There’s this theory in football, particularly the college flavor, that is probably older than the Flying Wing, dating back to the old oaken water bucket with a non-sanitized dipper.
Maybe you’ve heard it before. It is accepted as gospel in many of your better-known huddles and even a few no-huddles.
Anyway, it goes something like this: A football team makes its biggest improvement of the season from the first game to the second game.
How this came to be is lost to history, sort of like whatever happened half-jerseys.
But just ask around. Everybody knows it’s true.
Oh, there is some fine print to the maxim, rarely noticed in public discourse, which adds the legal rejoinder ...
“... Except when they don’t.”
The science that this theory is based on is somewhat sketchy, founded as it was, mostly on coach-speak (optimistic jibberjabber), often in a desperate attempt to pump up an opponent’s perceived worth and avoid his bulletin board at all costs.
But it’s one-size-fits-all as coaches often use it to give hope to their own teams’ opening hog slop.
Sadly, the feds have never quite appropriated the funds for a detailed study of the dilemma, despite many of your finest research centers being directly involved, at least on fall weekends.
If they did — and it would no doubt take decades and cost billions and billions of dollars and maybe a few spare bitcoins — my guess is that the final analysis would be:
Sometimes they do, something they don’t.
And there’s no explaining the discrepancy.
Except that it needs further study and many more tax dollars.
Nobody wants to hear that, of course, so it would be covered up as effectively the Area 54 shenanigans and our bogus moon landing.
But the theory is entusiastically in play this week at LSU — or so the Tigers hope — after they deposited a season-opening egg and looked very little like the defending national champions in losing to Mississippi State 44-34.
Fortunately for the humbled Tigers, there is an alternate theory that has, in fact, been scientifically proven to be just about fool-proof over the years.
You want to see real, tangible improvement from Week 1 to Week 2?
Simple. You schedule Vanderbilt as your second opponent.
Boom. Problem solved. Season salvaged. Secondary covers. Offense delivers.
LSU may have gotten a defending champion’s solid from the SEC office, as it was part of the conference’s pandemic rescheduling.
It turns out there’s some fine print here, too, although it should be nothing to worry about.
Mississippi State, you may recall, was initially viewed as part of this season-opening gift basket, all the better for a defending champion to find its game legs after losing 424 starters to the NFL.
And we all know how that turned out.
Several skeptics, in fact, have noticed that in its own opener Vanderbilt did some decidedly un-Vanderbilt things and was in some real danger of upsetting Texas A&M, with the Commodores on the road with a freshman quarterback, before losing 17-12.
It was probably just a fluke, more Aggie joke (four turnovers) than serious SEC talking point.
But this really is the best the SEC can offer LSU, so it’s up to the Tigers to take advantage of it in Nashville Saturday night.
The Tigers have plenty to work on. Perhaps far too many problems surfaced in the opener to be tidied up in just one week.
But at least head coach Ed Orgeron has history on his side.
No, he doesn’t need a Cajun favorite-son discount to keep the fans at bay, even after such an ugly performance as last week. A national championship carries a little more weight than that.
Besides, if the past holds, he’ll get this figured out. It probably won’t be as simple as getting an All-American like Derek Stingley back for a defense that gave up 44 points and 623 miles of passing last week, most of it seemingly on third down.
But Coach O has shown he can be trusted with bounce backs.
Whenever things have looked darkest in his relatively short tenue, he’s gotten it fixed on the spot.
Damage Control — Dégâts Volonté in his Cajun French — might be his middle name.
In his 2016 interim audition tour, the Tigers had to get Vanderbilt-style creative to lose to Florida at home, seemingly ending all speculation of a permanent job.
The next week LSU destroyed Texas A&M 54-39 and the Tigers had themselves a full-time head coach.
Less than a year later there was some serious buyer’s remorse in Tiger Stadium as Troy upset LSU 24-21 in what didn’t look much like a fluke.
But the very next week LSU went to Florida and beat the Gators 17-16. It wasn’t the most artistic thing you ever saw and, to be honest, both teams were struggling at the time. But he got his team to gut one out in a hostile environment to turn the season around.
In 2018 it looked like Florida has exposed LSU 27-19, but, properlly written off, the following week Orgeron and the Tigers pulled off a shocker of a 36-16 upset over No. 2 Georgia.
Bottom line, Orgeron has never lost two consecutive games while with the Tigers — and this sure wouldn’t be a good time to start.