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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What if?

STARKVILLE, Miss. - What if LSU lost Thursday night?

Could you imagine?

The No. 2-ranked Tigers are 18-point favorites to beat Mississippi State here on ESPN. And that's pretty nice toward the Bulldogs as they have lost their last seven to the Tigers. The last six have been in laughable fashion - 48-17, 37-7, 51-0, 41-6, 31-13 and 42-0. Even coach Gerry DiNardo during a 4-7 season in 1998 managed a 41-6 win over Mississippi State.

There are some danger signs about this game that many seemingly LSD-induced LSU fans keep ignoring. State is looking better than it has in the first three years under coach Sylvester Croom.

The Bulldogs are returning 17 starters, including 10 on offense. They tend to be very physical and did play some good teams well late last season in losses to Georgia (27-24), Kentucky (34-31) and Arkansas (28-14). It did beat a bowl team in Alabama (24-16) in Tuscaloosa.

And as bad as State has been - 9-25 overall and 4-20 in the SEC under Croom - this is a better team than LSU often opens up against. This State team could probably beat ULM and Tulane and Western Carolina. The Tigers tend to start a season slow, too. They should have lost at Arizona State in 2005, but some luck on special teams and some bad coaching from the opponent helped the Tigers to a 35-31 win. LSU needed overtime and some adventures in place-kicking for a 22-21 win over Oregon State in 2004. LSU looked horrible at Virginia Tech in 2002, losing 26-8.

LSU also has a serious number of questions to answer before this season gets going, which has been lost on the national media insisting on voting LSU No. 2 in every polling but the Louisiana governor's race. Flynn will probably be very good this season, but he is unproven except for one game. The offensive line could just be average, and there are three true freshmen in the two deep. The receivers are talented, but as of now there is only one you know you can count on in Early Doucet. There is also a new offensive coordinator. New coordinators usually take a game or two or three to get clicking. Remember Bo Pelini giving up gobs of yardage to Arizona State and Tennessee in his first two games.

It might not be as easy as everyone seems to think, including myself.

State's been hearing LSU coach Les Miles talk all summer about USC and the Pac-10 and Alabama and Nick Saban. Don't laugh. This could be a trap game as LSU seems to be preoccupied with national rankings and the BCS national title game. The LSU Nation, which seems to be thinking about USC and Saban as much as Jennifer Aniston must still think about Brad Pitt, seems to have everything on its mind but State. If that has spilled over to the players, look out.

What if? What if LSU lost to Mississippi State. Roscoe, the proposed Mike VI, might turn down the job, and Les Miles might be out of a job, sooner or later. It happened to Jack Crowe the morning after Arkansas lost to The Citadel 10-3 in the 1992 season opener. When Croom's first State team upset Florida 38-31 in 2004, it marked the end of the Ron Zook era in Gainesville.

State's win over Alabama last season got Mike Shula fired.

Mississippi State is the Grim Reaper of college football. It looks easy, but it could kill you.

Charles McClendon used to say games like this were the toughest on a coach, because you were supposed to win it and supposed to win big. That's pressure.

A loss by LSU Thursday night would be its most embarrassing upset since Miami of Ohio rolled the Tigers 21-12 in 1986.

Could it happen? Do you feel the pressure now?


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