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Gators wide receiver Andre Debose celebrates with teammates before a game between Florida and Tennessee on Sept. 15 in Knoxville, Tenn. (Associated Press)

Gators wide receiver Andre Debose celebrates with teammates before a game between Florida and Tennessee on Sept. 15 in Knoxville, Tenn. (Associated Press)

Gazzolo: Tigers have plenty of lingering questions

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 10:11 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Pretenders, contenders or simply just a bunch of talented defenders?

That is the question which currently is being asked about this LSU football team.

Usually one of the nation’s media darlings, the Tigers have been out of the spotlight somewhat this year. Highly ranked, LSU has flown under the radar thanks to an unusually lackluster early schedule.

That is about to change.

A giant spotlight will start to be focused on No. 4 LSU starting this weekend against Florida.

We have no idea if the bright light will expose weaknesses or illuminate greatness. There is no real evidence pointing either way.

Five fairly uninteresting games have produced more questions than answers.

That’s what happens when you play the likes of North Texas, Idaho and Towson. Hard to look good against that level of competition.

While the Washington win does appear better after the Huskies toppled Stanford, it still doesn’t register as a great victory. As for the Auburn game, hardly impressive.

No matter how bad you beat up on those types, you can’t please everybody, and lots of times anybody. That’s why the Tigers are a perfect 5-0 and down a few spots in the polls.

None of that matters. LSU’s season will be decided — for the most part — by what takes place over the next five Saturdays.

Between now and Nov. 3 the Tigers will be tested. If LSU survives that gauntlet, then the road to yet another national championship game will be wide open.

But that is a very big if.

Florida will be followed by South Carolina, two teams currently ranked in the top 10. Then there is a trip to Texas A&M — all before a week off and then hopefully still a showdown with Alabama.

Of course, the game against Bama only matters if LSU can win all those beforehand. One slip up and the showdown won’t have the same ring to it.

While players can’t look ahead, that is all fans do. Many have already penciled in a trio of victories before the Tide hit Baton Rouge.

That despite the fact there are still many questions to be answered about this Tigers team.

It may be hard to believe, but this team could use any struggles during the opening five games as a needed walk-up call and come out firing, thumping its way to Alabama.

Or, it could just as easily prove that those turnovers, penalties and mental lapses that have everybody so concerned are what this team is really about. That could lead to two losses before the Tide enter Tiger Stadium, which would mean no BCS bowl game let alone a title tilt.

A lot of that would mean you buy into the fact that the SEC East has gotten much stronger. A look at South Carolina and Florida’s nonconference games to date aren’t much more impressive than LSU’s. So we don’t really know about them either.

Truth is, history will judge these Tigers not on the carnage they left in their wake, but what damage they can or cannot do in the future.How the Tigers do at Florida on Saturday is anybody’s guess. Nothing on their résumé shows they will run over the Gators, or that the Gators will run over them.

What we do know is this: the toughest part of the LSU schedule is about to whack the Tigers right in the mouth.

The only thing we can say for sure about LSU is the Tigers have put themselves in the perfect position to decide their own fate. You can’t really ask for anything more.

Now it is up to them to answer all the other lingering questions.

•••

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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