LSU fans love their football team.
You can tell by the legions that show up every Saturday when the Tigers play anywhere. If LSU played a neutral-site game on the dark side of the moon, there would be a Tigers fan with an RV and a barbecue pit (equipped with both oxygen and butane bottles, of course) there to greet the equipment shuttle.
But what they love even more than a game is a game with a little edge to it. They love to see the Tigers run out onto the field and into Death Valley any time, but they love it even more when they’re running down a tightrope against a tough opponent.
Check out LSU’s nonconference schedule from 30 years ago. In 1982, LSU stepped away from its six-game Southeastern Conference slate to play Oregon State, Rice, South Carolina (which was not in the SEC until 1992), Florida State and Tulane. Three of those schools — Oregon State, South Carolina and Florida State — are ranked this week, the latter two in the top 10.
This week’s game, and this year’s nonconference schedule, doesn’t have that same level of tension. It’s more of a four-part pill for football hypertension.
Don’t get me wrong: Towson is a good team on its level, and scheduling the FCS foe was a stopgap measure after LSU and Washington agreed to move their game from this weekend to Sept. 8.
But sidle up to a Tigers tailgate Saturday and ask the football worshippers congregating there whether they’d rather see a sure win or a game that stirs the blood a little. They’re likely to offer you a plate of jambalaya and opt for the latter.
They’re also likely tell you that for them, the home schedule doesn’t really start until South Carolina comes to town Oct. 13.
Scheduling nonconference games is more art than science. Just consider the case of LSU’s game with Washington.
The Huskies looked like a good bet for a tough game against LSU going in. Washington has a good pedigree (pun intended), with a great history, membership in a BCS blueblood conference and an up-and-coming coach. But too many injuries and too much talent conspired to result in a blowout, a 41-3 “come-from-behind” LSU win after a Tigers fumble spotted the Huskies the game’s first three points.
Fast forward three weeks, and Washington is basking in the Pacific sunset of Thursday’s 17-13 upset of No. 8-ranked Stanford, which also did LSU fans’ hearts good by shocking USC 21-14 on Sept. 15.
Suddenly, Washington is 3-1, posthumously enhancing LSU’s résumé as a byproduct of a season-resuscitating win.
So as it turns out, that was a pretty good win for LSU, just a game in which the Tigers played overwhelming football. The Tigers could play underwhelming football in the other three nonconference games — and did at times against North Texas (41-14) and Idaho (63-14) — and still win by daylight.
Clearly, people aren’t setting the wayback machine for scheduling the way they did it in 1982. Not in the SEC. With SEC teams now playing eight games and the chances you’re going to run into a national championship contender every other week, coaches are voting for squeezing in as many vo-tech schools as common decency will allow.
But the fans deserve more. Some LSU fans will shell out $158.75 per seat for the Towson game when you combine the face value of the tickets and their slice of LSU’s Tradition Fund ($118.75 per game for the most primo sideline seats).
Next year, the best nonconference game LSU has currently scheduled, TCU, is now going to be played at Cowboys Stadium, canceling a home-and-home between the Tigers and Horned Frogs that was supposed to begin in Tiger Stadium in 2013. LSU’s two remaining nonconference home encounters: UAB and Furman.
No tension there.
It must be said the degree of difficulty for LSU when it comes to getting good non-conference teams to come to Tiger Stadium is high. LSU will extend its school record Saturday with its 21st straight home win. Opposing athletic directors aren’t keen to join the Tigers’ list of mauling victims.
Hopefully, though, if the SEC sticks to an eight-game schedule, LSU will be able to bring in an interesting opponent next season.
Not that this is likely to happen on such short notice, but here’s a personal list of teams I’d like to see LSU play whom it hasn’t before:
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