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Hobbs: North Texas just doesn’t do it as a high-profile opener for LSU

Last Modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 9:48 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Never mind the nagging, uncanny knack North Texas as an LSU opponent has for attracting hurricanes to our fair state, although three consecutive times can no longer be written off as mere coincidence.

Here’s the real reason LSU shouldn’t be scheduling a North Texas, homecoming-quality game for the season opener:

You just might have a hurricane that week.

But it could be most anything.

You might lose a Heisman Trophy finalist during the build-up.

Or Shady’s Bar might prove too tempting for a mass team curfew break and the finger-pointing aftermath might threaten to split apart team unity and chemistry.

You might have to skip a Wednesday practice.

Your campus could become the world’s largest triage center.

These are all what’s known in the coaching trade as inevitable distractions. They can derail the best of team intentions, although Les Miles certainly handles them about as adeptly as any coach out there.

Take last year.

The Tigers looked to be in total disarray for most of August, with their quarterback, Jordan Jefferson — the subject of a “new and improved” promotional campaign most of the summer —  arrested and suspended following the Shady’s parking lot fiasco. The rest of the team spent a good portion of the month running extra gassers for their sins, which couldn’t have pleased the innocent lads among them.

There was a lot of hand-wringing that it would be a setback that a really talented team wouldn’t be able to handle.

Then they promptly went and flat-out destroyed No. 3-ranked Oregon in the season’s most anticipated nonconference game at Jerry Jones’ shiny Cowboys Stadium.

Instead of exposing any telltale signs of distraction for the Tigers, it set the tone for the best regular season in school history.

Of course, that was Oregon, a highly touted brand name that had every Tiger’s full attention.

They didn’t have the luxury of being distracted or feeling sorry for themselves.

Whatever mayhem was swirling around them last August, there was always the threat of Oregon looming at the end of it.

With a team like Oregon, if they didn’t focus on the matter at hand, they knew they stood a very real chance of going to Jerry’s World and getting their butts’ embarrassed on national television.

It tends to keep your attention razor-sharp.

That’s the beauty of scheduling a showcase game for the season opener.

Even without the more visible outside distractions, August tends to be long and hot for college varsities.

It’s one thing, as in 2010, for instance, when it was a ballyhooed North Carolina team LSU was gearing up to play in Atlanta.

But do you think when the heat and humidity seemed too unbearable for one more wind sprint this summer, the Tigers could rally around the reminder that “Hey, it’s hot in North Texas, too!”?

Just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Getting geared up for a North Texas season opener is almost uncharted waters.

Going back another year, 2009, Washington wasn’t advertised as a particularly great team, but it was a brand name and, more importantly, a different sort of road trip to Seattle that had many LSU fans buzzing all summer.

There’s a place for games like this, although don’t get me started about Towson.

But not for the season opener.

Not to make fun here of North Texas, which certainly won’t be the worst team the Tigers play this year. The Mean Green would fit snugly, with no apologies, anywhere else on the schedule.

A “warm-up” game, so to speak, used to be standard operating procedure for schools like LSU.

But one of the more refreshing trends in college football recently has been the television-generated move to provide enticing matchups over the long Labor Day weekend while the NFL is concluding its exhibition silliness.

LSU has surely benefited from it. Even in 2006, when handed a mismatch with Appalachian State, you had the ESPN-suggested oddity of the defending Division I-A and I-AA champions opening the season. And, of course, Appalachian was the curiosity piece that upset Michigan in its season opener the previous year.

High-profile openers (must-see TV) have helped put — and keep — LSU on college football’s A-list.

You also play those kind of games for the same reason Miles doesn’t mind a little ham-acting for national promotional commercials. It doesn’t hurt recruiting a bit.

Give the Tigers credit for being at the forefront of that trend lately. Maybe they spoiled you.

But North Texas just doesn’t do it — particularly, in this case, with LSU fans wanting to put the stink of the national championship game out of their minds.

LSU fans will show up, of course, but when there’s no real drama anticipated in the outcome, they tend to show up more like movie reviewers than football fans. They dissect this and over analyze that and, in this case, will probably wonder more about how Alabama-Michigan is doing than the affair in front of them.

With or without a hurricane.

•••

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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