8/1/2020 1:00:00 PM
Football Gold

Sports fans have been anxiously waiting on the sidelines for months and asking the same question: What will football look like this season? Will there be players on the fields, fans in the stands, tailgaters in the parking lots? COVID-19 has impacted most everything in our lives, including how we will experience sporting events this year. Whether the NFL, college, or high school football, plans for how to carry out the season seem to change almost daily. It’s understandable. Who can predict how a pandemic will pan out? Despite the uncertainty, Lake Area sports commentator Matt Dye, co-founder of The Tailgate Kings, gives Thrive readers a preview of what to expect from our region’s most beloved gridiron teams.

LSU: What Comes after a Storybook Season?

by Matt Dye

As the seconds ticked down in New Orleans as LSU destroyed Clemson 42-25, there were a few things obvious and a few things that we’ll debate until the end of time. Were the 2019 LSU Tigers the greatest college football team ever? Did Joe Burrow just have the greatest season for a college quarterback? s there anything more Louisiana than Coach O? The one undeniable fact is that you can’t have a season that good and have no one notice, and one by one, pieces of Coach O’s staff started to get snapped up.

Passing Game Coordinator Joe Brady, who so seismically changed LSU’s offense in one season that fans will be expecting Burrow bombs every game, is now with the Carolina Panthers and wunderkind Matt Rhule. D-Coordinator Dave Aranda, who’d been with Coach O since year one, got his break as head coach at Baylor, where he looks to bring a little defense to the Big12. And Running Backs coach Tommie Robinson is now over at Texas A&M. Oh, and Joe Burrow is a Cincinnati Bengal.

Luckily, Coach O was able to re-stock coaches in a way that has to make the rest of the college football landscape jealous, bringing back Bo Polini as D-Coordinator, bringing in more NFL experience with Scott Linehan as the new Passing Game Coordinator, and promoting LSU’s all-time leading rusher Kevin Faulk to Running Backs coach. Of course with the 2020 team, things have to be taken with a grain of salt. We were given a gift last season, and even though the Tigers should still be good, there has to be tempered expectations.

Starting at QB in place of Joe Burrow should be Myles Brennan. After waiting in the wings for years, now is his chance to take the wheel, and limited off-season video shows that he’s got the tools. He’s also got the weapons to keep the offense going, with perhaps the best receiver in program history, Ja’Marr Chase, as well as Terrace Marshall, who caught 13 TDs last season. 

The battle for starting running back will be the most interesting to watch as the season goes on, as LSU is likely to start the season with running back by-committee to fill the gap left by Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Chris Curry should be the early favorite, but Ty Davis-Price and John Emery should see carries early as Coach O finds the hot hand.

On defense, the Tigers should still dominate as they switch over to Polini’s patented 4-3 scheme. Led by cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr., who had six interceptions last season, the Tigers defense should more than keep them in games. Other standouts are safety Jacoby Stevens and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin. As for the schedule, right now it’s impossible to tell. If there is a season, will the SEC decide to play only conference opponents like the Big10 and Pac-12? At the time of this writing, the ruling should be announced at the end of July and it’s highly likely, so we’ll talk about the schedule in terms of that.

Does that mean they will then add games since the conference contains only an eight-game schedule? They may very well add an additional conference opponent or two from the SEC East, but for now, we’ll look at the eight conference games on the schedule. If that’s the case, LSU would open at home against Ole Miss. In recent years a pushover game, Lane Kiffin is now at the helm, and even though there probably won’t be much to see this year, if Kiffin gets the players he wants, Ole Miss could be dangerous in a few seasons.

Then it’s road games against Florida and Arkansas. As much as I hate to say it, Florida will probably be good this year, and will probably be one of the toughest games of the season; though it’ll be curious to see if The Swamp has the same power without a crowd. Either way, Dan Mullen has Florida playing well in his first two seasons and should be poised to be in the SEC title game. Then it’s a home game against Mississippi State before hosting everyone’s favorite Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Even if all that works out, LSU finishes with two games on the road at Auburn and then at Texas A&M. Not the easiest schedule of Myles Brennan’s coming out party!

LSU Schedule

(at the time of publication) 

Sept 26 vs Ole Miss

Oct 3 TBD

Oct 10 @ Florida

Oct 17 @ Arkansas

Oct 24 vs Mississippi State

Nov 7 vs Alabama

Nov 14 vs South Carolina

Nov 21 @ Auburn

Nov 28 vs Texas A&M

Dec 5 TBD

A New Gridiron Era at McNeese

by Matt Dye

It starts with President Dr. Daryl Burckel, who took the helm at McNeese in 2017. Since then, his fingerprints have not only been on improving academics at McNeese, but also on improving the athletic department.

Like with any great endeavor, there have been a few hiccups, as we saw Sterlin Gilbert come and go in one season. He’s now the Offensive Coordinator at Syracuse.

Enter Frank Wilson, a man known as one of the top recruiters in college football, who also happens to be the first African-American head football coach at McNeese, and only the second in Southland Conference history.

Wilson spent the last four years as the head coach of UTSA, where he led the Roadrunners to two bowl appearances. Before that, Wilson spent time as the recruiting coordinator for LSU, where he brought in such players as Odell Beckham Jr., Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry, Tyrann Mathieu, and Leonard Fournette.

Wilson also knows the Southland Conference intimately, having been a three-year letterman at Nicholls State.

Even though McNeese is coming off its FCS-leading fifteenth straight consecutive winning season, Coach Wilson knows that seven wins aren’t going to cut it for Cowboy fans. "I got first-hand experience as a player against the McNeese Cowboys,” he says. "It’s a very prideful, traditional program that has had great players for many years, that has had great coaches for many years. My only attempt is to get us back to our rightful place.”

To get them there, Wilson has a number of returning seniors ready to wipe the taste of last season out of their mouths. Led by senior Cody Orgeron at quarterback, the Cowboys’ offense should be a force this season. Senior wide receiver Cyron Sutton set records last season both in receptions (67) and yards (950) and looks ready to have a repeat season.

Sutton, along with defensive back Darrion Dunn, has been named to the 2020 All-Southland Conference Pre-season Football Team first team, while defensive back Cory McCoy has been named to the second team. In addition, Dunn has been named a pre-season All-American by HERO Sports.

It’s hard to talk about the rest of the starting line-ups given that McNeese won’t even see the field until Friday July 24. They did bring in transfer running back AJ Carter from Arizona State, who was one of the top running backs in Louisiana coming out of high school in Many. He should be a player to watch. The road ahead will be difficult, as McNeese is expected to finish fifth in the Southland behind defending co-champs Central Arkansas and Nicholls, as well as Sam Houston and Southeastern. Last season McNeese was exactly what you would expect as a middle of the road team under a new head coach. They again face a similar uphill battle, only now with even less practice time.

McNeese announced on July 24 that football would be the only sport in the Fall to play a full non-conference schedule, meaning that their first two dates should happen. Luckily, they won’t need to travel far with an opening game in Lafayette against the Ragin’ Cajuns. The following week, they host Northern Colorado, whom they beat two years ago on the road.

McNeese opens the conference schedule at home against Abilene Christian, who got their first win against the Cowboys last season. Then it’s on the road to play a Southeastern team that they beat in one of the better games last season, 38-34. The real test comes at home against Central Arkansas, the only team in conference with an overall winning record against the Cowboys. Last year Central Arkansas took McNeese out in a shootout, 40-31, so expect this to be a high flying, high scoring affair.

After a likely pushover game against Houston Baptist (but beware, their QB can sling it), it’s on the road to play Sam Houston, who’s had the Cowboys’ number in recent years, although there was a two-year gap before last year. The final four games to end the season look to be a bit of a relief, with three of the final four games at home, as well as the showdown with Nicholls, against whom the last few years home field has mattered.

I also imagine Coach Wilson would really love to beat his alma mater. All said, McNeese has every opportunity to not only have their sixteenth consecutive winning season, but also be in the running for tops of the SLC, with a lot of their harder match-ups at home. Either way, it’s a new era we can’t be more excited for.

McNeese Schedule

(at the time of publication)

Sept. 5th @ ULL

Sept. 12th vs. Northern Colorado

Sept. 19th vs. Abilene Christian

Sept. 26th @ Southeastern Louisiana

Oct. 3rd vs.  Central Arkansas

Oct. 10th @ Houston Baptist

Oct. 24th @ Sam Houston State

Oct. 31st vs. Stephen F. Austin (Homecoming)

Nov. 7th vs. Nicholls State

Nov. 14th @ Northwestern State

Nov. 21st vs. Lamar

In a Non-Traditional Off-Season, Do Saints Have the Edge?

by Matt Dye

Last Season Quick Re-Cap

It seems like forever ago that the Saints were hosting the Vikings on Wildcard Weekend when again, for the third year in a row, fans watched the Saints lose on the last play of the game, a controversial one at that. Despite the 13-3 record, the Saints were an under-performing team, which was showcased late in the season when they were unable to stop San Fran at home, giving up 48. Alvin Kamara was hurt for much of the season, and Drew Brees when healthy, struggled to find a weapon to throw to besides Michael Thomas, who ended up with a record setting 149 catches. Egads!

Off-Season Moves

That’s why the Saints’ off-season moves have been quietly significant. Not only has Kamara gotten healthy (go view his workouts on YouTube), but the Saints added Emmanuel Sanders, who will work perfectly with Thomas. Sanders has been one of the most dynamic receivers since his days in Pittsburgh and has a Super Bowl title with the Broncos. He could be the most important piece to this offense going forward, and if you play fantasy, he’s a must-have mid-rounder. Oh, and the Saints drafted top tight end Adam Trautman from the University of Dayton. We know how Brees loves his tight ends.

The other interesting offseason move is acquiring quarterback Jameis Winston. As an off-season problem early in his career (crab legs!) who never truly hit his mark with the Buccaneers (30 INTs last season), under Sean Payton, he’s quite an interesting prospect. Coming out of college, pundits compared him to Peyton Manning in terms of football IQ, and now he’s learning under two of the best. Not to mention, the guy finally got LASIK surgery, so he put up 5,000 yards passing last season not being able to see. Either way, having let go of Teddy Bridgewater to the Carolina Panthers, Winston fills a need no matter what you think of Taysom Hill.

The other big off-season change that affects the Saints is the inclusion of a seventh playoff team in each conference. While this would seem like good news for the Saints or any team, it comes at the cost of a first round bye. Now, instead of two teams getting the much needed bye, there’s only one. And an argument can be made that the Saints more than any team in the NFC need that bye.

Regular Season 

Before the pandemic, the NFC South looked to be one of the toughest divisions in football, but now, with no pre-season games on the horizon, the Saints look to be in the driver’s seat once again. That’s largely because of the big off-season move you might have heard about . . . Tom Brady is now in Tampa. When this first happened, a hush fell over the NFL, but now with no real pre-season, there’s realistic expectation of rust on the 43-year-old, who for better or worse is learning a new offense.

That said, a Week One match-up against the Bucs seemed to be prime time television a few months ago. Now, an experienced Saints team at home should have it easy. Instead, the real Tampa Bay match-up to watch is in Week Nine when they go on the road to play a Brady-led offense that should have figured it out by then.

That said, the schedule is largely unimpressive through Week Nine, with the Packers thrown in there for a bit of a challenge. Otherwise, the season really starts in Week Ten with a game against the Super Bowl Runner-Up 49ers, who should be even better this year. The good news is that the Saints are at home again. This should be an early playoff preview.

After a home game against a much healthier (and probably NFC South runner-up) Atlanta team, the Saints go on a three-game road trip to Denver, Atlanta, and Philly before coming home to face the Super Bowl Champs, the Patty Mahomes’ Chiefs, followed by the Vikings, who seem to have the Saints’ number.

This is the stretch where we’ll find out what kind of Saints team we’re going to see in the playoffs. If they can get through the second half of the season at 6-2 or better, this could finally be the year after three years of disappointment. At the same time, we need to realize that this could be the last season of Drew Brees despite how much he wants to continue to play. A swan song season?

Saints Schedule

(at the time of publication)


Sept. 13th vs. Tampa Bay

Sept. 21st @ Las Vegas

Sept. 27th vs. Green Bay

Oct. 4th @ Detroit

Oct. 12th vs. Los Angeles

Week Six Bye

Oct. 25th vs. Carolina

Nov. 1st @ Chicago

Nov. 8th @ Tampa Bay

Nov. 15th vs. San Francisco

Nov. 22nd vs. Atlanta

Nov. 29th @ Denver

Dec. 6th @ Atlanta

Dec. 13th @ Philadelphia

Dec. 20th vs. Kansas City

Dec. 25th vs. Minnesota

Jan. 3rd @ Carolina

Posted by: Matt Dye | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Sports

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