

That a game is even scheduled at all is "a reason for celebration," athletic director Scott Woodward said when the restrictions were announced two weeks ago.

Orgeron has said he wished Tiger Stadium could've been full, but, at his first weekly coaches show Wednesday, he embraced the realism all college programs are facing. He said the team will have to create its own energy on the field, both home and away.

The team has settled into its limits and health protocols, Orgeron said. They've faced their issues, inside football and out. Three-times-a-week coronavirus testing, mandatory masking, sanitization and social distancing has become part of the routine. They joined together as an athletic department last week in a united march against racism and social injustice.

Even as college football rolls into its staggered start, LSU's fifth-year coach believes his team will play this season as if it were any other.

"All of that stuff has kind of subsided now," Orgeron told reporters last week. "You can see the guys focusing more on the season. They've seen other people play, so they're hungry to play. They do believe it's a real season."

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The offseason "was obviously weird," wide receiver Terrace Marshall told reporters a few weeks ago.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior would know as much as anyone on the team. He was thrust into the top receiver spot after Ja'Marr Chase, last year's Biletnikoff Award winner, opted out of the season and declared for the NFL draft.

Chase was one of five LSU players who decided to sit out the season, as the SEC allows, though as the season drew closer, two players — defensive linemen Neil Farrell and Nelson Jenkins — decided to return.

Chase, safety Kary Vincent and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, all projected starters, have stuck with their decision so far, although Orgeron said Shelvin has been mulling over a possible return.

Farrell made it clear that health was at the forefront of his decision. His grandmother was dealing with COVID-19 in the hospital but has since recovered.

LSU has eight players named to All-SEC Preseason teams

Orgeron told reporters last week that "most" of the football team has already contracted the virus and hopes they won't catch it again during the season. Such outbreaks have postponed games for programs like Louisiana Tech and UL-Monroe.

Former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, now Baylor's head coach, had his season opener against Houston postponed last weekend because the Bears reportedly did not meet the thresholds for playing.

On Friday, the SEC released its game requirements, which said teams will need at least 53 scholarship players available and will need at least seven scholarship offensive linemen (including one center), one quarterback and four defensive linemen.

All but four LSU offensive linemen quarantined in preseason camp because they either tested positive or were determined to have high-risk exposure. Such an outbreak in another position group during the season could lead to a game's postponement or cancellation.

The SEC has outlined that teams can reschedule or declare games a no contest, which seems to indicate the league is intent on pushing through the season even if games cannot be made up.

"Who knows what's going to happen?" LSU center Liam Shanahan said. "That's just what it's like this year. Unprecedented challenges. Obviously, it's unfortunate... (We're) just being able to adapt and persevere through circumstances that obviously aren't ideal."

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