If you're just going for late-season drama and meaningful games played into November, there are few schedules lined up better year in and year out than LSU's. Games with Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Ole Miss all usually fall between late October and late November, meaning that the SEC West could be on the line -- if LSU is competing for it -- until near the end of the season this year. Not that the first half of the season is going to be easy this year, with actual nonconference games -- the Tar Heels and the Mountaineers are scheduled in September alone.
THE EARLY RUN
NORTH CAROLINA (Atlanta) | Sept. 4
This is the first time these two teams have met. When not being investigated by the NCAA and trying to avoid playing South Carolina, Butch Davis' UNC team has been building up buzz as potential ACC champions. (While most people would compare this to winning a game of Concentration against a tank full of goldfish, this would actually be a big deal in Chapel Hill.) The Heels return nine players to a defense that ranked sixth last year in yards allowed, which would have made them even more dangerous had they ranked higher than 108th in total offense.
WEST VIRGINIA | Sept. 25
LSU should have one goal against West Virginia: Stop the ground game. Despite all the talk that Bill Stewart would changes the Rich Rodriguez offense, there's still an emphasis on the rushing attack: Noel Devine, the 17th-ranked rusher in 2009 with 112.7 yards per game, returns along with four-fifths of his starting offensive line. In fact, the Mountaineers averaged 186.4 ypg rushing last year compared to 191.1 ypg passing. Meanwhile, the passing game should be weak. This game is also a first for the Tigers.
FLORIDA | Oct. 9
Once again, LSU and Florida meet in what should be one of the marquee interdivision clashes of the year. It's not quite the rivalry it was in the 2006-08, when Florida, LSU and then Florida again won consecutive BCS Championship Games. (Florida was also the only loss on the 2003 national championship Bengals' resume.) Interestingly enough, LSU's series with Florida is the second-youngest of its SEC meetings, having started in 1937. (Kentucky and LSU first met 12 years later.)
THE LATE SHOWS
at AUBURN | Oct. 23
We've already covered some of the bizarre games in this series. Here are a couple looks at another: The Earthquake Game.
Again, this is always worth watching not in the sense that it's guaranteed to be a good game on the field -- though its usually is -- but because there's no guarantee that locusts won't descend on the stadium, eating the grass and footballs. Even for a team with Les Miles as its coach, this can often be the craziest game of the year.
ALABAMA | Nov. 6
As long as the game doesn't come down to a last-second interception ... I kid. Well, sort of. Nick Saban is 6-2 in this game: 2-1 at Alabama and 4-1 at LSU. And he is likely to be a little bit less of a focus this year, but it seems doubtful that the game will ever completely stop being "the Saban Bowl," at least as long as Miles is trying to escape the "A'right" One's shadow. It is currently scheduled as a night game in Baton Rouge, but that could change once CBS and ESPN get involved.
at ARKANSAS | Nov. 27
LSU annihilated the Hogs in 2003 and 2004, but those are the only times in the last decade that this game hasn't been extraordinarily close. Every other time, it's been decided by a touchdown or less, and two of the last three games have gone to overtime. Arkansas is everyone's favorite darkhorse in the SEC West -- so much so that it's already drawing comparisons to 2009 Ole Miss -- and there's little doubt that LSU would love to repay a couple of recent heartbreaks (a 2007 3OT loss almost cost the Bengals a chance at the national title) by ending any Arkansas dreams of a division title if they're still alive.
9.11.10 | at VANDERBILT It's a likely LSU win, sure, but this looks to be one of the more likely "trap" games on the Bengals' schedule. The Commodores are easy to overlook, scheduled between North Carolina on one side and the sequel to Mississippi State's near-win last season and the match-up with West Virginia on the other. Combine that with the game being the first SEC contest of the post-Bobby Johnson Era and the setting being in Nashville, and it's a dangerous mix.
9.18.10 | MISSISSIPPI STATE As I was saying, expect LSU to be a bit more prepared for this game than the Tigers were last year. (At least, you would think.) But there's no Chad Jones if things get too close.
10.2.10 | TENNESSEE Louisiana Tech only lost to LSU by eight points that year. The question is whether Derek Dooley even has as much talent at Tennessee right now as he had at Louisiana Tech.
10.16.10 | McNEESE STATE Generally, I give teams some slack for playing an FCS team from in-state. But with so many FBS cupcakes in Louisiana (see below), it's hard to give LSU the benefit of the doubt.
11.13.10 | LOUISIANA-MONROE One little-known result of conference expansion: ULM joined the SEC when no one was looking.
11.20.10 | OLE MISS The two craziest coaches in the SEC meet. Why wouldn't it be fun?