- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is off to a 5-0 start, but the Tigers have seen their ranking drop from No. 1 in the first preseason poll to No. 4 in Sunday's latest AP poll.
A schedule against five teams with a combined 8-14 record -- a list that includes teams from the FCS (2-2 Towson), the WAC (0-5 Idaho) and The Sun Belt (2-3 North Texas) -- has done little to inspire. Even LSU's one SEC game so far was versus a 1-3 Auburn team that appears to be going through a down year. And LSU struggled to win that one, holding on for a 12-10 win.
The one good win was the 41-3 shellacking of Washington, a team that's now 3-1 after an upset Thursday of then-No. 8 Stanford, a win that resulted in the Huskies breaking into the AP's top 25 at No. 23.
The schedule so far has been a no-win situation of sorts for LSU. The wins were expected, but every flaw -- the fumbles against Towson, the dropped passes against Washington -- was magnified and scrutinized. And, the lack of big names perhaps made the mistakes more likely.
"It kind of lulls you to sleep," said Kevin Minter, one of several Tigers who, after LSU's lethargic 36-22 win Saturday over Towson, admitted that LSU lacks a sense of urgency that was present last season.
The schedule won't cause a lack of focus going forward.
October brings a stretch in which the Tigers' next five opponents -- all SEC opponents -- are a combined 21-1 and four of the five (all but Texas A&M) are in this week's top 20. It starts Saturday at No. 10 Florida (4-0) and continues with No. 6 South Carolina (5-0), a trip to 3-1 Texas A&M then, after a bye week, the Nov. 3 home date with No. 1 Alabama (5-0). The stretch wraps up with a home game against No. 20 Mississippi State (4-0).
A year ago, LSU had that kind of schedule right off the bat. It opened with Oregon and had September dates with Mississippi State and West Virginia that brought out the best in LSU's preparations. Minter said the Tigers have to find that same fire, and find it soon.
"We have to prepare well like we did last year," he said. "Last year, practices were lights out. It's kind of like that this year, but, I don't know, it's not the same fire that we had. That passion, we just have to get back into it.
"It's all on us. I feel like it's more about us than necessarily our opponents."
The opponents present plenty enough to worry about. Here's a quick look at the upcoming challenges.
Oct. 6 at No. 10 Florida: Trips to The Swamp are never easy, and former LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will be going after a signature win in his second season as the Gators' coach. Florida's running game (224.5 yards per game), led by the SEC's second leading rusher, Mike Gillislee (100.5 yards per game), will be the best the Tigers have seen so far.
Oct. 13 vs. No. 6 South Carolina: The Gamecocks' defense, led by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, will be the best LSU's offense has seen to that point and, like Florida, the Gamecocks are run-oriented behind star Marcus Lattimore, using a power running game to pull away from upset-minded Kentucky on Saturday and win 38-17.
Oct. 20 at Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel, the Aggies' freshman sensation, will be the best passer the Tigers have seen, completing 70 percent of his throws in the Aggies' first four games. LSU's troubled pass-protection scheme will be challenged by perhaps the nation's top pass rusher, SEC sacks leader Damontre Moore.
Nov. 3 vs. Alabama: What more needs to be said? It's news when somebody scores on the Crimson Tide defense and even bigger news when somebody takes a lead, like Ole Miss did last week. And the last time LSU faced Alabama, the Tigers famously struggled to cross midfield.
Nov. 10 vs. Mississippi State: One of the nation's under-the-radar teams despite being ranked, Dan Mullen's Bulldogs easily could be 7-0 on Oct. 27 when they travel to Alabama. With a physical defense and an improved offense, MSU is a solid third among the SEC West teams right now.
4dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough
6dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf