Ranking the top five questions of my life:
5. How’s it going, Chris? (No joke; for some reason people tell me I look like a Chris.)
4. How’s the kids?
3. How’s the wife?
2. Do you go to every LSU game? (Pretty much. Out of 261 LSU games since 1992, I’ve missed 10.)
1. How do you think the Tigers will do this year?
The last one beats the other four combined. It laps the field. It’s a question I plan to have chiseled into my tombstone because I’ll probably be gone about three years before people stop asking me.
Since I have no immediate departure plans, let’s explore that 10-word question as it relates to the 2013 LSU Tigers.
Let’s start by breaking down the schedule:
Sure wins: Five — UAB, Kent State, Auburn, Furman and Arkansas. Auburn probably will be improved under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, maybe even a bowl team. But they’re not coming into Tiger Stadium and pinning an upset on LSU in year one. Same for Arkansas under Bret Bielema.
Probable wins: Three — TCU, Mississippi State and Florida. The Horned Frogs will be a test in the Cowboys Classic opener, but a diminished one without defensive end Devonte Fields. The game at State will be a test, but LSU has won 20 of 21 in the series, and we don’t see the Bulldogs bucking that trend. Florida will also be a challenge, but LSU gets the Gators at home.
Tossup games: Two — Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Want to put the Ole Miss game under the probable win column for LSU, but good or bad this is almost always a close game (seven of the past 11 decided by seven points or less). The Rebels will be improved, but they’re not going to a BCS bowl. The bet here is the Aggies will be hard-pressed to match last year’s 11-2 record if they don’t beat Alabama in September. Either way, a one- or two-loss LSU team would rightly be the favorite in Tiger Stadium.
Likely losses: Two — Georgia and Alabama. We won’t harangue anyone yet again about the fact LSU is the only Southeastern Conference team to face these two division favorites on the road. These are games the Tigers can win, but the degree of difficulty will be high given Georgia’s powerful offense and Alabama’s talent level.
LSU will go 5-7 if: The defense can’t fill the holes punched by the NFL draft, the offense is punchless under Cam Cameron without Jeremy Hill all year, injuries are rampant and the new kickers can’t find the mark. Highly unlikely all these issues come home to roost, though.
LSU will go 6-6 if: The defense is merely passable, the offense isn’t clicking and the Tigers only claw out a win over State or Florida or TCU.
LSU will go 7-5 if: The Tigers stumble out of the gate against TCU, then capture the rest of the sure wins and the probables. In 2008, Jarrett Lee’s multiple pick sixes were the reason for such a record. This year, it would be the youthful defense and injuries.
LSU will go 8-4 if: The Tigers capture the sure wins and the probables but lose a slugfest at home with the Aggies and find the road rocky at Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama.
LSU will go 9-3 if: The offense is potent enough and the defense is talented but sporadic, costing the Tigers in losses at Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama. This is the low side of LSU’s over/under win total of 9.5 that is the prevailing pick in Las Vegas.
LSU will go 10-2 if: The offense is prolific under Cam (and possibly gets Hill back at some point), the defense is young but brave and the special teams come through with good field position and clutch kicks. The Tigers lose at Alabama and maybe at home to Texas A&M, but more likely will have lost at Georgia. Hard to imagine LSU starting 9-0 given its youth.
LSU will go 11-1 if: Almost everything goes right. Hill or not, the running game is flowing with Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard injury-free. Zach Mettenberger finds a bustling array of targets to go with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, namely Quantavius Leslie going all Demetrius Byrd with a prolific 50-catch season. The defense finds brilliant young stars like Danielle Hunter, and Jalen Mills is an All-SEC corner. An upset at Georgia sends 9-0 LSU into a prime-time showdown of unbeatens at Alabama (which wins at A&M in September). The Tigers come up short but reach the Sugar Bowl.
LSU will go 12-0 if: All the stars align. Virtually no injuries while teams like Georgia and Florida and A&M suffer some cutting personnel losses. A defensive star rises à la Tyrann Mathieu in 2011, a playmaking machine who leads the Tigers to a slew of defensive and special teams touchdowns, including one or two at Bama.
The pick: The Tigers start and end the season at Cowboys Stadium with a 9-3 record. Losses at Georgia, Ole Miss and Bama are frustrating, but a clean home slate with wins over Florida and A&M is satisfying enough for Tigers fans going into an intriguing Cotton Bowl with Oklahoma.
If I’m wrong, blame Chris.