It was hard not to notice that LSU and Alabama both won their season openers by the same score: 41-14.
Those games also illustrate how season openers can be the hardest outcomes to interpret. Certainly the Crimson Tide was more impressive, rolling past the preseason No. 8 team in the country (Michigan) in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington Texas, while the Tigers warmed up against North Texas with a perfunctory performance in a less-than-full-or-electric Tiger Stadium.
Last Labor Day weekend, LSU was where Alabama is this Labor Day weekend, both literally and figuratively. It was the Tigers who were representing the Southeastern Conference in Cowboys Stadium, authoring the signature performance of the opening weekend by beating preseason No. 3 Oregon 40-27. The Tigers, like the Tide, generated a national buzz by looking like a team at an unusually high peak even though it was playing its first game of the season.
That’s what happens when a really good team is zeroed in from the start of spring practice on a high-caliber opening opponent, one that can go a long way toward making or breaking their season right out of the gate.
It’s more difficult, and not really necessary, to have that kind of singular focus and dedication to the opener when it comes against a team that’s not from an automatic-qualifying conference, one that’s not capable of beating you unless you play about as badly as you’re capable of.
That doesn’t mean the Tigers didn’t give the Mean Green the level of respect reserved for any opponent. But it does mean that it’s easier to focus more on yourself and think about the season-long challenges as you prepare to open against North Texas than it is when you’re opening against Michigan or Oregon.
The beginning of the season is all about getting off to a winning start, despite the rough spots that inevitably show early and then starting to smooth them over before the next challenge.
In the Tigers’ case, the next challenge should be a bigger one when Washington comes to Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. The Huskies, who passed for an uncharacteristically modest 222 yards in their 21-12 season-opening victory against San Diego State, figure to test LSU’s rebuilt secondary.
The Tigers will be more vulnerable to an upset next Saturday than they were last Saturday — if they repeat the kind of uneven performance they had against the Mean Green. If they repeat the penalties, defensive breakdowns, and red-zone failures, Washington can make them pay more so than North Texas was able to.
But the expectation is that a week’s worth of practice at cleaning up the messy stuff — which can be attributed at least to some small degree to the complications and distractions from Hurricane Isaac — will produce a much sharper performance in week two.
As season openers go, LSU’s 2012 version was as forgettable as the 2011 version was memorable. But in the big picture, there’s really no significant difference between the two.
Both ended in victory and produced a baseline from which weekly improvement must begin. Sure, the blemishes are a little easier to see this year, but as impressive as the victory against Oregon was it wasn’t flawless.
Remember, the Tigers had just 98 passing yards, they were out-gained by 62 yards overall and Drew Alleman missed an extra point.
So here we are one year later and again LSU is 1-0 and has areas in which it needs to improve.
This year’s start is a lot more like last year’s than it might initially seem.