It has been just 11 months since LSU topped Clemson 42-25 in the College Football Playoff National Championship, completing what might have been the best season by a team in the sport’s history. And it already feels ancient.
On Saturday, LSU will stumble toward its 2020 finish line with a makeup date against Alabama that perfectly encapsulates all that has gone wrong for the Tigers in the past 11 months.
This week, head coach Ed Orgeron lamented the latest opt-out of a star player, as WR Terrace Marshall ended his time with the program. Orgeron spoke glowingly of his former players, the stars of 2019, now off to spectacular starts in the NFL. He did his best to add some optimism to a lost season, promising the 3-4 Tigers would “be champions again” at some point.
But when Orgeron was asked whether his team was better equipped today to face Alabama than it would have been three weeks ago, when the game was originally scheduled to be played, his answer felt pretty telling of all that 2020 has wrought for the defending champs.
“Yes,” Orgeron said, “because now we have enough players to play the game.”
LSU is among the most prominent examples of 2020’s misfortunes.
But Orgeron’s misery is nothing compared to what has happened at Penn State. The Nittany Lions won their first game of the season last week, but that’s hardly enough to forget how inept they looked during an unprecedented 0-5 start. Now, Penn State travels to Rutgers this weekend with more potential embarrassment waiting around every corner.
The team Penn State beat last weekend might be in a worse position. Michigan just canceled its game with Maryland this weekend, COVID-19’s intrusion into the Wolverines’ locker room the latest problem for embattled coach Jim Harbaugh.
Look around the standings and it’s not hard to find programs that ended 2019 on a high note — Louisville, Baylor, Utah, Tennessee — that might now be wondering if playing this season was worth all the trouble. And that doesn’t even touch on Nebraska. No team has ever pushed harder or argued louder for the right to go 1-4.
Orgeron, for one, refused to blame COVID-19 for the setbacks, but it is fair to wonder whether LSU-Alabama or Tennessee-Florida or Virginia Tech-Clemson might be a whole lot more interesting if everything off the field in 2020 had been — well, a whole lot less interesting.
“Nobody wants to go through a season like this, but I do believe we’re building character and grit that will help us later on,” Orgeron said. “You always have to represent LSU with pride, and the standard is very high. We haven’t met that. I’m not going