Sometime this summer, a host on an out-of-town radio station asked me if LSU fans were looking forward to/worried about the challenge Washington and quarterback Keith Price would present to the Tigers on Sept. 8.
My response, after pausing to make sure the guy was serious, was, “Um, nooooooo. They’re pretty much expecting to win that one and are looking ahead to the Alabama game.”
Now that the Huskies have been demolished, swept into a pile and shipped back to Seattle in a crate marked “Caution: broken football team inside,” all pretense will come to an end.
The eyes of LSU fandom, and Alabama fandom, will be glued on each other from now until Nov. 3.
Washington was assumed to be LSU’s big nonconference test. Now the Tigers have Idaho and Towson on which to practice for the Southeastern Conference schedule to come.
It will certainly require the Tigers’ full attention and best efforts to get through to the Alabama showdown unscathed. Four big hurdles remain: at Auburn on Sept. 22, at Florida on Oct. 6, South Carolina here on Oct. 13, and at Texas A&M on Oct. 20.
Certainly from the perspective of now, LSU will be favored in all those games. Auburn is struggling mightily, and Florida is perhaps improving but isn’t the circa 1996 Gators by any means. Texas A&M will present LSU with a cauldron of khaki-clad madness when the Tigers trek to Kyle Field for the heightened renewal of this bitter rivalry. And South Carolina possesses enough offensive talent and defensive prowess to beat LSU on its home field.
But we have already seen enough from LSU to know how this is likely to play out. We’ve seen the Tigers answer the questions of playing true freshman Jalen Mills at cornerback, of starting Luke Muncie at linebacker for Tahj Jones, of swinging Josh Dworaczyk out to replace Chris Faulk at left tackle, and whether or not Zach Mettenberger is indeed the upgrade (if not yet the prophet) that LSU hoped to find at quarterback.
If LSU plays as it can, the Tigers should reach November 8-0.
Same for Bama.
All else is prelude to the main event.
And so these two teams will spend the next seven weeks stalking each other, throwing out menacing glares as they pace around the ring, while the rest of the nation plays compare the scores each successive Saturday. Alabama has its own tripwires to clear, too: at Arkansas this weekend (even if the Hogs lost to ULM last Saturday) and treks to Missouri and improving Tennessee. Then while LSU is idling, Alabama hosts Mississippi State on Oct. 27, a team that has a chance to be 7-0 going in and one that promises to give the Tide a physical test.
But this is the game. There is no reason to pretend otherwise.
Back in 1988, LSU’s winning touchdown against Auburn set off a seismograph across LSU’s campus.
This LSU-Bama collision registers on the Richter Scale even now — and it’s almost two months off.