BY LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Once the announcement from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey came Thursday afternoon, Coach Ed Orgeron's team now had its path on paper defined for the first time since January 13th.
This 2020 team, containing a perfect mix of unproven, highly touted youth and returning National Champion veterans must take on a grind far more difficult than the 2019 season ever could've dreamed to be.
Even with 7 Top 10 teams on that schedule, facing a 29-0 defending champion in the title game, Kirby Smart's Georgia in the SEC title game (UGA took Bama to overtime in the 2018 title game with the same quarterback before they became Joe Burrow's cannon fodder), also facing Auburn's underrated squad which dropped 2 more points on Saban than Burrow and co and held our freight train of Saban stain to only 23...last year was a legendary murderer's row....and we haven't even covered Florida or Texas.
But 2020's challenges will always be far more intense, featuring higher stakes across the board concerning the public health of the team and the coaching / support staffs and games against the best opponents coming thick and fast, no buffer... however.....have LSU already been through their Covid hell in June?
We believe Head Athletic Trainer Shelley Mullinex and her crew have what it takes to prevent outbreaks amongst the team, she's proven she's capable of quelling the strength of the virus (as she demonstrated in June and July) and her protocols and breakthroughs should be taken and used by other teams across the SEC.
When you focus on the pure football questions, we find that this could be one hell of a show for the players and one hell of a ride for LSU's quest for repeat glory.
As many reports have suggested, LSU may add Kentucky and Tennessee to their schedule, combined with the addition of a bye week during the season and an additional bye on 12/12, the week prior to the SEC Championship Game on 12/19.
We've been told the actual configuration of the schedule will stay the same with these two additional games pinned towards the beginning and ending (Kentucky could be played on 10/03 as Week 2, only a Week before Florida and the extra game vs Tennessee on 12/05, a week after A&M and now the final game of the regular season, with the traditional bye before Alabama on Halloween weekend, 12/12 as an overall bye week to follow and 12/19 as the date of the SEC Championship Game)????
That makes sense.
This season could turn out to be not only a fiery, highly entertaining gauntlet for any team knocking on the door of a championship (sorry A&M), but a savage test of wills in which the most disciplined, healthiest and deepest teams will have the best chance to outlast everyone else as champions.
We could be seeing a season where half of an defensive line become ineligible to play...and when I think of these type of Covid obstacles, I feel like LSU and Coach Orgeron are built to withstand those obstacles once again:
For an example, if half of LSU's defensive line were to be forced into isolation, Orgeron could move Joseph Evans back from center, Dare Rosenthal from left tackle back to D-Line (he was highly recruited as the 24th nationally ranked DT in the nation in 2018) and if need be, even Arik Gilbert could shift back to the D-line; T.K McLendon could move to TE, Cordale Flott can be deployed at either corner or nickel and Kary Vincent could move from free safety to corner;
If two of our linebackers go down, we can bring Jacoby Stevens, B.J Ojulari or Phillip Webb back to linebacker...there are a bevy of options in which LSU can adapt to almost all situations and scenarios on the field, having depth in a variety of areas, a roster full of two-sport guys and players who found a home on both offense or defense.
We have many pure football players on this team...we lose a few receivers, we can move McGlothern or Stingley there. We lose three running backs we have 4 others headlined by Tre Bradford...
LSU is built to swallow the loss of a great player for a week or two on offense, another guy for three weeks on defense, there is room for the Tigers to operate with calculating intensity and blistering finesse in the face of overwhelming odds:
Maybe Coach O will flood opponents with a variety of guys, a constant motion of substitutions on the defensive line to barrage or attack our All-SEC rivals over 10 games. Then, we'll see a more methodical, but completely relentless offensive machine which rotates heavily at running back most, a shuffling of talents, physical profiles and skill sets coming at em.
When you do this, you're forcing the opposition coordinators to change their personnel, too and their quick-draw-McGraw choices on the depth chart aren't close to what LSU possesses coming off their own sidelines: that is when victory follows....
Orgeron, Joseph, Raymond, Ensminger, Cregg, Pelini, Busch, Johnson, these guys all have National Champioships as a coach at LSU for a reason: these are men with a plan for what comes next; and while our young men and their teams face an uneasy schedule amongst a plethora of obstacles and challenges over the coming months, the adversity this team has already overcome and conquered throughout the long, drawn-out off-season has proven what this "hunter turned hunted" unit are capable of (same length as any off-season, yet the excitement has been postponed daily by thoughts of subterranean dread).
We cannot wait to find out who we open against, although many of the reports believe it to be a showdown vs Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin's John Rhys Plumlee, a rushing QB who smashed and dashed past a bruised and battered title-winning Tigers' defense, gutting us for 212 yards and 4 touchdowns last year.
We long to find out just what exactly Pelini has in store for Plumlee when these two showdown, an intriguing battle between Ed Orgeron and Lane Kiffin, Coach O coaching under Monte's son at USC (isn't that just hilarious to even read, speak or type? Orgeron under Kiffin? Good lord)...Monte himself was on that staff for a while, too during the sanctions-hit early 2010s...before he resigned. Kiffin was ousted from USC and Orgeron took over his job, jettisoning the Trojans to a 6-2 interim record and an upset over Stanford.
Will there be animosity?
We doubt there's any from Orgeron's perspective, although Lane himself may be feverishly bitter about the entire saga.
This should make for savagely entertaining games...every week Orgeron's men will take on one of our eternal SEC rivals from Jimbo to Nicholas, Mullen, Jeremy, Gus or Kiffin...then there's new blood with Mike Leach coming in at the helm of Mississippi State, I mean what the hell is going on here...Okay we'll take the insanity.
Mike Leach in a pirate suit duking it out against Coach Orgeron, Ray Baker and the Tiger Ass Kicking Band, this should be an engaging atmosphere over the fall, fans or not.
This schedule may worry some Tiger diehards by taking out some of the fluff (Nicholls State, UTSA, Rice) and replacing those games with more competitive match-ups...however, we also say this:
The schedule won't replace all four match-ups, only two...and if those two teams are indeed Kentucky and Tennessee, those will be high quality conference victories for the Tigers and a huge notch on Brennan's belt early in the season if, for example, he out-duels Jeremy Pruitt's Volunteers' defense for a big-time 41-14 win, that'll be far more impressive and always more entertaining than watching LSU trounce the living hell out of UTSA.
2019 LSU had a valuable stretch of gimme games against Vanderbilt, Utah State, NWState last year where we could rest our players and just allow Joe Burrow to rack up the stats; however those games also drew injuries to some of our best players (Todd Harris, Apu Ika, Rashard Lawrence, Justin Jefferson among many others) as well as suffocating the entire stadium of competitive energy.
2020 LSU on the other hand will see a constant state of intensity...the balance between rest and letting the guys play will be on a knife edge...but in all actuality, the presence of two less fixtures on the schedule will allow LSU's returning players to have every chance to repeat, playing two less games while still being able to defend their title from the previous year.
No matter what happens, there's going to be asterisks, so let's let the play speak on the field, the performances make up for any spin and I guarantee you this: LSU have every chance to run this gauntlet undefeated if the 10 game schedule adding Kentucky and Tennessee goes through.
There is no team more ready, more hungry or fired up for success right now, despite the odds.
The Odds? Pfff, Orgeron douses the odds in gasoline and lights the bastard on fire.
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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