The Tigers have tough road tests awaiting them in Austin and Tuscaloosa
LSU fans have seen this before. During the 2010-13 college football seasons, the Tigers were one of the most feared teams in the nation, playing smash-mouth ball and rolling up double-digit win seasons along the way. At the end of the 2018 season, second-year head coach Ed Orgeron had turned his doubters into believers after leading LSU to a 10-3 (5-3 SEC) record with wins over five nationally ranked teams. The $4 million per year question for Coach "O" is can he consistently win at a high level which includes downing bitter rival Alabama and bringing an SEC championship to Baton Rouge?
The talent is on the roster for LSU in 2019, but does the schedule match up favorably for the Tigers to make a run to Atlanta and possibly earn a College Football Playoff berth? We rank all 12 of LSU’s 2019 games from easiest to hardest, breaking down the complexity of their upcoming run.
12. Sept. 14 vs. Northwestern State
Most SEC teams schedule their FCS opponent, if they have one, in Week 2 or at the end of the season to catch a breather before a big rivalry game. Northwestern State heads to Baton Rouge in Week 3 after what will be a huge and nationally significant showdown against Texas and before kicking off SEC play on the road against a scrappy Vanderbilt squad.
Expect to see the Tigers' full depth chart in this one. The Demons were 5-6, 4-5 in Southland play, with a resounding 59-7 season-opening loss to Texas A&M.
11. Aug. 31 vs. Georgia Southern
This game shows just how difficult LSU's schedule is this season. The second "easiest" game on the docket is against a team that went 10-3 last season, including a 6-2 mark in Sun Belt play. The turnaround in Statesboro made head coach Chad Lunsford worthy of Coach of the Year consideration considering the Eagles won just two games in 2017.
Georgia Southern appears to be a program on the rise and figures to come out of the gates fired up, but that doesn't mean the Eagles are ready to play the role of giant killer just yet. Last season, Georgia Southern ventured into the other Death Valley against Clemson and left with a 38-7 loss to the eventual national champions.
10. Nov. 23 vs. Arkansas
The Razorbacks fell far below expectations under new head coach Chad Morris during his first season in Fayetteville with the Hogs going 2-10 and winless in the SEC. One of the surprise games of the year was seeing Arkansas slug it out with then- No.7 LSU to a 24-17 finish in Razorback Stadium. Arkansas should be significantly better in 2019, with better play in the pocket from their quarterback, but still appears to be a couple of recruiting classes away from being a stocked on both sides of the ball with SEC-caliber talent.
If a surprise were to happen, the Hogs could be on a high after beating Western Kentucky and with LSU looking ahead to a revenge game against Texas A&M.
9. Oct. 5 vs. Utah State
The Aggies were another one of the big surprise teams in the nation last season, going 11-2 overall with a 7-1 record in Mountain West play. Head coach Matt Wells left for Texas Tech, but he was replaced by another winning coach familiar with the surroundings in Logan in Gary Andersen. Andersen won 11 games with the Aggies in 2012 before stints at Wisconsin and Oregon State. Can he pick up where he left off?
The Aggies will be battle-tested before heading to Baton Rouge with road games against Wake Forest and San Diego State. This could be another sleeper game for LSU looking ahead to a Florida team that upset the Tigers in 2018.
8. Sept. 21 at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt was a tough team to get a grasp on during their 6-7, 3-5, run in Derek Mason's fifth season in Nashville. The Commodores hung tough against ranked teams in Notre Dame, Florida, and Kentucky but dropped end-of-season contests to Missouri and Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Vanderbilt may not be ready to turn that proverbial corner just yet. While the team has seven starters back on offense the line will have some new faces and must play better. The defense is young, full of juniors and sophomores. Mason might be one year away from making some big noise.
After facing Northwestern State and with Utah State up next, LSU will not get caught looking ahead in their SEC opener.
7. Nov. 16 at Ole Miss
Over the past two seasons, the Ole Miss offense has been on par with the best in the nation in the aerial attack but has been inconsistent with the run game. Former Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez has been brought in to fix the offense, but has his hands full with just three starters back. The Rebels defense was the worst statistically in the SEC last season, allowing 483 yards per game. Another former head coach, Mike MacIntyre of Colorado, is the new defensive coordinator ready to change the fortunes on that side of the ball. MacIntyre inherits eight returning starters.
The Tigers had a field day with the Rebels in Baton Rouge last season, winning 45-16. LSU could roll into this one as a trap game having faced Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium the prior week.
6. Oct. 19 at Mississippi State
With college football's top defense, more was expected of Mississippi State under first-year head coach Joe Moorhead but finished 8-5 (4-4 in SEC). The Bulldogs' stifling defense held the opposition to 263 total yards each time out, but the offense never found its footing and averaged fewer than 400 yards per game. The offense may be more to Moorhead's style this year, but the defense has a long way to go with just three starters back.
This was a good ol' fashion slugfest in Baton Rouge last season with the Tigers coming out on top 19-3. Coming off a home game against Florida and with Auburn looming, LSU has to stay sharp.
5. Oct. 26 vs. Auburn
The game that changed the course of Auburn's 2018 campaign was the 22-21 home loss to LSU. The War Eagles were a top-10 team with their sights set on upending Alabama again. As it turned out, Auburn posted an 8-5 (3-5 SEC) mark as Gus Malzahn found himself on the proverbial hot seat in December. That hot seat could be ready to explode by the time this game comes around. The schedule does not favor Auburn with an opener against Oregon and road contests vs. Texas A&M, Florida and Arkansas all on tap before coming to Baton Rouge.
After taking its lumps last season, Auburn's offensive line should be one of the team's strengths but it may not matter if the Tigers' new starting quarterback struggles. The defense should be solid yet again with one of the nation's top defensive lines and a seasoned secondary leading the way.
4. Nov. 30 vs. Texas A&M
The Aggies ascend the 2019 board after outlasting the Tigers 74-72 in seven overtimes in what was arguably the game of the year. Jimbo Fisher's first season in College Station was a success by all accounts, but with success comes early defections to the NFL. The Aggies offense is loaded with weapons but the offensive line is green. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko had a senior-laden unit in 2018 and must regroup with just four starters returning.
A&M may limp into this one worn out. The Aggies host South Carolina and then take a trip to Athens to face two-time defending SEC East champ Georgia. Back-to-back road games against teams as talented as Georgia and LSU is brutal for any squad.
3. Oct. 12 vs. Florida
Dan Mullen solidified his spot as one of college football's best after taking a downtrodden Gators team that went 4-7 the year before and turning them into a 10-win team that dominated Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Is it too early to pronounce Florida back among the elite in college football? The Gators will likely begin the season ranked in the top 10 of the polls but this isn't a team without question marks. The offensive line returns just one starter. The defense should be fine with senior linebacker David Reese and a solid secondary leading the way.
The middle of October to the beginning of November is when Mullen will make his money. A home game against Auburn is followed up with road games against LSU and South Carolina followed by the annual get-together with Georgia in Jacksonville. LSU would love to get some payback against the Gators after losing to them 27-19 in Gainesville last season.
2. Sept. 7 at Texas
The Longhorns returned to blue-blood form last season, going 10-4 overall and 7-2 in the Big 12. Much of the hype leveraged towards Texas this year is off the 28-21 victory posted over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Statistically, Texas was middle of the road on offense and defense but showed signs of improvement. In Tom Herman's third year in Austin, big expectations are laid upon his shoulders to not only knock off LSU but to unseat rival Oklahoma in the Big 12. With five starters back on offense and just two on defense, another turn in the recruiting cycle might be needed before Texas is officially back.
This will be one of the early marquee matchups in the country. The winner of this one has big bragging rights, especially on the recruiting trail.
1. Nov. 9 at Alabama
As great of a season as LSU had in 2018, the Tigers still did not play close with Bama, failing to get on the board in a 29-0 defeat. As is the question every season, can LSU beat Alabama? Despite the Crimson Tide's status as defending champs in the SEC, several new faces will be asked to step into some pretty big holes following another exodus to the NFL. Alabama may have the easiest schedule in the conference with road games against South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn, as the Tide avoid Georgia and Florida from the East and their toughest non-conference opponent is Duke.
Despite the loss of All-Americans on defense in Devin White and Greedy Williams, LSU returns eight starters on that side of the ball. The offense features seven returning starters and gets an influx of highly sought-after recruits highlighted by five-star running back John Emery Jr. and four-star tailback Tyrion Davis-Price.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.