Scooter Hobbs column: Taking sides in these neutral-site openers
Published 8:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2022
Tonight — and yes, I mean a Sunday — makes it three weeks until LSU opens the season in the Superdome against Florida State.
This is a good thing, and not just because it means college football will be starting.
The best thing is that it’s a season opener at a neutral site against a name opponent with a pulse.
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These affairs to kick off the season are one of the great things to happen to college football.
I love them, which seems to be a minority opinion these days.
But pay no heed to college football’s rabble-rousers.
I have no idea why these “Kickoff Classics” have suddenly fallen out of favor. They seem fairly harmless.
But the playoff-centric riffraff has the games in their dastardly sights for some reason. What kink it puts in their master plan for a 64-team playoff, again, I also couldn’t tell you.
The very best thing to be added to college football in our lifetime came in 1992 when then-Southeastern Conference Commissioner Roy Kramer split his league into two divisions and unveiled a tough-ticket, must-see SEC Championship Game.
Most conferences eventually followed along, some begrudgingly. But now the critics are zeroing in on conference title games, too, probably under the guise that the time would be better spent on the opening round of mega playoffs.
Ignore them there, too.
But today we’ll just worry about these season openers.
No clue how they got a bad rap.
One tired argument is that college football was meant to be played on campus amidst all that ivy and history and traffic jams.
But for a while it seemed as if this was the simplest way to trick Power Five schools into playing real and competitive nonconference games without a court order.
All the better that it’s to open the season.
Yeah, I know, Florida State has fallen on hard times of late and LSU is still trying to pay off the competitive debt for its 2019 magic, but it’s two big-brand names, with lots of tradition, right out of the gate.
Wouldn’t you rather get a clearer picture of where the Brian Kelly era is headed than renting a walkover home win for the opener.
FSU did kind of pull a fast one when the Seminoles went out and scheduled a clandestine tune-up for the Saturday before — Week Zero, it’s called — against the mighty Duquesne Dukes. But that’s OK.
This game probably doesn’t happen these days if they had to work out the details of a home-and-home series.
This one, however, kind of is. New Orleans probably won’t be that neutral and the teams will open the season next in the “neutral” site of Orlando.
That’s kind of the way LSU and Wisconsin orchestrated it a few years back — one game in the Tigers- home-away-from-home in Houston, with the follow-up game in Green Bay.
How else would LSU fans ever get to watch the Tigers play in historic Lambeau Field? For that matter, Wisconsin had never played there either.
But usually these deals have the “feel” and “anticipation” of a big bowl game, complete with a holiday weekend but no worries of player opt-outs.
Perhaps the bowl atmosphere is another reason the playoff crowd despises them.
My guess is that they’ll eventually get their way.
After going to Orlando for next year, the Tigers will open 2024 against Southern Cal in — and won’t this be fun? — Las Vegas.
That will probably mark the end of neutral-site openers for the Tigers.
But it’s been great fun for the most part. And for the most part very good for LSU.
Beginning with a win over North Carolina in Atlanta in 2010, the Tigers are 6-1 in neutral-site openers, 5-0 when the opponent was ranked.
The lone loss was that Lambeau game, but at least you got warned up front that Les Miles’ stubbornness was probably going to get him fired before the season ended (it took only three more games).
Last year’s opening loss in the Rose Bowl had the neutral-site pregame feel, but that is UCLA’s home stadium and didn’t qualify.
More indicative was Joe Burrow’s coming out party against No. 8 Miami (in Dallas) in 2018 or the 2011 shellacking of No. 3 Oregon (Dallas again) that foretold that undefeated regular season.
Enjoy them while you can.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com