With the win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, LSU’s Ed Orgeron has reached the highest point in his head coaching career. He has led LSU to the precipice of an SEC Western Division title, only two more victories away. He and his team find themselves in the rarified air of the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings. However, he must return to the site which marked the nadir of his coaching career.
The Painful First Attempt as Head Coach
LSU’s Ed Orgeron will lead the Tigers into Oxford, Mississippi this week. Ole Miss gave him his first shot at directing a team after a successful stint at Miami (1988-1992) and two at Southern California (1998-2004 and 2010-2013) as an assistant coach. Although Coach O had coached for twenty years at seven different college programs, he had no prior experience as head coach. Nevertheless, his multiple rings for two national championships at Miami along with three Pacific Twelve Conference championship rings and one for an Associated Press national championship lent credence to his worthiness for the opportunity.
Orgeron spent three years (2005-2007) as the head coach of the University of Mississippi. His teams never won more than two Southeastern Conference games in any season. In fact, they only won three SEC contests in total during those years. The Rebels never experienced a winning season under his direction, finishing 3-8, 4-8 and 3-9. He never had a chance to fill out the starting line-ups with his two classes of highly-rated recruits. Ole Miss fired him at the end of the 2007 season.
His Current Situation at LSU
LSU’s offense looks unstoppable. The Fighting Tigers have thrown for more than 300 yards in all but one game this season. They have gained more than 100 rushing yards in eight of nine games, including more than 200 in two contests. In total, they have compiled more than 400 total yards against every opponent, including more than 500 versus seven teams. They have averaged 538.6 offensive yards and nearly five-and-a-half touchdowns per game.
In contrast, Ole Miss’ offense has been less impressive during this season. The Rebels have compiled 300 or more passing yards in just one game. They have exceeded 500 yards just three times. They have gained more than 200 rushing yards in seven of their ten contests so far. The Rebels have scored an average of just over three touchdowns per game.
LSU has an opportunity to impress the College Football Playoff Committee. Large margins of victory seem to appeal to the committee. Ohio State’s high ranking is due in part to winning by huge margins in their victories. Clemson appears determined to pile up a large number of points in each game as well. Does this mean that LSU needs to run up the score to maintain its status among the top four in the CFP rankings?
However, Ole Miss does not look like a pushover likely to accept a beating by over 50 points. The Rebels have allowed only nearly three touchdowns per game to SEC opponents. The only SEC teams that have scored four or more touchdowns against the Rebels are Alabama and Missouri. Those two are also the only opponents to score more than 30 points on the Rebels.
Reveling in and Dealing with Success
LSU’s program has been ascending over the course of Orgeron’s tenure in Baton Rouge. The Fighting Tigers finished last season with ten victories, the final one ending Central Florida’s 25-game winning streak in the Fiesta Bowl. They are ranked number one in both the Associated Press’ and coaches polls for the first time since the week after the conference championship games in 2011. They are among the top four of the CFP Committee’s rankings since the initial list was released in 2015.
Orgeron’s LSU squad has plenty of reasons to overlook Ole Miss. The Tigers have a 9-0 record while the Rebels are 4-6. LSU has sole possession of first place in the SEC West but the Rebels are tied for fifth place. The Fighting Tigers have defeated four opponents who are currently in both Top 25 polls. Ole Miss has yet to beat an FBS team with a winning record. Oddsmakers have placed LSU as the favorite by 21 points.
Even history lends a feeling of superiority for LSU. The Tigers lead the all-time series 62-40-4. They have won seven of their last nine meetings with the Rebels.
Despite their struggles, the Rebels have the motivation and belief that they can win. They face their two most hated rivals, LSU and Mississippi State, to close out the season. If they beat both, they will be bowl eligible. Ole Miss has defeated LSU in two of their last three meetings in Oxford. Historically, LSU has struggled in Oxford with a record of 10-8-1.
This game will determine if LSU can handle prosperity. A victory in Oxford would mean one more step toward the SEC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff. A loss to Ole Miss would delay the former and deal a serious blow to the chances of the latter. Can LSU’s Ed Orgeron keep the Tigers focused on the Rebels and not on the adulation for the win over Alabama?