Scooter Hobbs column: 10’s no longer perfect

Published 9:00 am Friday, November 10, 2023

Last week, in the midst of LSU’s pre-Alabama run-up, there was a bit of a misconception being floated about.

It was widely promoted, you see, that the game would be for the West Division title of the Southeastern Conference. Oh, sometimes this breathless pronouncement came with the disclaimer, from the LSU camp at least, that it would also require Georgia beating Ole Miss this week, which didn’t seem like too much to ask.

But that was only the half of it.

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Scantly mentioned, but there would still be two conference games remaining, two very iffy games, that would need to be attended to. Florida and Texas A&M, those would have been the next part of the disclaimer if you were plotting a path to the SEC Championship game. Georgia State would be in there between somewhere, looming as a good way to stain your program and put head coach Brian Kelly on the hot seat, but with no real effect on the SEC standings.

The lure of the SEC West and a trip to Atlanta, let alone the cockamamie notion that the Tigers might sneak into the College Football Playoff, disappeared into thin air with the loss, which was due to — big surprise — another defensive meltdown.

So say good night to all that.

The two iffy remaining conference games didn’t go anywhere. LSU will play them. It’s two conference teams that would both qualify as heated rivals, but in today’s game with rosters stocked with so much NCAA transfer portal fodder, you wonder how many of the transplants did enough LSU history homework to get really get mad at Gators and Aggies.

Anyway, it’s at this stage of the season when coaching is the toughest. It’s along about now that you have start inventing incentives, real or imagined.

LSU is in the first week of adjusted goals and hopeful incentives. Fortunately the Tigers had already blown past the playing-for-bowl-eligibility carrot on a stick (a reward half of them might opt out of anyway) before the big dreams were dashed last week.

It can get far worse. There are stages of Adjusted Incentive Index. You’ll know a program is free-falling toward rock bottom when suddenly players and coaches alike mention the pride word — as in, “We’re playing for pride now.”

It works so seldom that it doesn’t even sound good to say it anymore, even in defiance.

Never mind all the different stages. It varies by a school’s expectations.

Best I could tell, according to Kelly, the LSU A-I-I is at the point where the Tigers still have a chance at a 10-win season (by winning out) for a second consecutive year.

What is it? “Let’s Win 10.” It doesn’t have quite the emotional appeal as “Bring on Bama,” but it will have to do now.

“We won 10 games last year,” Kelly said. “You need to win 10 again and that’s in front of you if you want to be elite. If you want to be elite you have to be consistent. If you want to start closing the gap toward being elite, then back-to-back 10-win seasons starts to do that.”

Evidently you can’t be “elite” with three losses weighing you down.

It’s kind of been the catch word around the program since Kelly’s postgame news conference Saturday night.

He seems to think right now, in the program’s current state of development, LSU is obviously good and bordering on great.

But “I didn’t come to LSU to be good,” he explained. “I came here to be elite and the players who signed scholarship papers do it because they want to be elite too.

“I know our fan base doesn’t want ‘good.’ That’s not the case. It’s about being elite.

“So these are weeks where you’re talking about why are you here. We’re here on this chase to be elite.”

There have been obvious bumps in the road, even when you consider that all three losses were away from home against top-10 teams.

Kelly again: “People can say, ‘Well, that’s good, that’s good. You lost to the teams you’re supposed to, beat the teams you’re supposed to.’ We’re not here for that. To get to elite it really is hard and these guys are working toward that.”

This season has been one of the strangest LSU has ever seen.

The Tigers might well have the best offense in college football. The defense isn’t the worst in the country, but it’s probably the worst LSU has ever housed on its own campus.

You can argue the definitions for the program, but the gap between an elite offense and a helpless defense has never been wider.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at