The Oregon Ducks and LSU Tigers usher the 2011 college football season in with a bang, taking the field at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday in what's been billed as a national championship matchup right out of the gates. Both teams have found themselves intertwined in the run-up to the game, with tumultuous offseasons and unsavory headlines somewhat overshadowing the game itself.
Between Oregon defensive back Cliff Harris' speeding ticket and suspension, and the bar brawl incident at LSU, which led to the suspensions of Jordan Jefferson and Josh Johns just before the season-opener, both teams have experienced their share of trouble. Not to mention the Willie Lyles investigation, which has some dubbing this the Lyles Bowl.
But no matter. By Saturday, the offseason troubles will be in the rear-view mirror and the spotlight will shine brightly on Cowboys Stadium as LSU and Oregon take the field in the marquee matchup of opening week. In preparation for the game, we grabbed two of our best and brightest voices -- Matt Daddy from SB Nation's Oregon blog, Addicted to Quack, and Poseur, from SB Nation's LSU blog, And The Valley Shook -- to gather their thoughts on the offseason and lend some insight into Saturday's matchup.
Has the offseason turmoil taken any kind of toll on your fanbases? Or is it something you all grow tired of talking about?
Matt Daddy: I think the fans get fed up with the copious amounts of opinions and columnists who feel it is their obligation spout what they think happened, or twist facts or ignore important pieces because it doesn't fit their agenda. As for the actual transgressions, for Oregon fans, I think they feel that in the grand scheme of things they're somewhat minor or the coaching staff and the University are handling it appropriately. Sure that won't stop rival fans from screaming bloody murder, or the local columnist from jumping on their righteous high horse, but I think fans have eventually just turned a deaf ear to all.
Poseur: Obviously. It would be impossible for it not to take a toll. Every time we turn around, it seems we're getting another kick to the teeth. Actually, none of the stories, on their own, were all that devastating, but taken together? In no particular order we've lost our starting quarterback to a bar fight at Shady's, followed by a fairly bizarre investigation, NCAA probation, further recruiting inquiries regarding William Lyles, lost Russell Shepard to a NCAA rule that can be charitably described as obscure, and, oh that's right, had our Offensive Co-ordinator diagnosed with Parkinson's. Losing an offensive lineman to injury doesn't seem like such a big deal all of a sudden. We've been unable to put it behind us because the bad news keeps coming.
Which one of you had the worse offseason troubles? Oregon with the brunt of the Willie Lyles investigation and Cliff Harris speeding incident or LSU with Russell Shepard and the bar brawl?
Matt Daddy: Don't forget Kiko and his housing troubles. (ed note: Yes, I forgot Kiko Alonso. Here's his story) I think LSU will struggle with it more just due to the proximity to the first game. It's got to be tough going through spring and fall practice thinking you have two of your key offensive weapons and then the week before the game, they're gone. At least has known for some time that Cliffy and Kiko won't be available for this game and have had time to prepare. I don't know how I'd feel about this game if Darron Thomas and LaMichael suddenly had to sit it out.
Poseur: This isn't a contest you want to win, but I think it's LSU. The laundry list of bad things is simply staggering. When "coach gets diagnosed with debilitating disease" isn't the big story of the offseason, you know it's been a bad summer.
Both your teams are highly ranked and big things are expected of each team. What's your outlook on the season? Feelings about being ranked so highly in preseason polls?
Matt Daddy: It's odd for me to have Oregon being talked about so much in the Heisman and National Championship conversations. Last year, I knew they were going to be good, and were defending Pac 10 champs, but at the beginning of the season, not a lot of people thought they would make it Glendale. This year, they're going to have a major target on their backs and with the 9 game conference schedule and the new conference championship game without a late season bye week or cupcake game, I think it will be difficult for them to go undefeated.
Poseur: I love high expectations. It's far better to get excited and have high hopes, even if those hopes get dashed. No one ever wins by dreaming small. We have our annual Delusional Optimism campaign and I'm dead serious about it. I expect LSU to compete for the national title. There's a lot of hurdles to clear, particularly with LSU's brutal schedule, but this team is capable of those lofty goals.
Oregon is without Cliff Harris while LSU is without Russell Shepard and Jordan Jefferson. Advantage goes to whom?
Matt Daddy: Again, you forgot Kiko. I still think Oregon has the advantage of having been able to prepare for the game without those two. LSU is going to have to shift much later in the preparation.
Poseur: LSU. Cliff Harris is a great player, the kind of talent you can't really replace. LSU had a passing offense ranked in the triple digits last season. You think we can't replace that production? Jarrett Lee put up similar production to Jefferson, albeit in a different way (http://www.andthevalleyshook.com/2011/8/30/2392676/jarrett-lees-final-act), so LSU doesn't lose much there. Shepard's always been more potential than production, and Miles will replace him with more potential.
For Oregon: What worries you the most about LSU and why?
Matt Daddy: LSU's offensive line. We all know that games are won and lost by big guys up front. I think Oregon's O-line and LSU's D-line are somewhat evenly matched based on experience and talent. But LSU's O-line is far more experienced and talented than Oregon's D-line (having had to replace 3 starters). On top of that, you know LSU is going to want to use the running game, control the clock and give their defense rest, so if LSU's O-line is able to control the line of scrimmage, give Lee time to find open guys, and move the ball, Oregon's D could be in for a long day.
For LSU: How do you prepare for the Oregon offense, its pace and a scheme that requires an immense amount of discipline to defend? Does playing the Ducks in the first week, allowing the team extra time to game-plan, help?
Poseur: Conditioning. Lots and lots of conditioning. Apparently, the defense is running against TWO offenses, which sounds like a great way to prepare. Les Miles has always done a great job when he has time to prepare for a game. The biggest blowouts in his tenure have been bowl games and season openers -- 2005 Miami, 2006 Notre Dame, 2007 Virginia Tech, 2008 Georgia Tech, 2010 Texas A&M. Give Miles time to prepare, and he usually crafts a great gameplan and gets his team ready to play. I'm far more playing Oregon in the opener than in the middle of the SEC slate.
Technically, the game is a neutral site, but how do you see the split of fans shaking out? Oregon travels well, but LSU has proximity on its side; will there be any kind of home-field advantage?
Matt Daddy: LSU got twice as many tickets as Oregon. I think there will definitely be an advantage for LSU, but I don't think either team is expecting as hostile an environment as Autzen Stadium or Death Valley.
Poseur: It'll probably be about 75% LSU but that stadium is so sterile that it won't matter that much. It's really hard to get a pro stadium as loud as Autzen or Tiger Stadium.
This game has the feeling of a national championship-type matchup, staged during the first week. How do you feel about scheduling such a huge game so early? Does this put the loser behind the eight ball and will it effectively end one team's BCS title game hopes?
Matt Daddy: What's that saying? Better to lose early? I don't think either team is out of the race with a loss, and I love the fact that we get to watch good football early in the season. Plus, as an Oregon fan, I love that we get another shot at the SEC. We had Tennessee last year, and their fans were awesome, we played Auburn in the NCG, and that was an amazing game (despite the outcome). LSU has had a lot of the same offseason hoopla Oregon has, and it seems like both fans are just ready to get this game going.
Poseur: I love it. LSU plays in the toughest conference in the country, yet the program is not afraid to schedule one of the very best teams in the country. You get to be the best by beating the best. Playing great teams brings out the best in your own. I don't think one loss will eliminate either of these teams, particularly LSU. LSU's schedule is just so tough, I can't imagine a scenario in which a one-loss team is selected for the title game ahead of a one-loss LSU team, unless that team is Oregon with the head to head edge.
A loss does put the loser in a very difficult situation of needing to run the table the rest of the way and need some help. So a loss here isn't a good thing, but it's not an automatic season killer.
Game predictions: What's your pick (with score)?
Matt Daddy: Oregon 24-23
Poseur: I hate predictions, but you asked and it would be impolite not to answer. Oregon will win if it's a high scoring game, but I really like LSU's defense to at least slow down the Oregon offense. LSU wins on a wacky play in the final minute, 26-24. The national media dismisses the win as "lucky".
Any final thoughts or smack-talk? Things we should watch for or players to keep an eye on?
Matt Daddy: Keep an eye out for DeAnthony Thomas. He's a true freshman and one of the highest rated recruits that Oregon has ever had. Word out of fall camp is he is lighting it up, and with the way that Chip Kelly likes to get the ball to his playmakers, expect him to see some touches.
Poseur: I think the game will hinge on Sam Montgomery's health. He was a terror as a freshman before a knee injury cut short his season. If he's at full strength, then Montgomery can have a Fairley-like game, living in the UO backfield. If the knee isn't 100% and Montgomery is a mere mortal, then LaMichael James gets to the corner and LSU linebackers spend a lot of the game looking at his backside. Also, watch Jarrett Lee in pregame. If he's tugging on his shoulder pads... I predict three interceptions. If he looks calm and composed... I predict three touchdowns.
No smack talk here. I have a soft spot for Oregon and I admire anyone willing to schedule a game like this in the season opener. Just good luck to the Ducks and TIGER BAIT!
For more on the Tigers, head over to And The Valley Shook, where you can get to know a few freshmen, find their thoughts on Jarrett Lee and check out a breakdown of the Oregon offense. Oregon fans, head over to Addicted to Quack, where you'll find fall camp highlights, a breakdown of the matchup between the Oregon offense and LSU defense, and a homer's guide to LSU.