The plaudits keep rolling in for LSU football this spring.
Based on what the Tigers did in 2010 (11 wins) and what they have returning, the belief is that LSU will contend for a national championship this upcoming season.
If only it were that simple.
Head coach Les Miles has several hurdles to overcome just to be in the championship conversation.
The biggest issue could be a very difficult schedule. LSUâ€™s September schedule is nasty. After the opener against Pac10 champion Oregon in Dallas, the Tigers come home to play Northwestern State before heading on the road for back-to-back road games at Mississippi State and West Virginia.
Let's talk about the game against the Ducks. Schedule makers at LSU like to point out that without a win over Virginia Tech in 2007, the Tigers would not have played in the national championship game. But those games only help if you win them. A loss to Oregon would give LSU zero margin for error the rest of the season.
Because of the Oregon game, LSU will play only 6 home games out of 12 total regular season contests in 2011.
Meanwhile, the biggest loss from the 2010 squad for LSU is linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, whose stats were outstanding: leading tackler (by far), 4 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries. But Sheppardâ€™s biggest contribution was his leadership. He was the glue of the 2010 squad. Period.
The Tigers must also replace placekicker Josh Jasper. Donâ€™t laugh. Jasper was a weapon. He was 28 of 34 on field goals attempts, including 18 of 19 from inside 40 yards as well as 3 of 4 from 50 yards and beyond.
And then there's the matter of "what goes around, comes around." In 2010, LSU was a lucky football team. Thatâ€™s just the way it was.
North Carolina ended the game 6 points short at the LSU 6-yard line, and only after the same veteran tight end dropped two potential touchdown passes in the final seconds.
And thank goodness Tennessee had 13 men on the field on what wee thought was the final play of a 14-10 defeat than became a 16-14 'overtime' victory.
If the lateral on a fake field goal to Jasper was ruled a forward pass, LSU loses at Florida, too.
Against an inferior Ole Miss squad, LSU needed a 34-yard Patrick Peterson kickoff return to jump start a 51-yard scoring drive. It ended with the game winning 7-yard touchdown run by Stevan Ridley with under a minute to play to save the Tigers for an inexcusable home loss.
This season, college footballâ€™s championship game returns to the Superdome. And many LSU fans are convinced that their Tigers will be in it that title tilt, just like they were in 2007 and 2003 when the Big Easy hosted the big game.
Cool. I am all for it. But...
So, as you make your plans for Bourbon Street in early January, let us peruse last seasonâ€™s preseason USA Today coaches poll. Alabama was number 1 (didnâ€™t play in a BCS bowl), Florida was number three (and then fell apart in the year after Tim Tebow), and Auburn was 23 (long before we heard the first chant of â€œWar Cam Eagleâ€).
The hurdles are a-plenty for the LSU Tigers to prove the pundits right.
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