ENGSTER: SEC race could come down to LSU and Kentucky

Only four of the 14 Southeastern Conference members remain unbeaten after two Saturdays of conference football battles that will last another two months. LSU and Alabama are the lone undefeated squads in the West while Kentucky and Georgia are 2-0 in the East. After two weeks, the other ten SEC members have suffered at least one defeat.

LSU hosts Alabama on Nov. 3 and Kentucky is at home vs. Georgia on the same day, leaving a pair of pre-season underappreciated teams in the driver’s seat to play for the SEC championship on Dec. 1 in Atlanta.

51-year-old Mark Stoops of Kentucky is 30-36 in six years at Kentucky; 57-year-old Ed Orgeron is 35-33 in seven seasons at Ole Miss, USC and LSU. The two journeymen are not the most heralded men in their profession, but Stoops and Orgeron may have the last laugh this year against their counterparts at Athens and Tuscaloosa, Kirby Smart and Nick Saban.

Smart and Saban are the clear favorites to play for the league crown in nine weeks, but the hunch here is that at least one of them won’t take his team to Mercedes Benz Stadium. Look for LSU and/or Kentucky to fill the void.

Alabama holds a 52-25 edge over LSU in their rivalry, and Georgia leads Kentucky 57-12 in their series. Don’t be surprised If LSU snaps a seven game losing skid against Saban, and Kentucky breaks an eight-game Georgia streak over the Wildcats.

The beauty of the LSU vs. Kentucky scenario in Atlanta is that the troops from Baton Rouge and Lexington can afford to lose once along the way in the league as long the Tigers and Wildcats take care of Bama and Georgia. This could happen.

LSU has gone eleven years without a national title and managed to win the BCS title in 2007 despite losses to Arkansas and Kentucky. The Big Blue has only one claims to national honors. The 1950 unit under Bear Bryant is considered supreme because the 10-1 Cats topped No. 1 Oklahoma 13-7 in the ’51 Sugar Bowl. In those days, national championships were awarded before the completion of bowl games. One of the stalwarts on the 1950 Kentucky team was LSU’s winningest coach ever, Charles McClendon.

The schedule looks promising for LSU and Kentucky for the remainder of the season. The Cats have whipped Central Michigan, Florida, Murray State and Mississippi State in the first four outings. Stoops and Co. have South Carolina at home this week followed by Texas A&M on the road, Vanderbilt at Lexington, Missouri at Columbia, Georgia at Lexington, Tennessee at Knoxville, Middle Tennessee at home and a trip to Louisville to play the Cardinals.

LSU has four games that should be winnable against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Rice at home and Arkansas on the road. Georgia and Alabama are also at home for the Tigers, and Florida and Texas A&M are road tests. LSU appears poised to finish the regular season at 10-2 at the worst, and this would equal the mark of the 2007 national champions.

Orgeron and Stoops earn approximately $3.5 million to coach at their respective schools. That figures sounds robust for most of us, but it’s not in the same league with lesser coaches in the same conference. Next year, the football leaders on the bayou and in bluegrass land may reach the same salary range as Florida’s Dan Mullen. He earns $6 million per season.

No. 20 gets recognition posthumously

The much anticipated statue of Billy Cannon at LSU will be unveiled this Friday night. The ceremony for Cannon, who died May 20, is open to the public at 6:30 p.m. on the west side of Tiger Stadium.

Cannon in 1958 was one of the largest players on the Tiger roster at 204 pounds. It was impossible in that era for players to carry gobs of fats around their midsections and play both on offense and defense. Cannon was not only a remarkable runner and kick returner but was also named the SEC defensive back for the decade of the 1950s.

Saturday at 2 p.m. prior to the Ole Miss contest, 1958 national championship quarterback Warren Rabb and center Max Fugler will be featured at the Lod Cook Hotel. They will reflect on the memory of Cannon and the legacy of LSU’s last unbeaten team as the last of the ’58 champions unite for a 60th anniversary celebration of their title.

Players are more than 30 percent heavier than in 1958

The biggest change in college football in the last six decades is the sheer size of the players. Just as the average man in America weighs 40 pounds more than he did in 1960, college football teams feature enormous men in the trenches with teenagers often topping the scales at 300 pounds.

When LSU defeated Louisiana Tech 38-21 last week, the Tigers listed 17 players above 300 pounds, led by Tyler Shelvin, a 6-3, 362-pound redshirt freshman from Lafayette.

Louisiana Tech boasts ten 300-plus-pounders with 6-6, 342-pound Willie Allen, a sophomore from River Ridge, the beefiest of the Bulldogs.

Finally No. 37 is off limits at LSU

Notably, no LSU player is wearing either No. 20 or No. 37 in respect to Billy Cannon and Tommy Casanova. Cannon’s number is retired and no Tiger (other than Dennis Quaid in the movie “Everybody’s All American”) has worn 20 in the 59 seasons since his departure. Many Tigers have worn 37 since Casanova departed in 1971, but appropriately no current LSU player is donning the jersey number of LSU’s only three-time All American footballer.

LSU has 31 numbers which are duplicates this season, meaning two players on the same team are wearing the same number 31 times. This makes the job of LSU play-by-play broadcaster Chris Blair fraught with danger. I recall several seasons ago a moment when CBS announcer Verne Lundquist stated that Ryan Perrilloux was on the kicking team. It was Kelvin Sheppard, who also was wearing No. 11.

Presidents Carter and Trump great for SEC football

An anonymous reader notes that Presidents Carter and Trump not only carried every state in the SEC in their election victories in 1976 and in 2016, but that the SEC flourished in football during the Carter term and is off to a strong start under Trump.

Alabama claimed national titles in 1978 and 1979 and Georgia won the NCAA crown in 1980, so three of the four Carter years produced a national football championship from the SEC. Alabama captured the title in the first year of the Trump Administration.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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