All eyes were on the state of Alabama, as No. 1 Alabama faced No. 4 Auburn in regular season finale. The Tigers blocked a 44-yard field goal with less than three minutes remaining to even the game, 28-28. With one second left in the Iron Bowl and the regular season, ’Bama kicker Adam Griffith set for a game-winning kick from 57 yards out.
The kick hooked slightly, seemingly on the path to eek inside the posts. But it instead fell into Chris Davis’ hands, and the Auburn cornerback dodged and weaved for a 107-yard touchdown return to send Auburn to the SEC championship game, then the national title game.
It could’ve been Louisiana State, though.
LSU handed Auburn their lone regular season loss last year in a 35-21 win, and road into Tuscaloosa, Ala., only to fall to the Crimson Tide thanks partly to a pair of early fumbles. The Tigers dropped from No. 10 to 18 and couldn’t climb back so late in 2013. It was a microcosm of the season for LSU, whose other two losses—each by three-point margins—came in the final two minutes. But No. 13 LSU has built a contender to the throne, and they’re ready to undo last season’s wrongs.
Quarterback controversies are so in right now in the SEC, meaning a shutdown cornerback could be the difference in the SEC West Division matchups this season. LSU has two budding ones. Cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White—members of LSU’s No. 7 recruiting class in 2013—join a playmaking defense that features four sophomores. Both Robinson and White forced their way into the starting lineup last season and wouldn’t relinquish the roles. The program has consistently found stud defensive backs, like Patrick Peterson and LaRon Landry, and Robinson and White appear to be next in that legacy.
Much of LSU’s success, though, will come from the greatly hyped Leonard Fournette, a five-star, true freshman running back from New Orleans who highlighted LSU’s No. 2 overall recruiting class. His college mixtape looks like a trailer for the latest installment of Madden, as he glides effortlessly to the right side, spots a converging gang of defenders, and cuts completely across the field for a clear touchdown. And he makes it look effortless. He’s even been in the Heisman conversation despite not yet taking a collegiate snap.
Even though expectations are high for Fournette, the pressure is not. He joins senior back Terrence Magee, who averaged 7.3 yards on 83 carries behind starter Jeremy Hill. An offensive line that returns four of their five starters from 2013 will protect Fournette and Magee.
Head coach Les Miles says they’re looking forward to the challenge to kick off 2014.
“We had a purpose in this summer,” he said in a press conference Monday. “We recognized that we were taking on a very, very quality opponent and we prepared this summer hard, came in in shape and I think it carried over in the football end of it. So the goal is to get better in each practice. I thought they did that. I like our team. I like our leadership.”