No. 6 LSU (finally) set to kick off title defense

Sports

LSU’s defense of its CFP Championship begins after a three-week delay.

The Mike Leach era at Mississippi State begins after a similar game-day void.

The SEC season is finally ready to kick off after COVID-19 changes to the schedule and the No. 6 Tigers host the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge, La., in the marquee game of the first weekend.

LSU sent 14 players, including Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and overall No. 1 pick Joe Burrow, to the NFL off of last season’s 15-0 team. Reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase and standout defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin opted out of the season last month to focus on next year’s NFL Draft.

So the expectation is that the talented, but young and rebuilding Tigers will be unable to approach last year’s success. Their lofty preseason ranking has to be viewed in the context of Big Ten and Pac-12 teams not being included as well as the fact that three of the teams ahead of them are SEC rivals Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

“I kind of love it,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said of the relatively modest expectations. “I call it internal fuel. I digest it. It makes me want to work harder.”

Fourth-year junior Myles Brennan will make his first career start Saturday as the successor to Burrow, now the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I’ve always believed in Myles Brennan,” Orgeron said. “The only thing that we don’t know — and I do believe that he’s going to do very well — is how he’s going to do in the fire, and the only way to know that is put him in the fire.”

Leach arrives after successful tenures at Texas Tech and most recently Washington State. He replaced Joe Moorhead, who was fired after two seasons.

Another key newcomer is former Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello, a graduate transfer. Leach’s teams have perennially featured one of the most productive passing offenses in the country.

“He really gives the keys to the quarterback in this system,” Costello said of Leach, “which has been something I’m really impressed with and I know comes with a lot of responsibility.

“If you know what you’re doing and make quick decisions in this system, you’re going to be successful pretty fast.”

It remains to be seen how quickly Leach will be successful with the Bulldogs, but his arrival was one of the biggest headlines in the SEC during the offseason.

“I would say we are a work in progress,” Leach said. “The biggest thing is that we’ve got some explosiveness but we want to have some consistency.

“We’re very, very excited that we get to play, we’re thrilled that we get to be with our guys and go out there and practice, and then we’re really excited about the game coming up.”

COVID-19 restrictions included the elimination of SEC nonconference schedules and an expansion of the league schedule.

“For 10 straight SEC teams with no nonconference,” Leach said, “that’s going to be the toughest schedule that’s ever been played in college football.”

Tiger Stadium will feature about 25,000 fans as attendance is limited to one-quarter of capacity as a COVID-19 precaution.

–Field Level Media

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