(CBS Local)- The college football season is well underway, but Saturday marks the debut of the SEC as they kick off their ten game conference only schedule with Week 1 on Saturday. With the return of the SEC comes the return of the SEC on CBS with LSU hosting Mississippi State.
Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and Jamie Erdahl once again have the call for the network as the conference embarks on another season on CBS. For the opener, it’s a fascinating matchup between an LSU team that looks much different than the one which won the championship in January and a Mississippi State squad assuming a new identity under new head coach Mike Leach.
For LSU, the Tigers saw co-offensive coordinator Joe Brady, quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, receiver Justin Jefferson and four starting offensive linemen are all gone. In addition, junior receiver J’Marr Chase opted to focus on preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft rather than play this season. So, the prolific offense that lit the college football world on fire last season has a lot of question marks this year. Still, Danielson points out, at a program like LSU, just because we don’t know the names stepping into starting roles doesn’t mean we won’t be impressed by year’s end.
“The names on the back of the jerseys, are ones we’re not familiar with, but if you look at the bodies of the players. Not much has changed at LSU,” said Danielson. “They have always had, as many like Ohio State or Alabama, maybe in the old days USC, as many NFL bodies on the practice field as anyone.”
One look at the Tigers depth chart for this Saturday’s game confirms Danielson’s point. It is littered with former four and five-star recruits that have been waiting to step into the limelight. Now, they will get the chance to do just that. But, one interesting storyline to watch is how the offense reacts in games. As Danielson says, part of what made the Tigers combo of Brady and Emsinger so good last year was their ability to adjust on the fly to game situations, pointing to last year’s Alabama game as an example.
In the fourth quarter of that game, the Tigers led 39-27 when Alabama embarked on a 14-play 75-yard drive capped by a Jerry Jeudy touchdown to make it 39-34. The feel of the game started to swing in Alabama’s favor. That’s when LSU answered with a 7-play 75-yard drive of their own to essentially ice the game at 46-34. Emsinger is back, but Danielson is interested to see how he fares with those types of in-game moments this season.
“Part of being a real skilled offensive coordinators reacting to situations as they happen in the game, and making split decisions where you got three or four seconds to grab a play,” said Danielson. “When, the pressure of the game gets intense. And, making those decisions in the heat of the battle still has to be done so that’s another hurdle this team will have to cross.”
Those moments may not come against Mississippi State, as the oddsmakers have the Bulldogs 16.5 point underdogs as of this writing. It’s understandable given that it is Mike Leach’s first game at the helm and he’s transitioning the team to his preferred style of play.
The Bulldogs do have a new quarterback in grad transfer K.J. Costello from Stanford. Leach’s system is quarterback friendly, giving his passers plenty of options and quick reads with the football. Danielson compares Leach coached teams to those of Navy or Army where you know what’s coming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to stop.
“They depend on repetition, doing it over and over again they have faced plays that they run plays that they think will work against any defense. And one of the things that Mike prides himself on is that you can try to disguise your defense all you want, but things happen after the snap that gives the player,” said Danielson. “It’s almost like turning your cards up in poker. He tells his quarterback that, ‘Listen, don’t worry too much about pre-snap there are things they look for, but after the snap everybody’s going to turn their cards over that’s where we’re going to make our decisions.’ And, baked into our game plan is options and offshoots of each play.”
Danielson also expects that over time Leach will be able to draw better players to Mississippi State than either of his previous two stops at Washington State and Texas Tech. In the long run, he thinks the system should work fine for the Bulldogs though it may not look great immediately against an opponent like LSU.
“I believe this is a good opener for Mississippi State. It’s not a game it’s a lot of pressure on Mississippi State, for sure. Nobody expects them to win,” said Danielson. “It may take time, they might not be ready for this LSU talent right out of the chute but in the long run I think it’ll help.”
New Season, Different Conference Schedule
With it being the first week of the SEC season, it’s natural to wonder what this year will look like for the conference. It’s a different schedule than normal with 10 conference games compared to the normal eight.
“One wonders ‘Is this the year finally that the SEC beats each other up,'” asked Danielson. “I think the league is a little deeper this year.”
The normal top teams all have different questions. For some like Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M, the ten game conference schedule is particularly rough. For others like Alabama, there remain similar questions to LSU with new faces entering the lineup. Either way, Danielson sees this as a year where a team might be “proud” to win the conference with just one loss.
Texas A&M is a team that Danielson says he liked more with the schedule they had prior to the changes. Now, the Aggies have a Week 2 date with Alabama in Tuscaloosa before returning home the next week to face Florida.
“I worry about that early game, getting beat up at Alabama and then coming right back and having to play, Florida,” said Danielson. “But, you split those two games, and the back half of the schedule a little more pleasing now.”
The Aggies do have senior quarterback Kellen Mond who Danielson says could have a breakout year.
“Kellen Mond, or Kyle Trask (Florida) could be this year’s breakout player in this league,” said Danielson. “And if you get a breakout player at quarterback in any conference in any division, whether it’s the NFL or whether it’s college football, you got a chance to win a lot of football games.”
The SEC on CBS season kicks off on CBS this Saturday, September 26 with Mississippi State heading to Baton Rouge to face LSU. Kick-off is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.