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Strength of Tigers' schedule deceiving

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Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 11:25 pm

Across the board, the LSU football team’s 2012 campaign has not matched up with preseason expectations.

Once thought an unstoppable juggernaut, the Tigers have been beatable after five games. Prior to its first game on Sept. 1, few predicted LSU to fall at Florida last weekend.

Then again, not many predicted now-No. 4 Florida to be a top-five team.

While the No. 9 Tigers have not lived up to expectations, their schedule has been stronger than expected, which could be a boon.

“It’s obviously a lot stronger than the fans thought it’d be,” said junior linebacker Kevin Minter. “This schedule isn’t no joke. … It’s a pretty hard schedule, contrary to what people believe.”

This season’s schedule looked a far cry from the Tigers’ last, when they played seven top-25 teams during the regular season. Only four teams, all Southeastern Conference contestants, on LSU’s 2012 schedule were ranked prior to the season and while Arkansas’ ultimate ineptitude could not have been predicted, its No. 10 spot was instantly devalued when coach Bobby Petrino skidded out of the job.

But now, with Florida climbing 19 spots, South Carolina showing itself as a top-three team and Texas A&M being a candidate for the top 20 if it can overcome BCS-busting Louisiana Tech, October has become a gauntlet for the reeling Tigers. Then, of course, a matchup of amplified implications with No. 1 Alabama awaits if they escape unscathed to November.

“We’re kind of now getting into the meat of our schedule, and we’re playing those tough SEC opponents,” said junior defensive end Barkevious Mingo.

Also jumping in and out of the top 25, Washington has contended in the Pac-12 by defeating a then-No. 8 Stanford, strengthening a nonconference schedule that was less ballyhooed than that of the 2011 campaign.

Too much is made of preseason predictions, said junior defensive end Sam Montgomery.

“In between the lines, no one really knows until the ball is snapped what’s going to happen,” Montgomery said. “… An [analysis] of a human spirit and a heart and the passion of a group can never be interpreted by just predictions.”

But that doesn’t mean he disregards the importance of the increased schedule strength with ESPN set to reveal this season’s inaugural BCS rankings Sunday. While strength of schedule was taken out of the BCS formula in 2004, it certainly impacts the decision-making of the humans voting in the various polls.

“That’s just like gold,” Montgomery said of LSU’s highly ranked, upcoming opponents. “The polls are tricky. The polls mean if you whoop a good team, you can jump right up above them. So let’s see, we got around three top teams. We mess around and beat South Carolina. Go to Texas A&M, do a great job down there. Pull out a win against Alabama. Where are we sitting at now?”

Minter said the schedule is especially important with the loss incurred in Gainesville, Fla., last weekend.

Montgomery cited the 2007 Tigers and last year’s Crimson Tide as examples that their goals are still attainable, while acknowledging that it’s easier said than done.

“It can be done, you’ve just got to win out.”

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