Is it OK for LSU to lose to Alabama?

Well, in the Tigers’ minds, it’s never OK to lose to the Crimson Tide. But under the circumstances, a loss on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium wouldn’t by itself prevent LSU from a satisfactory body of work in Ed Orgeron’s first full season as head coach.

A great season? No, that went out the window with early losses to Mississippi State and Troy. A good season? Maybe, with winnable games against Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M plus a bowl.

LSU beat Alabama five years in a row from 2003-07 but the Tide is 8-2 vs. the Tigers since.

But a satisfactory season for sure, if they continue to play as they have during a three-game winning streak that has them 6-2 (3-1 in the SEC) and ranked 19th in the AP Poll.

They’ll be a prohibitive underdog to No. 1 and undefeated Alabama, which has won the past six meetings.

Of course, if LSU were to pull off the upset, the Tigers would control their fate in the SEC West and this season would have the potential to be much more than satisfactory.

The Tigers would be tied for first in the West with the Crimson Tide and Auburn and would hold the tiebreaker against both, having beaten Auburn 27-23 on Oct. 14 in Tiger Stadium. An LSU win would vault it in the Top 25 and place it on the fringe of the College Football Playoff landscape, provided the Tigers run the table.

But first things first.

This is the third consecutive season that LSU enters the Alabama game with a chance to at least tie the Crimson Tide in the standings with a victory. In Orgeron’s first crack at Alabama as interim head coach last season, the Tigers went toe to toe with the Tide before succumbing 10-0.

Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

That effort was generally considered respectable for a team playing its fourth game after Les Miles was fired in the wake of a 2-2 start. It also indicated that the dynamics of this rivalry have slowly changed over this decade.

The LSU-Alabama rivalry entered a new era in 2011 when the Tigers were ranked No. 1 and the Tide was No. 2 going into the game at Bryant-Denny. It was one of the most eagerly anticipated regular-season games in years and CBS moved it to a prime-time kickoff.

LSU prevailed 9-6 in an epic overtime battle that was merely a prelude to a rematch in the BCS Championship Game in January at the Superdome.

Alabama dominated the rematch, 21-0, beginning the gradual separation of the two programs.

The next season, the Tigers led late in the fourth quarter before the Tide prevailed 21-17 in Tiger Stadium.

But in 2013, Alabama rolled to a 38-17 win before rallying in 2014 for a 20-13 overtime win. Then came the Tide’s relatively easy 30-16 win in 2015, and last season’s defensive battle.

Most of these recent head-to-head battles have revealed that Alabama has been passing LSU as a program, then slowly extending its lead.

Nick Saban is 12-4 in this rivalry: 4-1 as LSU's coach and 8-3 as Alabama's coach.

Now the separation has been established. The Tide has essentially set up shop at the top of the AP Poll while LSU has moved closer to the middle of the SEC pack.

If Orgeron is going to get the Tigers back into position to be measured against the Tide as perennial SEC West and national title contenders, he must do it through recruiting over multiple years.

There’s nothing he can do this week to close the gap and there’s nothing that can happen Saturday that brings the programs closer together, even if LSU turns back the clock for one improbable night.

A loss to Alabama is to be expected. But if LSU follows that with another three-game winning streak like the current one, the Tigers would be 9-3, having won six of seven, and going to what should be a respectable bowl.

That’s not where LSU wants or expects to be, but under the circumstances it’s about as good as it’s likely to get.

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