LSU played its way out of CFP contention and the national rankings a long time ago.

The 3-3 Tigers seem unlikely to finish with a winning record against a very difficult schedule down the stretch.

They might not even go to a bowl game.

The 2020 LSU season has been nearly the opposite of the 2019 CFP championship season.

Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson, Patrick Queen, Grant Delpit and several others helped lead the Tigers to that title, then headed to the NFL.

Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Shelvin and Kary Vincent were leaders on the championship team and opted out of this COVID-disrupted season before it ever started.

But LSU still has leaders.

They’re not going to lead the Tigers to any titles, but leadership shows up in many forms. Some are glorious and some aren’t.

The less-glamorous forms can be the more challenging forms, the ones that display the essence of leadership.

All-America cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. has shown leadership by continuing to play this season while he awaits eligibility for the 2022 NFL Draft.

Wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. has shown leadership – not just by being the most productive player on this year’s team but also by stepping forward last week and putting this season in perspective for his teammates.

LSU was 2-3 and had been stewing on an historically bad 48-11 loss to Auburn on Halloween and waiting for a chance at a modicum of redemption as the game against No. 1 Alabama was postponed and a game at Arkansas loomed.

Marshall had stepped out of the shadows that Jefferson and Chase cast last season to catch 31 passes for 540 yards and 9 touchdowns in the first 5 games last season.

Then he stepped in front of his teammates and reminded them of their responsibility to the program, to the coaches, to the university, to the fans – to themselves.

That responsibility doesn’t go away when the ceiling on a given season is lowered.

“I just wanted to motivate all the young guys and remind them that we’ve still got a mission ahead of us and we’ve just got to keep playing,” Marshall said.

He reminded them that he, like Jefferson and Chase and others, has a potential NFL career awaiting him. He could have, as others did, quit on this season – on this team – to focus on himself and his professional future.

Marshall chose to be a part of this team even as it navigated through this uncertain COVID season. He stuck with it through the shocking loss to Mississippi State in the opener. He stuck with it through the heart-breaking loss to Missouri. He stuck with it through the embarrassing loss to Auburn.

And, he reminded his teammates, they had an obligation to stick together and to fight as hard as they could to make the best of what remained of this season – whatever that best might be.

The Tigers had the Arkansas game, games against top-10 opponents Texas A&M and Florida, a rivalry game against Ole Miss, maybe even a makeup against Alabama.

“I just wanted to get across,” Marshall said, “that even through all of the bad times this year, all of this COVID stuff, we’ve just got to keep our eyes focused on the prize and that’s just to finish out this season the best way we could.”

LSU went out and beat Arkansas 27-24. It wasn’t a memorable victory. It was a game that easily could have gone the other way against a game but limited opponent.

But it was a win, a gutsy win by a team forced to follow in the footsteps of the most accomplished team LSU has ever had – after being issued much smaller shoes.

This season won’t produce any trophies or records or statistics that will establish a standard to motivate future teams in future seasons.

But this team’s responsibility is no less than that of any other Tigers team. It has a responsibility to make the most of the opportunity that it has, and this one has the unique challenge of guiding this program to whatever lies on the other side of this COVID season.

Terrace Marshall Jr. and Derek Stingley Jr. understand that.

Thanks to them, perhaps others do too.