The Tigers have to go to Tuscaloosa and Austin, but get Auburn, Texas A&M, and Florida in Death Valley
Even five months away, the deafening cheering sounds emanating from Death Valley come the start of the 2019 college football season can already be heard by the LSU faithful. After a 10-3 (5-3 SEC) record in 2018, culminated by the highest end-of-seaosn ranking in the Associated Press poll (No. 6) since the 2011 campaign (No. 2), Tigers fans have a lot to be excited about in head coach Ed Orgeron's third full season in Baton Rouge. This team is loaded on both sides of the ball and looking to contend for an SEC championship.
When the 2018 season kicked off, the Tigers had a new offensive coordinator in Steve Ensminger, who himself was breaking in a new quarterback, lacked a home-run hitter in the backfield, and was dealing with numerous injuries along the offensive line. Despite this adversity, the offense stuck together and wound up averaging 402 yards and 32 points per game. LSU had another top-25-ranked defense, limiting foes to 339 yards and 22 points per game thanks to the mastery of the 3-4 alignment under coordinator Dave Aranda.
Fans can look back at the 2018 season applying a "what if" filter with two games in particular: a 29-17 clunker on the road to then-No. 22 Florida and a 74-72 loss in seven overtimes at Texas A&M to end the regular season. Orgeron and the Tigers do not want any regrets in 2019 and have enough returning firepower along with an influx of true freshmen to make this squad a challenger in the SEC West. One thing that seems to favor LSU is the schedule. There appears to be just two challenging road games on tap in 2019 with everyone else making their way to Tiger Stadium.
Byes: Week 5, Week 10
Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. Georgia Southern (Baton Rouge, La.)
Year 1 for head coach Chad Lunsford at Georgia Southern was a college football miracle. The Eagles went from 2-10 in 2017 to a 10-win team (6-2 in the Sun Belt). The turnaround came on defense, limiting teams to 22 points and 357 yards per game. Georgia Southern even held its own against eventual national champion Clemson last season, losing 38-7 on the road. While no one is expecting the Eagles to pull off the upset in the opener, LSU better be ready.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 at Texas (Austin, Texas)
This showdown will be on every college football must-see list to start the 2019 campaign. Longhorn Nation had waited 10 years to see a double-digit-winning season, and Tom Herman delivered in 2018. Texas went 10-3 including five wins over ranked teams, beating USC (then-No. 22), TCU (No. 17), Iowa State (No. 16), Oklahoma (No. 7), and capping things off with a victory over No. 5 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. There will be no lack of hype surrounding this early-season non-conference matchup.
Even though the schools share a state border and each has their own rich college football history, most fans have only seen this matchup once in their lifetime. The last meeting was in 2003, a 35-20 win for the Longhorns. The anticipation for that meeting was built up over 40 years after LSU beat Texas 13-0 in 1963. The Longhorns hold a slight 8-6-1 edge in the all-time series.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 vs. Northwestern State (Baton Rouge, La.)
Other than the weekend of Sept. 28, LSU’s open date, this will be the second-most sought-after Saturday this fall in Louisiana for brides to book their weddings. Some college football fans do not care for FBS teams playing FCS programs, but as the rules of handing out redshirts have changed, the Tigers hosting the Demons serves a greater purpose for going deeper on the depth chart with game experience.
Northwestern State, out of the Southland Conference, posted a 5-6 (4-5) season in 2018, losing 59-7 in its opener to Texas A&M in College Station. A matchup like this does give the Louisiana players on the Demons' roster a chance to play against the top in-state program, making it a showcase of sorts for the backyard players.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)
Despite the losing record (6-7, 3-5 SEC), Vanderbilt may have the dubious honor of being the scrappiest team in college football last season and one of the hardest to figure out. The Commodores lost 22-17 to eventual College Football Playoff participant Notre Dame, by 10 to No. 14 Florida (37-27), by a touchdown to No. 14 Kentucky (14-7) and by just five points Missouri (33-28), seemingly lacking just enough firepower to get over the proverbial hump. Vanderbilt did get the job done in convincing fashion against archrival Tennessee, dismantling the Volunteers 38-13 to end the regular season.
The Commodores could already be licking some wounds entering this one. They open with Georgia at home and then go on the road to face the Purdue Boilermakers. Vanderbilt gets its bye ahead of welcoming LSU.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 vs. Utah State (Baton Rouge, La.)
If life outside of SEC football does not suit your interest, that's fine, but Utah State is not a runover squad. The Aggies were tirelessly built up by former head coach Matt Wells, who is now at Texas Tech. Last season, Utah State went an impressive 11-2, including a 7-1 mark in the Mountain West, which gave them a claim of the division title with Boise State. The Aggies finished the season ranked 22nd in the AP poll following a 52-13 demolition of North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl.
Gary Andersen, formerly the head coach at Wisconsin (2013-14) and Oregon State (2015-17), returns to Utah State (2009-12) with the goal of leading the program to back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time. If anyone can do it, it is Andersen. Prior to Wells, Andersen was the first Aggies head coach to win 10 games in a season (2012).
Week 7 — Oct. 12 vs. Florida (Baton Rouge, La.)
The Florida vs. LSU annual showdown does not get the national attention it deserves. No matter how good, or bad, the two teams are, it is always a slugfest. Last season, the Tigers got caught looking ahead to Georgia as Florida held home court in the Swamp, shocking LSU 27-19.
The Gators will be battle-tested by the time they arrive in the Sportsman’s Paradise, having played Miami, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Auburn with South Carolina and Georgia lurking. LSU will not get caught taking the Gators for granted in 2019, especially with a road contest against Mississippi State the following weekend.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 at Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss.)
A look at Mississippi State in 2018 depends on if you are a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of person. The 8-4 (4-4 SEC) finish in Year 1 under Joe Moorhead is good, but still a slight drop-off from the 9-4 showing in 2017, Dan Mullen's final season in Starkville. The defense remained one of the best in the country thanks to Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat, finishing No. 1 overall in yards allowed per game. But both are off to the NFL and the bigger question mark is with an offense that never quite clicked (71st nationally in total offense), something that was unexpected given Moorhead's background.
This series belongs to LSU with the Bulldogs winning just twice (2014 and '17) in the last 19 meetings. Mississippi State returns home to host the Tigers after a two-game road trip to play Auburn and Tennessee with Texas A&M on tap.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. Auburn (Baton Rouge, La.)
One of the more exciting games of the 2018 season was No. 12 LSU's come-from-behind, 22-21 win over No. 7 Auburn thanks to a 42-yard Cole Tracy field goal. The loss kickstarted an up-and-down year for Auburn and embattled head coach Gus Malzahn. The fate of his tenure on the Plains could pivot on this 2019 battle if his Tigers can get past the season opener against Oregon and road trips to Texas A&M and Florida first. This meeting with LSU wraps a three-game road trip for Auburn that starts in the Swamp against the Gators followed by a trip to Fayetteville to play Arkansas.
LSU will look to make it three wins in a row over Auburn.
Week 11 — Nov. 9 at Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Ever since Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2009, this has been the game LSU fans line up to see without fail. Over that time frame, the Tigers have walked off the field victorious just twice with eight consecutive head-hangers. Even though LSU had a very good 2018 campaign, the Tigers were still no match for the Crimson Tide losing 29-0. But will that change in 2019?
This could be an exposing game for Alabama. The Tide brings back quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and most of their key pass catchers but only two starters along the offensive line return. The defense should be solid but was not up to par a year ago and must essentially replace the entire defensive line. If Texas A&M does not get Alabama first on Oct. 12, this could be LSU's chance to shine.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss.)
Year 2 under head coach Matt Luke was still a rebuilding process even with fantastic talent on offense at the skill positions. The Rebels managed to go 5-7 (1-7 SEC) thanks to an offense that could score on just about anyone and averaged 511 yards per game. The defense was statistically the worst in the SEC and one of the worst in the nation, giving up 483 yards a game (121st). LSU cakewalked in this one last season, beating Ole Miss 45-16 at home.
The Rebels will have a different look this fall with former head coaches calling the shots on both offense (Rich Rodriguez) and defense (Mike MacIntyre). Will their experience and coaching acumen be enough to help turn Ole Miss around?
Week 13 — Nov. 23 vs. Arkansas (Baton Rouge, La.)
Chad Morris' debut in Fayetteville did not go according to plan, as the Razorbacks turned in one of their worst seasons in school history, going just 2-10 overall and winless (0-8) in the SEC. One of the few teams Arkansas played tough against under Morris was LSU, falling 24-17 in Fayetteville. Morris and his staff were able to land one of the top-rated recruiting classes in recent history, (No. 23 overall per 247Sports), but the Hogs are still probably a couple of years away from being ready to challenge in the SEC West again.
The one glimmer of hope for Arkansas fans, regardless of the head coaches, is that this series has been relatively even. Since 2007, the Tigers hold a slight 7-5 edge over the Razorbacks.
Week 14 — Nov. 30 vs. Texas A&M (Baton Rouge, La.)
There are four big games on LSU's 2019 schedule (Texas, Florida, and Alabama) and A&M is one of them. These two teams waged an instant classic last season, with the Aggies claiming a 74-72 win in a seven-overtime marathon that was one of the best games of the entire 2018 season. If LSU can complete its own three-game revenge tour (beat Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M), then the Tigers could be heading to Atlanta to play for the SEC title.
The Aggies lost some key players on offense and defense to the NFL and graduation but still could have one of the conference’s best passing attacks with quarterback Kellen Mond leading the way. Mike Elko revitalized the defense in 2018 but will opponents have a better game plan to counter him this time around? This could be another thriller.
— 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.