This No. 1 LSU team is more like that last No. 1 LSU team than you might realize
LSU is ranked No. 1 for the first time since the 2011 season.
Otherwise at first glance this season and that season don’t seem to have a whole lot in common.
This Tigers team is breaking passing and scoring records left and right. That Tigers team reached No. 1 in spite of its passing game and lost in the BCS Championship Game in large degree because of its lack of an effective passing game.
That Tigers team rode an elite defense to the top spot in the polls, to an SEC championship, to that championship game. This Tigers team has gotten to where it is despite a defense that hasn’t lived up to typical LSU standards.
That Tigers team got the upper hand in the SEC West by beating Alabama in an epic defensive struggle – 9-6 in overtime.
This Tigers team got the upper hand in the SEC West by beating Alabama in an epic shootout – 46-41.
These teams do things in very different ways, but this season is starting to look a lot like that season in some ways.
The 2011 team ascended to the No. 1 spot in the AP poll after a 4-0 start. LSU opened pollsters eyes all season long because it not only was winning every week, it was winning by a large margin and it was doing so against more ranked teams than anybody else.
That 4-0 start began with a 40-27 victory against preseason No. 3 Oregon and ended with a 47-21 victory against No. 16 West Virginia.
The Tigers wound up beating 7 ranked teams – No. 2, a pair of No. 3s, No. 12, No. 16, No. 17 and No. 19 – on its way to the championship game.
This Tigers team has opened pollsters eyes not only because it’s winning every week, but because it often has won by a large margin and it has beaten not only ranked teams but more top 10 teams than anyone else.
LSU beat Texas when the Longhorns were No. 9, it beat Florida when the Gators were No. 7, it beat Auburn when those Tigers were No. 9 and it beat Alabama when the Crimson Tide were No. 2.
That LSU team won its first 10 games (the same number this team has played so far) by an average margin of 25.8 points.
This LSU team has won its 10 games by an average margin of 24.0 points.
That LSU team faced Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. This LSU team – barring something really, really unexpected happening in the next two weeks at home against Arkansas and Texas A&M – will face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
That LSU team featured the most talked-about college football player in America, an unexpected Heisman Trophy contender – the Honey Badger, cornerback/return specialist Tyrann Mathieu.
This LSU team features the most talked-about college football player in America, an unexpected Heisman Trophy contender (make that favorite) – quarterback Joe Burrow.
Of course that season is best known for “The Rematch” – that second game against Alabama, the one in which that suspect LSU passing game (and offense as a whole) was exposed in a 21-0 loss that felt like 100-0 to Tigers fans.
So it was only natural after that most recent No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama epic game earlier this month that speculation began about the possibility of another rematch.
That’s not out of the question, but it seems less likely than it did at this time 8 years ago. In 2011, LSU and Alabama were clearly the 2 best teams in the country.
Right now there’s uncertainty as to whether the Crimson Tide are among the top 4 teams in the country and the absence of Tua Tagovailoa the rest of the way further clouds Bama’s prospects.
One last comparison between this LSU season and that LSU season.
The buzz around LSU this week is about the defense after a not-very-good Ole Miss team rushed for 402 yards and totaled 614 yards against the Tigers last Saturday, even though LSU prevailed 58-37.
There was a comparable performance by the 2011 Tigers. In the final game before LSU’s ascension to No. 1, John Chavis’ defense looked every bit as helpless as Dave Aranda’s defense looked against the Rebels.
West Virginia rolled up 533 yards and outgained LSU by 167 yards even though the Tigers prevailed.
The question then was, can LSU win a national championship with that defense?