Playoff?! Yes. It’s time to consider LSU a strong CFP contender
We’re just 2 weeks into the college football season, but we might need to reassess LSU.
The Tigers already were highly regarded enough to land at No. 6 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll.
But after they toyed with Georgia Southern in an opening 55-3 romp, they opened a lot of eyes with a 45-38 victory at then No. 9 Texas last Saturday.
It wasn’t the win that was attention getting – LSU was favored by upwards of a touchdown – it was how the Tigers performed, confirming against the really good Longhorns an evolution that was suggested by the performance against the outmanned Eagles a week earlier.
Pollsters took notice, moving LSU to No. 4 even though the two teams they passed – Ohio State and Oklahoma – both easily took care of business against outmanned opponents.
So the Tigers officially occupy one of the top 4 spots, symbolically making them one of the strongest College Football Playoff contenders – but they were already lurking there.
Why do we need to reassess LSU after just 2 games, after it moved up a mere 2 spots?
First, the Tigers had arguably the most impressive performance of the early season by beating a fellow top 10 team on the road.
Second, the conventional wisdom for years has been that LSU has the defense, the running game, the overall talent level to be a Playoff contender, but the absence of a legitimate passing game has held it back from actually qualifying for the CFP.
Now, after scoring 100 points in 2 games and having Joe Burrow complete 82 percent of his passes for an average of 374.5 yards and throwing 9 touchdowns and 1 interception, the Tigers have exceeded even the most optimistic projections for first-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady’s impact.
The sudden emergence of an outstanding passing game means LSU will be a lot more difficult to defend for everyone left on the schedule, including Alabama.
It means the Tigers can still score almost at will even when the running game is rather average – as it has been so far (112 yards per game, 3.6 yards per attempt and 3 touchdowns).
It also means the Tigers can beat a really good team on the road even when the defense doesn’t play up to its standard and even when the defense plays poorly, which was the case against the Longhorns.
So LSU’s potential to be a Playoff participant is significantly greater than it was a mere 2 weeks ago.
In years past, the Tigers were banking on the same formula of leaning on the defense and the run game with a marginally better passing game to elevate them into the CFP.
It didn’t work, though LSU did make significant strides in Ed Orgeron’s second full season last year, going from preseason No. 25 to a 10-3 finish and a final ranking of No. 6.
Until these past 2 games took place, the strong performance last year and the expectation that the passing game would be appreciably better had the Tigers in the Top 10.
But 2 weeks of evidence – especially the performance by Burrow and the passing game against Texas – provides something tangible upon which to build a case for LSU being one of the favorites to qualify for the CFP.
There is a long way to go and Florida, Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M all have film to study and time to prepare for this sudden arrival into the 21st Century of the Tigers’ passing game.
But based on the past 2 weeks, it’s perfectly reasonable to think Burrow and the passing game are in fact the final piece to the puzzle.
Orgeron was asked Monday at his weekly news conference about whether the performance of the passing game thus far has matched what he envisioned when he fired Matt Canada as offensive coordinator, reinstated Steve Ensminger in that position and hired Brady away from the New Orleans Saints.
“I’ve been a part of 4 national championship teams,” Orgeron said, “and I just have memories – great defense, great defensive line, great quarterback, especially at USC, the way we had 2 Heisman Trophy winners in the backfield and the way we just operated on offense, and I’m starting to see that now.
“I’m starting to see the same routes. I’m starting to see the same execution. I’m starting to see the type of play from the quarterback that we had from the championship teams. So, yes, I envisioned that. I didn’t know how long it would take. I think Joe has made the most progress from one year to the next than I’ve seen in a quarterback, and I think he’s going to continue to get better.”
If Burrow does continue to improve we might have to continue to reassess LSU as a title contender.