Progress on pace for LSU

Two hundred ninety-four days have passed since LSU last played inside Tiger Stadium.

Plenty has changed in that time.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, when Les Miles leads his players through the tunnel at the north end of the field, just minutes before kickoff against UAB, the Tigers’ beloved home will have a different look.

Their home opener marks the unveiling of the new north plaza at the 89-year-old Tiger Stadium. It also gives fans a chance to more progress on the horizon. On the south end of the facility, construction continues on an upper deck that will add 7,500 seats, along with suites, standing-room-only areas and new video scoreboards in the southeast and southwest corners (that project will be finished in time for next season).

Saturday also marks a return for some players who haven’t seen Tiger Stadium in quite a while. They include running back Alfred Blue and linebacker Kwon Alexander, who were injured early last season.

Blue tore a ligament in his knee against Idaho last Sept. 15 and was lost for the season.

“I got hurt in Tiger Stadium, and to come back to the support of the fans and my teammates is like a reunion,” Blue said.

Alexander broke an ankle at Florida in October and didn’t play again until the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He hasn’t played in Tiger Stadium since LSU hosted Towson last Sept. 29.

“It’s going to be really crazy,” Alexander said. “I’ve been dreaming about this. I can’t wait to get back out there.”

Despite all the recent change, one thing remains: When it comes to nonconference play, LSU is dominant.

Sure, the Tigers’ home opener against UAB brings to mind the only other time these schools met in a football game. It was a 13-10 upset, one in which the Blazers spoiled homecoming in Nick Saban’s debut season.

That game, however, serves as a reminder of just how powerful the Tigers have been since then.

LSU has not lost in Tiger Stadium to a team from outside the Southeastern Conference since that game against UAB — a streak of 37 consecutive wins. Adding in nonconference road games and neutral-site contests, the Tigers have won their past 42 nonconference regular-season games — an FBS record that began with a 35-10 victory against the Citadel in 2002, when many of the current Tigers were starting grade school.

“That’s a great number. I had no idea,” LSU cornerback Jalen Collins said. “That’s a lot.”

During the streak, the Tigers have defeated at least one team from every FBS conference except the Big 12 and the Big Ten, based on affiliation at the time the games were played. They’ve also beaten seven FCS teams.

Though Collins was unaware of the streak, other players are well aware of it.

“It’s one of those things that coach (Les) Miles talks about — keeping this winning tradition each year, nonconference and conference. It’s going to continue to elevate this program,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. “We play some of the better nonconference teams compared to some other schools, and it’s something that we embrace.”

LSU has beaten eight ranked teams during the streak, including last week’s 37-27 win over then-No. 20 TCU in the Cowboys Classic. The Tigers have played five teams in their home stadiums — Arizona, Arizona State, Tulane, Washington and West Virginia — and won twice in Arlington, Texas (TCU and Oregon), and once in Atlanta (North Carolina) at neutral sites.

Though the Tigers have played several marquee nonconference games, like most FBS powers, they’ve played mostly lesser programs as a respite from the grind of conference play.

Only seven of the victories in the streak have been by eight or fewer points, and only two of those have come against teams from conferences that don’t automatically qualify for the BCS, such as UAB (Conference USA). Those were a 24-20 victory against Troy State (Sun Belt) in 2004 and a 24-16 win against Louisiana Tech (Mountain West) in 2009.

“Sometimes, good teams and great teams can overlook those teams, and that’s how upsets happen every year,” Landry said. “We don’t want to be that team. We don’t want to be that team that people tell, “I told you so.” We just want to be that program that continues our tradition.”