Last Modified: Monday, August 12, 2013 10:18 AM
The most encouraging news coming out of LSU this week had nothing to do with Jeremy Hill or even that famed “Big Cat” macho beast-against-beast drill that has become a salivating moment for football-starved fans.
It really has nothing to do with this year.
But LSU Associate Athletic Director Verge Ausberry confirmed that sometime soon all the loose ends will be tied up on a contract for the Tigers to open next season in Houston’s Reliant Stadium against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Maybe even better, the same two teams will play again to open 2016 in famed Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers.
How cool is that?
In that swap of neutral fields, perhaps Wisconsin comes out a little better, although we may presume the iconic tundra should not yet be frozen in the first week of September.
Houston has always been a friendly LSU outpost, and it also doesn’t hurt the Tigers to increase their visibility there now that Texas A&M is recruiting to the same conference.
But the best thing is that it insures LSU won’t find a powder puff it can pay off to go take a beating to open the season in Baton Rouge.
These neutral-site season openers are all the rage these days, one of the really encouraging developments for college football in recent years.
Those home-and-home series between two big-time nonconference schools — when they aren’t traditional rivals — seem to be edging closer and closer to extinction. Schools use the excuse of the bottom line, not being able to give up a cash-cow home game.
These games work around that, a little like bowl games, which they kind of are. When you factor in the TV contracts, the payoff is comparable to a home game without the overhead of opening up your stadium and paying the light bill.
What was more fun for LSU, opening the 2011 season in Arlington, Texas, against Oregon or staying home last year to fret about North Texas coming to Tiger Stadium?
If (probably when) the SEC goes to a nine-game conference schedule, it will be even tougher to get good nonconference games worth watching, particularly in years when an LSU only has four home conference games.
In fact, head coach Les Miles has said a nine-game conference schedule might not give his team the luxury of a neutral-site game.
He needs to reconsider.
These games are good for college football. They are even better for the dog days of summer.
Miles, of all people, knows this.
Maybe Miles’ best coaching job was the tumultuous August leading up that much-anticipated 2011 season opener against Oregon in the Jerry World. Most of the summer “lists” had the game rated as the best nonconference matchup of the entire season.
A few weeks before the game came the famous Shady’s Bar curfew break that got quarterback Jordan Jefferson suspended. With the whole team subsequently punished for the actions of a few, it had the potential to split the team apart.
Instead, the Tigers came out and put a major beatdown on the flashy Ducks, and used that victory as a springboard to the best regular season in school history, 13-0.
It was an August filled with nothing but distractions, but Miles and the Tigers stayed focused on the task and got through it.
If not for the threat of Oregon on the near horizon — say LSU had been opening the season against North Texas, like last year — the Tigers might well have just busted free and broke curfew the next night too.
But they couldn’t afford to. Maybe it was fear. If Oregon didn’t have their undivided attention, if the Tigers had let the distractions deter them, they might well have gotten themselves embarrassed in that game.
It certainly made Miles’ job a little easier.
Open the season against a pushover and you can expect a sloppy victory, with plenty of excuses afterward, along with the obligatory checklist of things to get cleaned up before the real games start.
Funny how teams faced with the urgency of a high-profile season opener tend to somehow work themselves into midseason form for it. And, even if you lose, there’s still plenty of time to make amends.
LSU has another one this year in Arlington, although it’s not drawing quite the national interest as the Oregon affair two years ago.
TCU is probably a better team than it is a sexy name in college football.
But it’s a big game in a science-fiction stadium.
What’s not to like?
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org