Aug. 30: Wisconsin (9-4) in Houston
Sept. 6: Sam Houston State (9-5)
Sept. 13: Louisiana-Monroe (6-6)
Sept. 27: New Mexico State (2-10)
SEC home games
Sept. 20: Mississippi State (7-6)
Oct. 18: Kentucky (2-10)
Oct. 25: Ole Miss (8-5)
Nov. 8: Alabama (11-2)
SEC road games
Oct. 4: Auburn (12-2)
Oct. 11: Florida (4-8)
Nov. 15: Arkansas (3-9)
Nov. 27: Texas A&M (9-4)
Gut-check time: As with any season lately, LSU’s No. 1 gut check comes Nov. 8, when Alabama visits Tiger Stadium on senior day. These are two programs that simply don’t like one another, and former LSU coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has had the upper hand lately. Alabama has won three straight in the series, most notably the 2011 BCS championship game where the Tide humiliated the Tigers 21-0 after LSU had beaten Alabama in overtime during the regular season.
Trap game: Calling the opener against Wisconsin a “trap game” might seem a bit dismissive toward Wisconsin. Maybe it is. But LSU has been outstanding in season openers under Les Miles, posting a 9-0 record and beating teams such as Oregon, TCU, Arizona State, Washington and North Carolina. This is a dangerous game for the Tigers, though, because Wisconsin is a rock-solid program and LSU will be breaking in a bunch of new starters -- including either Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings at quarterback. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both teams attempt to grind out a victory on the ground in this one.
Snoozer: Take your pick. Either of the games between the opener against Wisconsin and LSU’s SEC opener against Mississippi State -- the visits from FCS Sam Houston State on Sept. 6 or Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 13 -- figure to be cakewalks for the Tigers. LSU has played Louisiana-Monroe twice and won by 49-7 in 2003 and 51-0 in 2010. The Tigers haven’t played Sam Houston State, but the Bearkats lost 65-28 last season to Texas A&M, a team that LSU later blasted by 24 points.
Telltale stretch: If all goes according to plan, LSU will be 5-0 when it enters the key stretch of its season -- back-to-back road trips to Auburn and Florida in early October. LSU handed Auburn its only loss of the regular season in 2013, but that was early in the season before Auburn truly began to take off under first-year coach Gus Malzahn. LSU’s trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium figures to be a huge challenge this time around. If Miles’ Tigers manage to escape Auburn with a win, a visit to Florida will pose another big challenge. Sure the Gators stunk up the joint in an injury-filled 2013, but there is too much talent on hand in Gainesville to expect Florida to flounder again this fall. LSU is 1-3 in its last four visits to the Swamp.
Final analysis: This is a challenging schedule for what should be a young LSU club, but it’s perfectly manageable. Nowhere on the schedule is there a stretch where the Tigers will play more than two consecutive games against teams that finished with winning records last season. Wisconsin and an improved Mississippi State club could create problems in the first month. Then the trips to Auburn and Florida create a second hurdle. Then the Tigers finish with home dates against Ole Miss and Alabama -- both of which defeated LSU last season -- and road trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M. There are a bunch of teams on that list that will be capable of beating LSU this season, particularly if the Tigers’ freshmen are slow to progress. LSU is riding a school-record streak of four straight seasons with at least 10 victories. That streak might continue in 2014, but it won’t be easy.