Does the Southeastern Conference office hate LSU? Some conspiracy theorists clad in purple and gold are convinced of that. They have cited, among other reasons, the list of opponents issued in the past by that office. The revised 2020 schedule for LSU contradicts such claims.
Ed Orgeron and everyone else at LSU received a generous gift in the form of its revised schedule for 2020. The Tigers were already supposed to face South Carolina due to the rotation of divisional opponents. The Gamecocks struggled to a 3-5 record in conference games and 4-8 overall last season. Fortunately, for the two extra conference games, the SEC added two opponents from the bottom of the SEC Eastern Division.
Easing into the Season
The beginning of the all-SEC schedule stands out as particularly helpful. The SEC served up three opponents who finished with losing records in 2019. Mississippi State slumped to 6-7 with a 3-5 tally in SEC contests. Vanderbilt (1-7 in SEC and 3-9 overall) fell into the basement of the SEC East. Missouri (3-5 in SEC and 6-6 overall) finished slightly above the Commodores.
Two of the three first opponents, Missouri and Mississippi State, have new coaching staffs. The absence of a full-scale spring practice session has compounded the problems of the new coaches for both teams. Mike Leach and Eli Drinkwitz needed extra practices to begin to implement their preferred systems on both sides of the ball. Player-led drills and film study during the summer cannot substitute for instruction from coaches.
Meanwhile, LSU will benefit by starting in the shallow end of the SEC pool. As September opened, just three regular starters on defense and two on offense remain on the Tigers’ roster from 2019. A high level of talent exists among the underclassmen expected to start in the season-opener. However, they still need to gain experience. That can only be gained by actually competing in games.
Tough Middle Stretch
After a trio of presumable victories, the Fighting Tigers will hit the road for two daunting challenges. They will travel to Gainesville for a meeting with Florida. The Gators found themselves at number eight in the Associated Press’ and coaches’ preseason polls. Two weeks later, LSU will head to Auburn. Those other Tigers were located at 11th in both major preseason polls. Sandwiched in between will be a home game versus South Carolina. The Tigers will be looking to win at Auburn and at Florida for the first time ever in the same season after failing in 13 previous attempts.
The last third of the slate looks remarkably similar to recent schedules. The SEC continued with the unwritten rule of assigning a bye week for Alabama and for LSU before their annual showdown in early November. As has typically occurred in the past eight years, the Tigers will close out the regular season with contests against Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss. The only difference from the past is that LSU will close the regular season against the Rebels for the first time since 1970.
One question that cannot yet be answered involves how much will home field advantage matter. Some opponents have announced how many fans will be allowed in the stadium. However, those decisions could change by the time the contests are played. Additionally, can fans affect a game to any extent if only a quarter of the seats or fewer are filled?
This question of home-field advantage cuts both ways. Will LSU’s offense full of lightly experienced starters benefit from the lack of crowd noise at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and at Jordan-Hare Stadium? Will Alabama have an easier time playing in Tiger Stadium if the normally raucous crowd has been reduced to a small fraction of what would normally be in attendance?
LSU’s schedule did not become more challenging due to the changes. In fact, the reshuffling did mollify the slate. Originally, the 2020 regular season had LSU closing with daunting consecutive games at Auburn and at Texas A&M. The elimination of non-conference contests removed a showdown in Week two against Texas. The AP’s and coaches’ preseason polls ranked the Longhorns as 14th.
The reconfiguring of games cannot serve as an explanation or excuse for any of LSU’s difficulties this season, whatever they might be. The slate does not appear to present any additional roadblocks to repeating as the conference or national champions. The list of opponents does offer several opportunities to make statements for an invitation to the College Football Playoffs. Of course, those require victories to impress the CFP committee.