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Weekly Recon: How much does LSU’s national title affect Florida?

One of the Gators’ newer rivals has a new flag to fly forever. Does that threaten Florida’s turf?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 13 CFP National Championship - LSU v Clemson Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Weekly Recon is totally, definitely, for sure going to run weekly on Thursdays. Tebow willing.

LSU’s title unlikely to significantly affect Florida

What the LSU Tigers did this season is beyond impressive. With little change other than a modernization of an offense that had been Paleolithic to a fault, the Tigers went from strong program and annual contender in the SEC West to a titan astride the college football world. Thanks to Joe Brady’s acumen and Joe Burrow’s aptitude, LSU put together perhaps the best season in college football history, with Burrow also authoring arguably the best season by a quarterback ever and piloting what I’d have little issue calling the most potent offense in the annals of the story.

That flag is going to fly high forever, barring some unforeseen revelation about either off-the-field sacrifices made for the on-the-field success or cheating, and LSU’s going to be able to brag about a better season than Florida has ever had because of it.

I’m not convinced that it changes LSU’s long-term trajectory or standing in regards to Florida, though — and I think it’s even possible that this massive success was made more irreproducible for the Tigers by how substantial it truly was.

First, let’s be honest: LSU winning a national title doesn’t mean LSU has leapfrogged Alabama to be the Big Bad of the SEC West, nor is it likely to expand LSU’s recruiting reach much, if at all.

Florida will still be facing a team that is bound to be a top-three SEC West squad every year until or unless the SEC’s scheduling changes, and that team still has the unique edge of having one of the South’s talent-rich states all but on lock in a way no other SEC or ACC team does, but I think I’d still rather face this fate than Tennessee’s annual meetings with Alabama, and there’s just not a lot of upward mobility for LSU’s recruiting. Ed Orgeron was a fantastic recruiter before being able to throw a ring on a table, LSU will still be fighting Alabama for local kids more than it tries incursions into Florida turf, and we’ll still see some Sunshine State Tigers (like Patrick Peterson or Rashard Robinson) and Pelican State Gators (like Gerald Willis or Brad Stewart) from time to time.

Unless this rise by LSU becomes a sustained jump to the Alabama tier of the college football plateau or triggers an actual decline by the Crimson Tide, the Tigers being formidable is really more status quo than sea change for Florida.

But I think it’s possible — maybe even likely — that this LSU peak is so high that the Tigers are going to asphyxiate trying to get back to it.

Losing Brady to the NFL or a better job than wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator was inevitable as soon as the Tigers showed their afterburners this year, but it might not have happened this offseason had the Tigers merely been great and otherworldly. Brady’s offense — which you would think would have gotten titular offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger more looks like Brady got if it were actually, you know, Ensminger’s brainchild — only really sputtered once this year, against a fearsome Auburn defense, but a couple of other stumbles might have cooled his star enough for him to be persuaded to return in 2020 and continue shredding the SEC.

Instead, he’s with the Carolina Panthers now, and he ain’t coming back to Baton Rouge.

And regardless of whether you think Brady was the key to this offense, or whether LSU will be able to hire a suitable replacement, it’s true that LSU is going to have to replace a staggering number of talented players going pro after winning it all. Burrow was gone after exhausting his eligibilty, and Grant Delpit leads seven underclassmen who have already declared they’re headed to the NFL, with edge terror K’Lavon Chaisson and physical tight end Thaddeus Moss possibly following suit.

In all, LSU is set to lose about two thirds of its starters, and though erstwhile Florida commit Ja’Marr Chase and JaCoby Stevens are stars on either side of the ball that most programs would love nothing more than to build around, they’re not much when compared to the rest of the SEC West. And LSU’s 2020 schedule features Texas — which would seemingly have to live up to a lofty preseason ranking one of these years based on the law of averages alone — and trips to Florida, Auburn, and Texas A&M in conference play, with Alabama coming to Tiger Stadium in early November and the jaunts to the Plains and College Station capping the month.

Would it be a surprise at all if LSU regressed to 9-3, 8-4, or even 7-5? No. College football is a brutal sport, and staying on top without almost most of the starters who got the Tigers there and the whiz kid who revolutionized their offense (or the smart guy running their defense) would be far, far more impressive than putting every possible piece together this fall was.

And in the SEC West, which may now be revving back to ultra-competitive from super-competitive, with both Mississippi schools and Arkansas bringing in new blood, one year of being shuffled back to the pack could be a significant drag on a program’s flight.

It would also seem fair to note that it might have been easier to imagine LSU going 11-1 next year if it had gone, say, 14-1 this year. Without a title, unfinished business could well have been on some early entrants’ minds, and Brady might well have been a candidate to stay in town. If the last bit of oxygen that it cost LSU to get to the mountaintop was expended on that trip, it’s not going to be available a year from now, even if there’s a purple-and-gold flag planted at the peak.

As for my belief in LSU’s ability to stay laser-focused on football dominance? Well, I’ll note that Odell Beckham Jr., its most famous recent alumnus and iconic figure, couldn’t get off the field of the Superdome without starting a hilarious controversy by being the least subtle person alive and also pissing off some cop enough by spanking him to trigger an eventual warrant for his arrest.

And the part of me that can acknowledge that it’s maybe not fair to lump the rest of the LSU program in with Odell’s childishness isn’t far from the part of me that recalls that Orgeron still tears shirts and guzzles Red Bulls.

Let’s just say I wouldn’t wager against a championship hangover.

Florida State, Miami in different stages of rebuild

One of the nice things about Florida beating both Florida State and Miami and establishing itself as the obvious ruler of the Sunshine State heading into the next decade is being able to evaluate both of those programs from a higher vantage point than usual.

And from here, it looks like they’re both squarely in the middle of a rebuild — albeit at different stages.

For my money, Miami’s in a worse state at present. The Hurricanes didn’t score in their bowl game, jettisoned supposed quarterback guru Dan Enos — hired to much fanfare as one of the lead developers of Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama — for Rhett Lashlee, and then got broadsided by a Miami Herald report that cites sources including “a veteran player” and suggests that Miami players are too interested in partying to be effective at football.

The details of the report doesn’t mean a lot to me, because it frankly doesn’t sound like the problems are that dramatic — the worst infractions alleged are breaking curfew and smoking weed, and there aren’t many programs without players doing at least one or the other regularly.

But the report existing is curious, because it means that some Miami sources — including at least one crrent player — are fed up enough with the culture in the Coral Gables to be whispering to prominent media members about it. That’s a level of discontent that could foreshadow a bigger blowup or a schism — and Miami, off a 6-7 season, would have trouble improving on its 2019 even without roiling locker room turmoil.

Of course, if things truly go south in Coral Gables, Miamii still has the ultimate move available to it: Firing Manny Diaz. Cutting bait very early on a local guy working his dream job is generally going to be much easier for programs to do now that Florida State did exactly that, because colllege football is nothing if not unoriginal in its hiring practices.

Florida State, on the other hand, is stuck with Mike Norvell for the near future.

Some of what Norvell has done at FSU has been good, I think, from locking up two QBs to getting Odell Haggins to stay on as defensive line coach. But the majority of FSU’s coaching staff is names you don’t know well — FSU’s online listing, meanwhile, still includes Walt Bell, who fled Tallahassee for UMass last year, helping to cost the Seminoles QB Sam Howell, who now looks like he’ll be a menace for the Tar Heel for at least two more years.

And though the nearly unprecedented firing of Taggart for pure football reasons ought to scare a lot of coaches at other Power 5 schools who start slowly, the one coach who has to be heartened by it is Norvell, who’s being given a golden opportunity to win with low expectations and built-in excuses if things go sideways. Merely getting to 8-4 could be cast as significant improvement on the Willie Taggart seasons, while going 6-6 while dealing with the last dregs of the Jimbo Fisher era and reviving recruiting can be forgiven for a year or two in Tallahassee right now.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that FSU — which experienced legitimately extraordinary consistency and continuity under Bobby Bowden, then extended that into the Fisher regime despite a few down years — is due for an actual downturn, and that it’s simply possible that even a quick trigger on Taggart’s golden parachute won’t solve every problem in Tallahassee because he wasn’t their root cause.

A friend of the blog noted last fall during an FSU broadcast that the Doak PA system played Van Halen’s “Jump” during a game. That struck me as odd: It’s a song inspired by David Lee Roth imagining what a jerk might say to a man contemplating suicide atop a building, and that is really an encouragement to throw caution to the wind and lean in to something; though it’s had some limited use as a sports anthem, it’s a song that’s a head-scratcher for a crowd, in my opinion.

But then again: Isn’t a song with a guy whose best come-on is “I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen” a pretty fitting one for the Seminoles circa 2019? Might as well embrace it.