And Orgeron used the offseason to erase any doubt regarding who is in charge, hiring Matt Canada as offensive coordinator. Canada has promised to bring more than just the “ground and pound” approach to the Tigers’ offense. And while this has instilled a new sense of enthusiasm among the LSU faithful, the same expectations remain – beat Alabama and contend for a national championship.
For that to happen, the Tigers must first navigate a tough schedule. Besides opening against the Cougars in a neutral-site, non-conference affair, LSU also pays an early visit to Starkville for its first SEC game. October has the Tigers traveling to Gainesville, Oxford and Tuscaloosa with a trip to Knoxville in mid-November thrown in for good measure. Here’s how LSU’s entire slate breaks down, from easiest to most challenging matchup, based on game location, recent history and 2017 outlook.
12. Sept. 9 vs. Chattanooga
The Mocs will be a welcomed into Tigers Stadium after LSU kicks off its season against BYU. Chattanooga was a FCS playoff team in 2016, going 9-4, and held its own against Alabama last season before eventually wearing down against the undefeated Crimson Tide, 31-3.
11. Sept. 30 vs. Troy
Troy may hail from the Sun Belt, but the scrappy Trojans went 10-3 last season, were ranked in the national polls at one point, and took eventual national champion Clemson down to the wire before falling 30-24. Troy could really get LSU’s attention if it opens its season with a road win against Boise State since the Trojans appear to have three not-too-challenging games after that before making the trip to Baton Rouge.
10. Sept. 23 vs. Syracuse
The Orange are coming off a disappointing 4-8 season in head coach Dino Babers’ debut with his new team. Syracuse could come into this game 3-0 but none of those games will prepare the Orange for the step up in competition. Syracuse kept it close at home against LSU in 2015, but the Tigers still prevailed 34-24. Expect the Orange to come out swinging looking to surprise LSU, if possible.
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9. Oct. 21 at Ole Miss
The Rebels were a disappointing 5-7 last season, including a 38-21 road loss to LSU. These division rivals have split the last four meetings, but Ole Miss is a team dealing with just as much off the field as it is on it. All eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson to see if he can be the difference-maker on the field for embattled head coach Hugh Freeze. If not, and with a self-imposed, one-year bowl ban for NCAA violations giving the team little to play for other than pride, the Rebels’ season could truly be over at this point with Freeze earning his ticket out of Oxford along the way.
8. Sept. 2 vs. BYU (Houston)
It could be argued that the Cougars were four plays away from going undefeated in 2016. BYU lost four games (to Utah, UCLA, West Virginia and Boise State) but the margin was a total of eight points. The Cougars did say good-bye to running back Jamaal Williams, the program’s all-time leading rusher, but plenty of experience remains on the roster. This game at NRG Stadium figures to be one of the more intriguing non-conference matchups and BYU would love nothing more than to beat an SEC team for the second straight season.
7. Nov. 23 vs. Texas A&M
LSU is 5-0 vs. Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. Last year’s game saw the Tigers score a season-high 54 points in their road win. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin enters 2017 squarely on the hot seat, so it could be a “win or go home” scenario for him in the regular-season finale. The Aggies have started off each of the past five seasons looking like a contender only to crumble upon entering the heart of their conference schedule. With this game in Baton Rouge, expect the Tigers’ winning streak against Texas A&M to continue.
6. Nov. 18 at Tennessee
LSU trades Missouri for Tennessee in SEC crossover pairings, setting up the first matchup between the two teams since 2011. The Tigers have won four consecutive against the Volunteers and probably need to make it five in a row to give them a shot at a division title. Tennessee has been at the crossroads of returning to glory under head coach Butch Jones but keep taking one step back after taking two steps forward. This season the Volunteers have a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback. Tennessee has plenty of talent, but a lot of it is unproven, although the timing of this game may actually benefit the Vols in the long run.
5. Nov. 11 vs. Arkansas
The Razorbacks always play LSU tough but the Tigers took it to them in Fayetteville last season, winning 38-10. Arkansas has quarterback Austin Allen and an experienced offensive line returning, while the defense will be making the switch to a 3-4 base under new coordinator Paul Rhoads. The Razorbacks get a breather before this game as they will host Coastal Carolina the week prior while LSU returns home after a two-game road swing against Ole Miss and Alabama.
4. Sept. 16 at Mississippi State
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen always has his Bulldogs ready to play the Tigers. Mullen also has dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to run his offense. Fitzgerald is a dangerous runner who could really take a step forward as a complete signal-caller if he can improve his completion percentage and production as a passer. MSU has a new defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham, the Bulldogs’ fourth in as many seasons. This is the SEC opener for both teams for the second straight season. Last year’s meeting was a 23-20 victory for LSU so don’t surprised if this one is just as close.
3. Oct. 7 at Florida
Florida is another payback game for LSU. The Tigers forced the Gators to play in Tiger Stadium last season following the initial postponement due to Hurricane Matthew; but the change of venue didn’t prevent Florida from stunning the hosts, winning 16-10. Now LSU must go into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with this game serving as the first of seven straight SEC contests.
The Gators are two-time defending SEC East champions, but head coach Jim McElwain has his work cut out for him this season. Just three starters return on defense and he once again will be breaking in a new quarterback. Florida also opens its season in Arlington, Texas, against Michigan and will have played Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt consecutively before hosting LSU.
2. Oct. 14 vs. Auburn
If one buys into the thought of payback, any LSU players from last year’s team may be extra motivated for this game considering it was former head coach Les Miles’ last one. Last September, Auburn benefitted from an expired game clock that erased a Danny Etling touchdown pass that cost the Tigers a win in Jordan-Hare Stadium and Miles his job. LSU has to tangle with Florida in the Swamp before coming home to face Auburn, while the other Tigers have a home game against Ole Miss prior to this one. The winner more than likely will be in the driver’s seat to challenge Alabama for the top spot in the SEC West.
1. Nov. 4 at Alabama
About the only nice thing LSU has going for it entering this must-see matchup is a bye before facing Athlon Sports’ preseason No. 1-ranked team. Alabama is still stinging from last season’s loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship Game and saw plenty of players depart for the NFL. But talent is never an issue when it comes to Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide teams. In fact, the biggest question mark entering this season is how the offense will do under new coordinator Brian Daboll, the former New England Patriots assistant who is returning to the college ranks after spending the last 16 years in the NFL.
Alabama’s defense should be nasty yet again, especially the secondary, despite the personnel losses. These two teams slugged it out in Tiger Stadium last season with Alabama claiming a 10-0 victory, its sixth straight against LSU. This game is one of the reasons why Orgeron gave Canada so much money. If the Tigers’ offense isn’t effective against the Crimson Tide, LSU’s new $1.5 million man will have some ‘splaining to do.
— 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. 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.