More money, as they say, more problems.
Big wins, you might say, bigger questions.
Certainly bigger scrutiny.
LSU’s 45-38 victory at Texas on Saturday in the early season’s biggest non-conference showdown propelled the Tigers into a new realm of national conversation.
Where once there were questions about what kind of team this would be, now the questions are how high LSU can climb and how far the Tigers can actually go?
Let’s hit some of those key questions here in this four-down look at LSU, its players and the rest of this season:
First down: Is LSU a legitimate College Football Playoff contender?
The Associated Press Top 25 voters certainly think so, vaulting the Tigers past Oklahoma and Ohio State into the No. 4 spot in their poll. A sports betting website, BetOnline.ag, has LSU as the sixth-best favorite to win the national championship going at 14/1.
A perusal of this week’s bowl projections finds LSU encamped in one of the three New Year’s Six non-semifinal bowls that the Tigers could go to this year: the Sugar, Cotton and Orange. But one projection from Michael Shapiro of SI.com has LSU back in the Fiesta Bowl taking on Clemson in one of this season’s two CFP semifinals (the Peach is the other; LSU is not eligible for the Rose Bowl this season).
Second down: How will LSU fare the rest of the season?
Texas was always considered one of the Tigers’ two biggest hurdles this season, along with their Nov. 9 game at Alabama. There are other tough games ahead — Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M at home, at Mississippi State on Oct. 19 — but LSU will be favored in all of those.
ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) rated LSU’s chances in its remaining 10 games. The Tigers are heavy favorites in all but one of them:
• Northwestern State, Saturday: 99.9 percent chance of winning
• At Vanderbilt, Sept. 21: 93.6 percent
• Utah State, Oct. 5: 96.8 percent
• Florida, Oct. 12: 80.4 percent
• At Mississippi State, Oct. 19: 76.6 percent
• Auburn, Oct. 26: 79.9 percent
• At Alabama, Nov. 9: 29.6 percent
• At Ole Miss, Nov. 16: 90 percent
• Arkansas, Nov. 23: 97.7 percent
• Texas A&M, Nov. 30: 81.6 percent
If LSU does go 11-1, the Tigers probably would not find themselves in the SEC Championship Game but could well be in contention for one of those coveted four CFP spots. There is certainly precedent. In 2017, Auburn beat Alabama to go to the SEC Championship Game, but Alabama still made the CFP final four and won the national title over SEC champion Georgia.
It’s not the road you want to take, but the trail has been blazed.
Third down: Is Joe Burrow a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate?
It sounds outlandish considering Burrow wasn’t even a blip on the Heisman radar entering the season. He has mushroomed up like a late-afternoon thunderstorm on that radar now. Westgate Sports Book in Las Vegas, where folks don’t exactly post odds at random, has Burrow tied for second-favorite at 5/1 behind Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (3/1) with Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Burrow’s Heisman odds, by the way, opened at 200/1 at Westgate in February.
There is a long, long road ahead of Burrow between now and joining Billy Cannon as LSU’s second Heisman winner when the award is presented Dec. 7 in New York. It’s certainly a crowded field with the aforementioned quarterbacks, plus heavyweight contenders like Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (if Burrow had stayed at OSU would he even be starting?) and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.
That said, Burrow has a lot of the factors every Heisman hopeful needs: He brought name recognition from last season, he plays for a winner, he’s posting huge numbers (749 yards and nine touchdowns on an 82 percent completion rate in two games) and he has a signature play. That would be his one-footed, step up, 61-yard TD pass to Justin Jefferson to basically ice Texas.
You could argue Burrow’s other signature play was getting clocked on that pick six against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl and bouncing right back to throw a touchdown pass. Joe’s a tough cookie, and that will play well with Heisman voters.
Fourth down: Punt!
Fourth down: Is LSU’s defense a problem?
The Tigers roller skated their way through the second half against Texas, with more players cramping up than making big stops. The Longhorns’ 19-play drive in the third quarter seemed to drain all the gas from LSU’s tank and the Tigers were hanging on the rest of the night.
Some suggested going into the Georgia Southern game (OK, me) that a trade off of a more potent, rapid-fire offense would be more stress on LSU’s defense. That certainly was in evidence the final two quarters Saturday, as neither team could stop the other after the Tigers opened with a three-and-out.
The LSU offense has been the talk of the offseason.
This is the flip side to the modern game. You can have good defenses, even great ones, and occasionally get shredded. And Texas has a good offense, probably the best LSU will face besides Alabama’s.
Saturday’s game against Northwestern State, like the Georgia Southern game LSU won 55-3 while allowing 98 total yards, will prove nothing. Utah State quarterback Jordan Love will be a pop quiz, but the real test will be against Florida.
I was reminded Saturday of how LSU’s defense got pushed around at Arizona State in 2005. That turned out to be a pretty salty defense, and I would figure defensive coordinator Dave “The Professor” Aranda will be doing some serious teaching before the schedule really cranks up in October.