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LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (24) pressures Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (11) in the Tigers' 50-7 win over the Aggies, Saturday, November 30, 2019 in Tiger Stadium.

LSU kicks off the 2020 football season on Saturday against Mississippi State.

Here are the five biggest questions heading into the start of this strange, hybrid, conference-only season. 

1. Is the Crimson Tide poised for a ‘comeback’ season in 2020?

For most schools, an 11-2 season with a top-10 ranking would be reason to celebrate. At Alabama, though, it feels like a slip. Especially when your two losses were in the season’s biggest games (LSU, Auburn) and you failed to make the College Football Playoff title game for the first time in five years. Now Bama may be back with a vengeance in 2020, led by former University High star linebacker Dylan Moses, who missed all of 2019 with a knee injury. There is talent everywhere, including at wide receiver led by Amite’s DaVonta Smith. But is Mac Jones really worthy of stepping into Tua Tagovailoa’s cleats at quarterback?

2. Does LSU have any real hope of repeating?

After losing 17 starters to the NFL Draft or preseason opt outs, it looks like long odds for LSU to repeat as SEC champion. But the expanded 10-game conference schedule may play to the Tigers advantage in that it will be harder for any team to go unscathed. “One wonders ‘Is this the year finally that the SEC beats each other up?'” CBS analyst Gary Danielson asked. “I think the league is a little deeper this year.” The Tigers face the usual challenges of Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M on the schedule, but the SEC gifted LSU two likely added wins with Missouri and Vanderbilt.

3. Is Texas A&M finally poised to for a breakout season?

When current LSU athletic director Scott Woodward lured Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M in 2017 with a $75 million, 10-year guaranteed contract, it wasn’t to go 9-4 and 8-5. The Aggies faced five top-10 teams in 2019 and lost to them all, but this is the year A&M has pointed to for a step forward. The Aggies return 15 starters (after top receiver Jhamon Ausbon opted out), including quarterback Kellen Mond. The revamped schedule is a bear, however, with Texas A&M adding a home game against Florida and a trip to Tennessee to the always rugged SEC West lineup. Another tough slog, certainly, but if not now Aggies, when?

4. Will the Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach experiments work out?

Kiffin brings a ton of notoriety to Oxford and a reputation for a top offensive mind, even if he has a checkered head coaching career. Fired by the Raiders after going 5-15, he bolted from Tennessee after going 7-6 and was fired at USC (replaced by an interim Ed Orgeron). He won at FAU, yes, but that isn’t in the SEC West is it? As for Leach, his Air Raid offense and conspicuous lack of defense brought modest success at two tough-to-win places (Texas Tech, Washington State), but again, hello, SEC West. Whatever happens, the already wild and hyper-intense Egg Bowl just went to 11 on the volume meter.

5. Can Florida finally dethrone Georgia and win the SEC East?

If you’re talking top offensive minds, don’t you have to include Florida’s Dan Mullen? He would certainly say so. Mullen is off to a solid start after two seasons in Gainesville – 21-5 with a pair of CFP New Year’s Six bowls. But his Gators haven’t won the SEC East, mainly because they’re 0-2 against Georgia. In a weak year compared to 2019 for SEC quarterbacks, Florida may have the top returner in Kyle Trask along with some strong defensive stars in Zachary Carter and Marco Wilson. Whatever they do this season, the Gators have to win Nov. 7 against Georgia or success will begin to sour into frustration.


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Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com