Preseason predictions are always put to the test with big non-conference games early in the season, but no preseason national title contender fell out of College Football Playoff contention faster than LSU.
The Tigers were stunned by Wisconsin in their opener; then they started the SEC season off with a lackluster win over an awful Mississippi State team and a loss to Auburn. By that point, the LSU administration had seen enough, and coach Les Miles—who was nearly fired last year—got the axe. It seemed that the Tigers were happy to be the first to the coaching market and identify the best candidate as they rode through a lost season.
Quietly, however, LSU has used its three games since Miles' firing to prove that this year is anything but lost. No, the Tigers aren't Playoff contenders anymore, but they're still in contention to win the SEC West, and they head into a meeting with Alabama on November 5th as quite possibly the second-best team in the conference.
That won't be a popular statement in College Station, Knoxville, or Gainesville, but a Les Miles-less LSU (and, perhaps more accurately, LSU without offensive coordinator Cam Cameron) is actually the Playoff contender that some pundits predicted the Tigers to be before the season.
The advanced statistical F/+ ratings consider the Tigers the ninth-best team in the country, despite their lackluster first month of the season. Since Miles' firing, and under interim coach Ed Orgeron, LSU has:
- Blown out Missouri, 42-7, in Orgeron's first game, setting a school record for total offense in the process
- Beaten Ole Miss by 17, in by far the most thorough beatdown the Rebels have seen this season (and this is a team that has played Florida State and Alabama)
- Got star running back Leonard Fournette going, bringing his average from 5.45 yards per carry in the first four games to 8.14 in the past three
- Overcome a mediocre passing game by using Fournette, their best player
- Improved the passing game's completion percentage from 54.5 percent in the first four games to 64.5 percent by putting less pressure on the quarterback to make great plays
That's pretty much the entire checklist LSU fans have been looking for in the past three years, and Orgeron has done it over just three games.
LSU has always had a tough defense. It also has the best running back in the country. Suddenly, the Tigers are using that combination to assert their will on their opponents. Given all of the talent—at the very least, Miles was a great recruiter—this should be the second-best team in the SEC, so it shouldn't be a shock that the Tigers are playing that way now that they've put everything together.
In two weeks, the best team in the conference comes to town. The LSU that took the field in September wouldn't have stood a chance. But this LSU? With an elite performance against Alabama, these Tigers have the potential to go from dead in its tracks to SEC West favorite.