By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With its 12-10 win at Auburn last Saturday, LSU moves to 4-0 for the fourth consecutive season entering this weekend’s game against Towson. The defending Southeastern Conference Champions and national runners-up are ranked third in the nation.
The Tigers, ranked No. 2 last week before Oregon surpassed them in the polls with a 49-0 win against No. 22 Arizona, despite all of their accolades this season could be considered one of the most underrated top-three teams in a long time.
LSU sits among the nation’s top-10 for the 22nd consecutive week and has outscored its opponents this season 157-41 (+116). Opponents are scoring just 10.2 points per game against the Tigers. No opponent this season has rushed for 100 yards against LSU and no team has accumulated more than 219 yards of total offense against the Tiger defense.
There are a number of on-the-surface reasons that LSU’s performance this season might not make all fans consider them a national championship contender. But the numbers tell a different story. The numbers say that LSU may be poised for another BCS run.
Myth #1: LSU’s Resume Isn’t Impressive
The Tigers don’t have the high profile schedule they did last season, it’s true. The fact that LSU opened with a resounding win against Oregon in Dallas a year ago put the Tigers in the national championship conversation when it was probably too early to know for sure.
This season, Alabama had that same opportunity when it played Michigan, a team that has fallen to both of its ranked opponents this year, and that statement victory earned Alabama considerable praise early in the season. It’s not to say that Alabama isn’t completely deserving of that recognition, especially after dominating wins in its next three games, including a shutout of Arkansas. But to judge an entire body of work after just one neutral-site game isn’t fair either.
True, LSU played each of its first three games at home this season for the first time since 1999, but sandwiched among those first three contests was an impressive 41-3 win against a 2011 bowl team in Washington. In that game, the Tigers racked up 437 yards of total offense.
Looking at opponents North Texas, Idaho and Towson, it is easy to classify those opponents in the same category as last season’s meetings with Northwestern State and Western Kentucky. In fact, a year ago, the Tigers broke from conference play following a dramatic 9-6 overtime win against Alabama to play Sun Belt Conference member Western Kentucky at home.
Following this Saturday’s match-up with Towson, LSU will have nothing but conference games remaining on its schedule. If LSU is able to make its way through league play unscathed this season, it will be even more impressive considering the Tigers must play an SEC opponent the rest of the way.
Myth #2: LSU’s Win Against Auburn Wasn’t A Quality Win
No SEC game is easy, especially on the road. Though the LSU trailed at halftime and won by just two points, 12-10, don’t discount what it was able to do by winning at Auburn.
Sure, Auburn has some work to do to elevate its play to the level it would like, but it’s clear that AU is getting better each week. Think about the team’s two losses – to a Clemson squad hung tough with a top-five Florida State team this past weekend and to a Mississippi State team that is 4-0 for the first time since 1999 and begins its season with four consecutive victories for just the second time since 1965.
But remove Auburn from the equation for a minute. Just how hard is it to win on the road in the SEC?
Last weekend, LSU was the only team that was able to do it. A very good Vanderbilt team was soundly defeated at Georgia and a traditionally strong Missouri team lost by 21 points at South Carolina. In fact, the Tigers are one of only five SEC teams this season to win a conference contest on the road, joining Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Four of those five squads are ranked among the nation’s top-six teams.
Entering the game on Saturday, perhaps LSU was favored to win against Auburn, considering the squad’s records, statistics and personnel. When you consider that victory on Saturday was just LSU’s second in Auburn since 2000, it becomes that much more impressive. It was just the fourth home loss in the Gene Chizik era.
Additionally, it marked just the second time in the last 14 meetings between the two schools that the visiting team has escaped with a win. In the most recent national championship seasons of the two schools, those games in the series were decided by fewer than 10 points.
Those facts along make LSU’s win at Auburn notable, but couple that with 28 players (15 true freshmen and 13 others) who have seen SEC action for the first time in their careers, and it’s all the more impressive.
Myth #3: LSU Won’t Be Able To Make Up For Loss Of Mathieu, Others
If you listened to some of the public worry, you would have thought LSU’s entire season was written off by the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu. Couple that with the loss of several other key personnel, including Michael Brockers and Morris Claiborne, following the 2011 campaign and there were very few people giving LSU a legitimate chance.
Looking at it on the surface, some may still feel that LSU hasn’t turned in championship numbers this season. Delving deeper into the statistics shows the opposite.
Below is a comparison of last year and this year for the Tigers, through four games:
Scoring (2011): 155
Scoring (2012): 157
Scoring Defense (2011): 57
Scoring Defense (2012): 41
Total Offense (2011): 1,400
Total Offense (2012): 1,768
Rushing Yardage (2011): 684
Rushing Yardage (2012): 990
Passing Yardage (2011): 716
Passing Yardage (2012): 778
Third-Down Conversion (2011): 48%
Third-Down Conversion (2012): 44%
Consider also these facts about the 2012 LSU Tigers:
• LSU ranks in the top-10 nationally in five defensive categories: rush defense (No. 3), total defense (No. 4), scoring defense (No. 8), pass defense (No. 8) and pass efficiency defense (No. 8).
• The Tigers have allowed just five touchdowns this season.
• LSU has the top rush defense in the SEC and the second-best total defense in the league this season.
• The Tigers rank second in the SEC this season in rushing at 247.5 yards per game.
The Verdict: Will LSU continue on to achieve the level of success that it did last season? That will be played out over the team’s next eight regular-season games. But, as it stands through the first four games of the season, the Tigers have certainly earned the respect that goes with being the No. 3 team in the nation. Sometimes it takes a deeper look into the numbers to understand what a team has really accomplished.