I just noticed on NOLA.com that the official 2011 SEC football schedule has been released. I've thought about the fact that LSU will face both teams from the 2010 BCS national championship and I knew that playing in the SEC automatically meant that LSU would face top competitors. What I did not realize until I looked through all of the SEC schedules is that LSU will face the toughest schedule in the SEC in 2011.
Ole Miss and LSU are the only two teams in the SEC that will face 5 opponents that finished ranked in both the AP and USA Today Top 25 in 2010 and 9 teams that competed in bowl games at the end of 2010. Florida will face 5 teams that finished in the Top 25 last season but only 8 teams that competed in bowls last season, one shy of a three-way tied for toughest schedule. South Carolina will face 10 teams that made it to a bowl at the end of 2010 but only 3 teams that finished in the Top 25.
Naturally, playing in the SEC means that you will face quality opponent. Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi State who all tied for weakest schedule, when looking at 2011 opponents that made it to a bowl game, will still face no fewer than 7 teams that participated in a bowl last season. When you look at both Top 25 opponents and bowl opponents combined, Kentucky with 3 Top 25 and 7 bowl opponents narrowly edges out Alabama (with 4 Top 25 and 7 bowl opponents) for weakest SEC football schedule in 2011.
Here is LSU's official 2011 Schedule:
*- SEC conference games
Sept. 3 vs. Oregon (at Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 10 NORTHWESTERN STATE
Sept. 15 *at Mississippi State
Sept. 24 at West Virginia
Oct. 1 *KENTUCKY
Oct. 8 *FLORIDA
Oct. 15 *at Tennessee
Oct. 22 *AUBURN
Nov. 5 *at Alabama
Nov. 12 WESTERN KENTUCKY
Nov. 19 *at Ole Miss
Nov. 25 *ARKANSAS
The Oregon opener should be a real test for LSU. Oregon plays a super hurry up offense that banks on catching defenses out of position. While I am not going to rehash the BCS National Championship game, I do recall that Tennessee played Oregon to a tie in the first half of their 2010 game. Oregon managed some huge runs in the second half that blew the game wide open. So, we can expect Oregon to be well coached, quick to snap the ball and conditioned well enough to slug it out late into the second half.
Northwestern State should not present a major challenge to LSU. But, if LSU beats Oregon, there could be a mental let down that often accompanies a big game for the Tigers causing LSU to not bring their "A" game. Additionally, Oregon should be physical and we will have to see if the Tigers come dinged to the NSU game. In the final analysis, I think Northwestern and Western Kentucky, later in the schedule, should be relatively easy tune up games for the Bayou Bengals.
Next on the 2011 schedule is Mississippi State. Mississippi State has become a force to reckon with since Dan Mullen took over as head coach for the Bulldogs. This is a Thursday night match-up between LSU and MSU at Mississippi State. The last time LSU visited Mississippi State on an early season Thursday night game, LSU destroyed the Bulldogs. It seemed like every time I got up from the couch LSU was intercepting the ball in that game. However, the last time LSU played at Mississippi State, two seasons ago, LSU barely squeaked by with a win thanks to some superman-like heroics from Chad Jones and a cool early interception for a touchdown by Patrick Peterson. All-in-all I feel good about a big cat victory in this one but, expect this to be a "cat-and-dog" classic struggle.
Next, facing West Virginia at West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee at Tennessee, and Auburn in consecutive weeks beginning September 24th and ending almost a month later on October 22 will be running the gauntlet for the Bayou Bengals. Make no mistake, every single one of these games will be tough for the Tigers. After that string of games LSU will need a week off to recoup and heal before traveling to face Alabama November 5th. Alabama will also have taken the same week off before facing LSU. This LSU/Alabama game will be a huge game again in 2011.
Facing Western Kentucky should give LSU a breather after what should shape up to be another epic battle between LSU and Alabama. And then LSU will travel to Ole Miss and finish the regular season at home against Arkansas in a battle for the boot. Both Ole Miss and Arkansas have proven to be really tough final hurdles for the Tigers in seasons past, particularly Arkansas.
If LSU makes it through this schedule with only a loss or two and still ends up somehow as the victor in the SEC championship, the Tigers will be face-to-face with an opportunity to win another BCS National Championship. My first prediction of 2011 is that LSU will win at least 10 games. But, the season hasn't even started yet and I remind you that LSU has the toughest schedule in the toughest conference in the country.