By Ed Daniels, Clarion Herald Sports
It was the kick start to a 10-win LSU football season last year: A 33-17 win over Miami in Arlington, Texas, had the Tigers’ arrow pointed up as the Hurricanes were diminished to the pigskin version of a tropical wave.
Miami, who started the season ranked eighth, struggled to win seven games.
That’s why so much is made of early out-of-conference showdowns. LSU and Texas fans are already counting down to their Sept. 7 meeting in Austin.
The caveat to this early-season “showdown” is the two head coaches. Tom Herman is the coach LSU courted. Ed Orgeron is the coach then-director of athletics Joe Alleva hired.
But, the notion that these made-for-TV games somehow set the tone for a team’s season is not backed up by facts. In 2011, fourth-ranked LSU hammered third-ranked Oregon in the opener at Arlington. The Tigers were off and running to a perfect regular season. But Oregon was hardly dismayed. The Ducks finished the season 12-2. Their second loss was by three points to the University of Southern California.
In 2016, USC was walloped by Alabama, 52-6, in the opener. The Trojans lost three of their first four, but rallied to win the last nine, including a Rose Bowl win over Penn State.
In 2017, 11th-ranked Michigan defeated No. 17 Florida, 33-17. The Gators were hardly shaken. They won their next four. A 17-16 loss at home to LSU is what sent the Gators into a tailspin. It was the start of a five-game Florida losing streak.
In 2018, sixth-ranked Washington kicked off the season with a 21-16 loss to ninth-ranked Auburn in Atlanta. Auburn, especially on defense, looked formidable. But, while Washington rallied to win 10 games, Auburn was a huge disappointment, winning eight. Auburn, a 10-point favorite over LSU, lost to the Tigers, 22-21, on a field goal by Cole Tracy on the game’s final play.
In Game 7, 14-point home favorite Auburn fell to Tennessee, 30-24.
In 2016, LSU lost to Wisconsin, 16-14, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. After a 2-2 start, head coach Les Miles was fired.
But Orgeron steadied the ship as LSU won nine, including a 29-9 win over Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. Wisconsin was an 11-point underdog against LSU. The Badgers went on to an 11-win season, but their three losses were not unexpected: to Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
LSU at Texas is a big early-season test for both. The winner will be talked up as a College Football Playoff contender; the loser will immediately be cast in doubt.
If only it were that simple.
So, as the Tigers reported to fall camp this week, many of their fans had the first Saturday in September circled in burnt orange. And, for good reason.
An early-season test for the two teams it will be. But, a barometer for a team’s season? Hardly.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.