- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide need any tips on what the Cowboy Classic in Arlington, Texas, is like, they might look to LSU, which was put in a favorite's role early last season when it beat Oregon in Arlington to start the 2011 season.
And if Auburn and Tennessee want to know what the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic is all about, they might reach out to their conference rival in Baton Rouge as well.
This season, LSU will let the high-profile season openers go to other SEC schools. While the nation's attention will be on Alabama vs. Michigan and Auburn vs. Clemson on Saturday, in the wake of Friday's Tennessee vs. North Carolina State appetizer, LSU is hoping to quietly take of business against Sun Belt Conference member North Texas to open its season Saturday night.
It's an off-Broadway opening for LSU this time.
The Tigers have been blasted for their schedule this year and will be again. In many ways, it's deserved. North Texas joins Idaho and FCS member Towson on the list of low-budget programs that will help give LSU an eight-game home schedule. Only high-powered Washington and prolific passer Keith Price present LSU with a non-conference opponent of comparable resources (the Huskies' Sept. 8 visit will garner the national spotlight next week).
Cushy schedule? Well, yeah.
But give the Tigers a break. It's not like they've made it a habit to dodge the tough game.
The 41-27 season-opening win over Oregon last year in Dallas came fairly close to being the game that eventually led to a rematch for the national championship instead of the Alabama game. Had the Ducks not slipped up at home against USC in November, the Ducks would have been very much in contention to take the Tide's spot in New Orleans.
Go back a year earlier and the Tigers were in Atlanta, needing every snap to hold off what was supposed to be a North Carolina team reeling from suspensions, 30-24. And go back to 2009 when the Tigers found themselves on the shores of Seattle's Lake Washington, holding off Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies, 31-23 (This season's UW game is the second half of a home-and-home deal).
LSU is due to for an easier one to start a season. And it makes sense that this would be the season.
One could always check the calendar and see that this was going to be the season after the Tigers lost a pair of senior quarterbacks in Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Even years out, one could see that this might be a year where it would be better to break in the new quarterback -- Zach Mettenberger, as it turns out -- against an opponent that, on paper, is manageable.
For that reason, this game will be a national sidebar. Mettenberger has turned into perhaps the most highly anticipated new starting quarterback in college football. How the Tigers replace Tyrann Mathieu in both the secondary and on special teams will no doubt earn curious glances to ESPNU, where the LSU-UNT game will be seen Saturday night.
Is LSU still the national-championship favorite it was before the dismissal of Mathieu, a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist? Or have the Tigers slipped?
It won't be Oregon opposite the Tigers, but people will be hoping that the Mean Green can help reveal some answers.
Of course, it becomes headline news if the answer is that the Tigers look fatally flawed. If LSU is put on upset alert -- a highly unlikely, but always possible scenario -- the Tigers will be back in the season-opening spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
More than likely, LSU will take care of what it needs to do. Mettenberger will get his feet wet. Tigers fans will have young cornerbacks to boast or worry about. Young linebackers will flash their talent. In Baton Rouge, there will be plenty of conversation pieces.
Nationally? The Tigers will graciously let the spotlight shine on Dallas and Atlanta, spotlights they know all too well, but don't need this season.
6dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough