Everyone wants to know who the real LSU football team is.
Is it a Secret Santa, or the Grinch? Is it a modern-day colossus, or a paper tiger about to crumple in the rain?
Last season, LSU spent September road-grading through potentially a heartbreaker first month, sweeping aside ranked teams and would-be road warriors with relative ease on the way to the No. 1 ranking.
This year, LSU spent September dodging a hurricane and trying to hold onto its cloak of invincibility despite injuries and personnel issues that have turned parts of that cloak into a patchwork quilt.
No more waiting or wondering is required. The schedule is about to turn into a meat grinder, five games in six weeks that will decide LSU’s fate.
At Florida, then home to play South Carolina. At Texas A&M, then off before hosting Alabama and Mississippi State. Four ranked and unbeaten teams and one (Texas A&M) whose only loss was by three points to Florida. A combined record of 21-1.
The Tigers’ first five victims? A combined 8-14, though Washington, LSU’s most impressive victim by a 41-3 count, is now ranked No. 23. One of them, Towson, a stubborn 38-22 party pooper of a visitor last Saturday, is still a team LSU players and fans are trying to find with Mapquest.
Despite all player losses, turnovers, penalties and generally sloppy play, this is still an LSU team good enough to get out of its own way and win any game it has left on its schedule.
It won’t be easy — at least not as easy as it was last season. Last year, LSU crushed Florida by 30, Tennessee by 31 and Auburn by 35 — in consecutive weeks. That kind of dominance is exceptionally rare.
It’s a good sign if you’re partial to the Tigers that the LSU players are saying they are ready to get focused, work hard, get back to playing true “LSU football.” The flip side is in my lifetime of watching and covering sports, you never, ever want to hear a team saying a third of the way into the season or more that they have to just make a few changes and everything will be Nirvana. Often, that kind of talk is the sign of a team in trouble, one that simply doesn’t have it and isn’t about to find it.
But LSU has had so much success in recent years, you’re willing to give the Tigers the benefit of the doubt. For now.
Said benefits expire at the end of Saturday’s LSU-Florida game.
At least the LSU players seem to have sounded their own alarm and are not willing to sit with the remote in hand while they watch their house burn.
“From a pride standpoint, this is not where we want this offense to be,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said, speaking for the whole team. “It’ll be an attitude thing and a gut check, to see how the guys respond to not playing well the last five weeks.”
The past five weeks are history. The Tigers now face a challenging and uncertain future, as we and they try to figure out just how good they are.