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Friday, October 24, 2014
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Gazzolo Column: Big weekend for football fans in Louisiana

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 10:36 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

It is said that you haven’t played anybody until you play somebody.

This week, three undefeated teams in the state finally get a chance to play somebody.

We will know a lot more about just how good McNeese State, LSU and the Saints really are come Tuesday morning.

All three will be tested by teams that have a combined total of one loss, that being Georgia, which may have started this year with the toughest schedule in all of college football.

Two of the three will be on the road.

LSU and McNeese both play away from home for the first time since the season opener, and both are playing teams ranked in the top 10 in their respective divisions.

As for the Saints, they play during prime time Monday night against the equally undefeated Dolphins.

Rarely will one find out so much about so many teams that have a local following in this short a period of time.

Only there is one difference, the game at Athens, Georgia holds the most importance because there is so much more on the line.

For that you can blame the big boys of college football, or give them credit depending on which way you think.

McNeese’s game at No. 5 in FCS Northern Iowa is a true test, one with national playoff implications. A win in Cedar Falls will be a giant confidence boost for the Cowboys and send a message they are back in the big picture. But it is not the end of the road.

A Saints win at home would also be a huge confidence boost and would give a shot in the arm to their hopes of returning to the postseason. But once again, a loss would not be the end to anything.

For LSU the stakes are much, much higher.

Unlike the other two teams, there are no playoffs at the end of the Tigers’ regular season. Because of that, a loss on the FBS level can be very harmful to the hopes of a national championship.

Right now the Tigers hold the No. 6 position in the AP Top 25 rankings. That is a pretty good spot for them. However, the only way you guarantee yourself a shot at playing for the crown is to win all your games.

Sure, they could lose to Georgia and run the table and get into the BCS game, but that would be counting on other people to help out.

It has worked out that way for Alabama in each of the last two years, and even once LSU made it despite losing twice. But you are counting on others to get you into the big game and that makes for more than a few anxious moments.

The pressure is on Georgia even more. At No. 9 in the polls the Bulldogs already have one loss and can’t even think of getting into the title game with another even if they won all the rest of their games and captured the SEC title. That is usually too big of a hole to dig out of.

It’s a lot easier on the tickers of those who follow LSU just to win them all and worry about who you play when you see the match.

And, with a road game at Alabama and still three other games set against teams currently in the Top 25, a loss Saturday would leave the Tigers with little wiggle room.

Meanwhile, even a loss at Northern Iowa doesn’t kill the Cowboys. They still have a Southland Conference title to play for and after that one of the 13 at-large spots in the NCAA playoffs that will be open.

For the Cowboys, this weekend is more about finding out just how far they have come, and just how far they still might have to go in order to once again become one of the elite teams in their division.

“These are the fun games you like to play in,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator.

He better hope his team embraces the opportunity. This game will resemble what it will be like to be in the playoffs, especially if McNeese is sent on the road.

The Cowboys’ 4-0 start has been a nice feel-good story, but if you want to be considered one of the best you have to beat the best. McNeese gets its chance.

As for the Saints, the world is much simpler. A return to the playoffs in the NFL means either winning your division or making it as a wild card.

With three wins already under their belts, including two within their own division, the Saints have a two-game lead in the NFC South. Also, 75 percent of the teams that start 3-0 make the postseason. The number goes even higher at 4-0.

Usually 10 wins earns you at least a wild card. That means even a loss on Monday and the Saints are still in good shape. They could go 7-5 down the stretch and make it.

So this weekend’s games is more about positioning and finding out just where these teams stand.

One thing is for sure, you won’t be able to say they about any of these teams that they haven’t played anybody after this week.

• • •

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

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