Setting the stage: LSU's postseason hopes remain alive
BATON ROUGE, La. — Playing the “what if” game can be dangerous.
For LSU coaches and players, the elect to avoid potential dominos falling by the wayside or looking past a quietly dangerous Arkansas team ready to take the field after a bye week. However, a postseason berth remains within the team’s grasp based on, well, the natural chaos associated with college football.
Let’s dive in.
The Tigers fell to No. 7 in the second installment of the College Football Playoff rankings this week. Alabama and Clemson have a stranglehold on the top two seeds with perfect records and what is likely a clear path to hosting semifinal games. The path is obviously more difficult for the teams middling between Nos. 3 and 6.
Notre Dame, which also sports a 9-0 mark, will be without starting quarterback Ian Book for this week’s tilt with Florida State. Book’s status beyond Week 10 remains unclear.
Michigan, which replaced LSU in the top four of the College Football Playoff poll, is favored in each of its next two Big Ten contests at Rutgers and home against Indiana. However, a primetime affair with arch-rival Ohio State is looming. That is slated to be a top-10 showdown on Nov. 24 and, without question, a game that carries the weight of a postseason appearance in the balance.
On the outside looking in, No. 5 Georgia has one blemish on its record — a road loss in Tiger Stadium. The Bulldogs rebounded with wins over Florida and Kentucky to capture the SEC East crown, which also sets the stage for a rematch with top-ranked Alabama in the conference championship game. Should the Tide get the best of Georgia, a second loss might remove the team from playoff contention.
There’s also Oklahoma, ranked No. 6, who will play host to Oklahoma State in a rivalry showdown in Norman this weekend. The Sooners will close the regular season out with a top-10 showdown against No. 9 West Virginia, which by all accounts, will determine whether the Big 12 will be represented or not in the College Football Playoff.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are forced to remain patient and handle their own business. A second loss on the season dropped LSU from a playoff spot, but not out of contention. If certain pieces fall into place, a team predicted to teeter on .500 in the pre-season could continue playing meaningful games in December or even on New Year’s Day.
There’s no way to control the unpredictable nature atop the College Football Playoff rankings. However, whether LSU can sneak back into the top four or make reservations for a bowl game on Jan. 1 is still plenty enough motivation to maintain focus over the final three legs of the regular season.
“If we win the next three games, we’re going to be 10-2, and if we had told you we’d be 10-2 before the season you’d think we’d be crazy going into the Miami game,” quarterback Joe Burrow said. “We still have a very successful season ahead of us, and that’s what we’ll be playing for. (A bowl game) sits in the back of our minds, but if you focus on that you’ll lose track of the day-to-day. You can’t do that or you won’t get better. If you don’t get better, you’re going to lose a game, and you can’t do that.”
One more loss for LSU would likely mark the unofficial end to the season. The same goes for at least three teams currently standing ahead of the Tigers in the playoff standings.
The idea of losing again in 2018 is deemed foreign to the players.
Devin White, who saw one half of action in the loss to Alabama, is eyeing a bigger stage for what could be his final game in an LSU uniform. The junior linebacker and projected first-round draft pick has played in the Citrus Bowl each of the past two seasons and harped on the fact he has yet to win a championship. Those hopes remain alive, as do LSU’s chances of reaching a higher platform come January.
“We’re not about to go on a losing streak,” White announced confidently. “We’re about to win the rest of the games, do whatever we have to do in practice, whatever the coaches want us to do to be great. We’re in a position to win every one of these games to finish the season out strong. I got championship on my mind. That’s all I want to play for. I’ve done everything in my career as far as individual stats, but I’ve never been a championship on no level.
“I want to be a champion and I want to continue working for that. Finishing the year off could lead to something big in the future for me. I just want to be a champion. That’s what I think we need to work toward.”