BATON ROUGE, La. — When you visit Baton Rouge in the spring, as opposed to coming for the barely-controlled chaos in early November, when the LSU Tigers play host to the Alabama football team, you don’t get the sense of a college city on the edge. The fans are involved — baseball (especially), basketball and, on this weekend, softball.
That’s not entirely different from Tuscaloosa, although the metropolitan area is much, much larger and the LSU sports teams are the de facto franchises for essentially the entire state. Saints support is certainly strong but seems in some ways an auxiliary feature of LSU fandom as well.
The weekend atmosphere for softball at Tiger Park was excellent, if not quite as loud and hostile as the crowds at Rhoads Stadium. (Be proud, Crimson Tide fans, because beating LSU on the hostility scale at any venue is quite the achievement.) There were plenty of “Beat Bama” and “Roll Tears Roll” T-shirts in the crowd, although most looked like they had seen a couple of seasons of football wear and tear.
In short, the trip to Baton Rouge is pleasant — good food, a great SEC rivalry in almost every sport. The one thing one wonders is what the scene will be in 2020, when Alabama football makes its return.
The 2019 season (when the game is in Tuscaloosa) is the immediate issue. But when the Crimson Tide football team comes back, it will presumably be with a new quarterback and a largely revamped offensive team and the regular-season crossover game with Georgia earlier in the season. Meanwhile, LSU seems to have redoubled its recruiting efforts, moving beyond the borders of Louisiana (and the annual battles with Nick Saban) to a more national approach, determined not to let Clemson and Alabama pull away in terms of talent.
No one is conceding 2019 but even in a stacked division, UA has the elite quarterback, an arsenal of offensive talent and unlimited motivation to make it back to the College Football Playoff. But there seems to be a fissure developing in the SEC West.
The Mississippi schools don’t look to be contenders — both lost talent this season and neither appear to have the depth to replace it. The rebuilding job at Arkansas still seems years from transforming the Hogs into contenders, if Chad Morris can do it at all. On the other side of the fissure are Alabama at the mountaintop and three other schools trying to position themselves for a charge.
There is Auburn, as hard to figure out as quantum physics from year to year. There was at least the floating of trial balloons at the end of last season in regards to Gus Malzahn‘s status but AU always seems to be at its best when playing its way out of the fog.
Texas A&M is spending as many millions as it can (and that is a lot) on coaches and facilities and waiting for the return on investment. And then there is LSU. The upcoming season might be a watershed for the Tigers, but the eye — both eyes, for Ed Orgeron — appears to be squarely on what happens leading up to 2020, and no further.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.
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