The quest is on in Baton Rouge to replicate some semblance of the 2019 title-grabbing LSU squad that steamrolled college football during a perfect season. A year ago, the Tigers (15-0) knocked off seven top-10 teams, including arch-nemesis Alabama in Tuscaloosa and defending national champion Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game. Without record-setting quarterback Joe Burrow, the Tigers will need a little help from the schedule just to navigate the usual brutal SEC slate.
As LSU picked apart teams in 2019, parts of the schedule worked in their favor, albeit it was still challenging. Two of the four regular-season games against highly ranked teams were on the road (Texas and Alabama) and two were back-to-back (Auburn and Alabama). After emphatically ending an eight-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide in early November, LSU was able to coast through their final three contests before facing Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
If all the adjustments made in the offseason between setting up the new roster, adding Bo Pelini as the new defensive coordinator, and breaking in new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan come together as planned, LSU may have an easier path to the playoff in 2020 taking on an SEC West slate full of teams in flux.
Bye: Week 9
Week 1 — Sept. 5 vs. UTSA (Baton Rouge, La.)
Larry Coker posted back-to-back successful seasons with the Roadrunners during their first two Division I seasons (2012-13), but UTSA has been on a slide ever since, posting just once winning season (6-5 in 2017) since. After going 19-29 in four seasons as head coach Frank Wilson was fired and replaced by former Arkansas running backs coach Jeff Traylor. Starting his Roadrunners tenure in familiar territory, it figures to be a rough start to the season for UTSA while LSU will use the opportunity to work out the kinks.
Week 2 — Sept. 12 vs. Texas (Baton Rouge, La.)
The Longhorns pushed the Tigers to the brink in a 45-38 thriller in Austin a year ago, but then started the slow spiral to a disappointing 8-5 campaign. Texas did finish things off with a win over then-No. 11 Utah in the Alamo Bowl and brings back quarterback Sam Ehlinger to lead the offense. How he syncs with new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich will dictate the flow early in the season. The Longhorns figure to be ranked, giving LSU the opportunity to pick up another signature win.
Week 3 — Sept. 19 at Rice (NRG Stadium)
The Owls host the Tigers at NRG Stadium but having this game in a bigger venue doesn't change the challenge facing them. Even with LSU going through so much turnover on the roster and the coaching staff, the Tigers will enjoy a healthy talent advantage over a team that has won fewer games over the past five seasons combined (14) than they did last year.
Week 4 — Sept. 26 vs. Ole Miss (Baton Rouge, La.)
After former head coach Hugh Freeze gave Ole Miss fans a taste of winning at a high level, Matt Luke could not replicate the success while dealing with NCAA sanctions. Luke was dismissed after finishing 4-8 last season with Ole Miss bringing Lane Kiffin back to the SEC. After forgettable tenures at Tennessee and USC, Kiffin went 26-13 at Florida Atlantic and won two Conference USA titles (2017, '19). Kiffin's Ole Miss debut could get off to a rocky start with games against Baylor (at NRG Stadium) and Auburn preceding the Rebels' trip to Baton Rouge, which will be followed by a home date with Alabama.
Week 5 — Oct. 3 vs. Nicholls (Baton Rouge, La.)
The FCS Colonels went 9-5 last season, earning the Southland Conference's automatic bid to the playoffs. Nicholls lost in the second round to eventual national champion North Dakota State and now gets a shot at the FBS' defending champs. This should be another opportunity for LSU to fine-tune things on both sides of the ball while giving backups and others on the roster some playing time.
Week 6 — Oct. 10 at Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)
In theory, this will be LSU’s toughest test to date in the 2020 season after four home games and a neutral-site date with Rice. The Gators have the potential to be a preseason top-10 team after the momentum head coach Dan Mullen has built in Gainesville. Mullen has tallied 21 wins in his first two seasons with the Gators and has Kyle Trask back to lead the offense. Florida will be battle-hardened at this point with games played against Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
Week 7 — Oct. 17 at Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark.)
If there was a team that truly needed the spring practice sessions it was Arkansas. The Razorbacks have not won a conference game over the past two seasons hoping new head coach Sam Pittman, Georgia’s former offensive line coach, can bring the winning ways back to Fayetteville. Pittman has some familiar names at the coordinator positions in Kendal Briles (OC) and Barry Odom (DC), but is there enough talent on the roster to make significant strides in Year 1?
Week 8 — Oct. 24 vs. Mississippi State (Baton Rouge, La.)
After back-to-back road games, LSU returns home to face what could be a challenging offense under new head coach Mike Leach. Leach has churned out winning programs at Texas Tech and Washington State, and is expected to do the same in Starkville. The big question, how will his take on the Air Raid offense fair against SEC defenses on a weekly basis? LSU may catch a break here seeing the Bulldogs after they face Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Week 10 — Nov. 7 vs. Alabama (Baton Rouge, La.)
The Crimson Tide are coming off of their first two-loss season in five years and must replace record-setting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, among others. The offense will be in the capable hands of Mac Jones (or true freshman Bryce Young) and has four starters back on the offensive line. But there are still a lot of holes on the roster on the other side of the ball that will be pushed into the fire against a challenging schedule that includes a neutral-site opener against USC, Georgia at home, and back-to-back road games against Tennessee and LSU before hosting Texas A&M and Auburn.
Week 11 — Nov. 14 vs. South Carolina (Baton Rouge, La.)
Kudos to the powers that be in South Carolina for keeping head coach Will Muschamp after a disappointing 4-8 season in 2019. Muschamp may be in hot water with the fans, but this is a team that should bounce back to a bowl berth in 2020. This late in the season, the Gamecocks will be well-seasoned. LSU may catch another break welcoming South Carolina after what should be a hard-fought contest against Georgia the week prior.
Week 12 — Nov. 21 at Auburn (Auburn, Ala.)
LSU’s road to success up to this point has been nicely laid out with a forgiving schedule but the second-biggest road game has the Tigers in Auburn. Despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation last season, Auburn still had the look of a team that could have done more than their 9-4 season showed. Losing 31-24 to Minnesota in the Outback Bowl did not help in terms of window dressing either. Gus Malzahn's team could be ranked in the top 15 entering the season, but this defense will be a shell of its former self in 2020. Can the offense led by sophomore quarterback Bo Nix carry the load?
Week 13 — Nov. 28 at Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)
If injuries do not plague the Aggies, this may be the team LSU needs to beat to win the SEC West. College football fans may scoff at that notion considering Jimbo Fisher's team went 8-5 last season, but all five losses came to teams ranked eighth or higher and three were on the road. Fisher has a balanced roster returning and three-year starter Kellen Mond at the helm of the offense. Again, LSU may catch a break with A&M returning to College Station for the regular-season finale after a road trip to Tuscaloosa.
— 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.