When LSU ranked outside the Associated Press Preseason top 10 for the first time since 2010, uncertainty seemed to be the only certainty for the Tigers in the 2013 season.
But after two impressive showings, the talk of LSU as a title contender has resurfaced.
No. 8 LSU (2-0) plays its second of three-straight home games on Saturday against Mid-American Conference member Kent State (1-1, 0-1 MAC) at 6:00 p.m. in Tiger Stadium. Saturday will be the first meeting between the two teams.
LSU rose to the No. 8 spot in the rankings this week as senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger and the offense are clicking on all cylinders, while junior receiver Odell Beckham Jr. leads the nation in all-purpose yards with 603 through two games.
Despite all the success and external hype, it’s been just another week of practice for the Tigers.
Junior running back Terrence Magee said preparation is always the same, no matter the outside distractions or the opponent.
“Coach Cam [Cameron] always preaches that our opponents are nameless and faceless,” Magee said. “If we don’t come out here and improve from week to week then it’s gonna be hard for us to beat whoever the opponent is.”
Kent State finished the 2012 season with 11 wins — one victory shy of reaching the Orange Bowl. Their 35-23 win against then-No. 18 Rutgers last October marked the Golden Flashes’ first program victory over a ranked opponent.
But their 2012 accomplishments have not carried over to this season. Kent State’s former coach, Darrell Hazell, took the head coaching position at Purdue in the offseason, leaving a young squad in the hands of first-year coach Paul Haynes.
However, even in a rebuilding season, Haynes has one of 2012’s best backfields to work with.
LSU will face a Kent State rushing attack whose tandem of senior Dri Archer and junior Trayion Durham combined for the second-most rushing yards of all Football Bowl Subdivision running back duos in 2012.
A Consensus All-American last season, Archer rushed for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns. On his third carry of the 2013 season against Liberty, Archer injured his ankle and has been sidelined since, but is expected to play Saturday against the Tigers.
Kent State also returns Durham, whose 116 yards off the ground this season tops every LSU running back. The two flashy rushers hope to set the tempo in Saturday night’s game.
Momentum in Tiger Stadium is hard to attain for even the best teams, but it may be even tougher to find for a Kent State squad that hasn’t produced a turnover and allows nearly 400 yards of total offense per game this season.
Saturday also presents the opportunity to prepare young, inexperienced players in Saturday’s contest for the SEC slate that lies ahead.
“Me and Ego Ferguson can’t play 60 plays, 70 plays a game of hard SEC football,” said junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson. “The younger guys are on the sideline ... and when their number is called, honestly, it’s time for them to go out there and not let off. It’s a big help for them and us personally.”
After last week’s 22-41 loss to Bowling Green, Kent State will try to duplicate their 2012 effort of going on a program best 10-game winning streak following its week- two loss.
Kent State enters Saturday’s matchup with an 0-11 all-time record against SEC opponents. However, statistics and rankings won’t change LSU’s mindset to compete at the same level in every game, regardless of what uniforms they see across the line of scrimmage.
“It’s football.” Johnson said. “I line up against a guy every game and I play every game like it’s my last. Nothing changes, it’s the same game every week.”