As we arrive at the season’s midway point, the SEC still has three undefeated teams and others who still harbor division title and College Football Playoff hopes.
This week we’ll examine the playoff chances of the SEC’s leading contenders, continuing today with LSU:
Current record: 5-0, 3-0 in SEC
Remaining schedule: 10/17 vs. Florida; 10/24 vs. Western Kentucky; 11/7 at Alabama; 11/14 vs. Arkansas; 11/21 at Ole Miss; 11/28 vs. Texas A&M
Rankings: No. 6 (AP), No. 7 (ESPN Football Power Index)
Toughest obstacle: Nobody would want LSU’s November schedule. The Tigers have road games against Alabama and Ole Miss -- arguably two of the top three teams in the rough-and-tumble SEC West -- and will host Arkansas and Texas A&M. They’ll do that with no breaks in between to heal from the physical toll that grueling closing stretch will surely exact. That’s why the FPI lists LSU’s remaining schedule as the nation’s most difficult and gives the Tigers just a 1.2 percent chance of winning out.
Upset alert: Based on FPI projections, it might be LSU that is looking to pull off key upsets down the stretch. The FPI gives the Tigers a 63.5 percent chance to win Saturday’s top-10 matchup with Florida, but LSU is the underdog against both Alabama (33.1 percent chance to win) and Ole Miss (32 percent). The Texas A&M game (56.3 percent) also looks like a tossup at this point.
Question to be answered: Are the Tigers for real? LSU has mostly played inferior competition to date, jumping out to big early leads behind Leonard Fournette's unbelievable running and then attempting to coast to the finish line. They haven’t put together many complete games, although last Saturday’s more balanced effort against South Carolina -- with Fournette watching from the sideline for most of the second half -- was a sign that every game doesn’t have to be the Leonard Fournette Show. LSU might need more of that down the stretch against a host of dangerous opponents.
X-factor: Brandon Harris and the passing game could be the determining factor against defenses like Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss that are capable of making LSU put the ball in the air. Fournette probably won’t have many games where he finishes with fewer than 100 rushing yards, but there will be times where the Tigers have to pass. They haven’t needed the aerial attack much so far -- and their receivers have dropped too many passes when given opportunities -- but LSU has the talent on hand to get key completions when required. If Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and the other receivers can complement Fournette’s running with consistent pass catching, LSU’s offense will be difficult to stop.