Seasons on the brink: LSU, Tech, Grambling and NSU fates at stake

Do you watch La Brea, the NBC Tuesday night drama portraying people in LA falling into a massive sinkhole that carries them to the same location in 10,000 BC?

It’s a reality show for Brian Kelly, Sonny Cumbie, Hue Jackson and the ole grizzled veteran of five years in his job, Brad Laird. 

Those guys started September doing their thing. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was good. They were all probably overly optimistic, based on what most concerned those coaches about their football teams.

Now, a month and a half later, they are in an entirely different set of circumstances, trying to make the best of it. There are no tar pits. There are no fearsome prehistoric predators. There are (hopefully) no nefarious characters lurking, unless you count the guys wearing stripes.

What’s the outlook for the rest of this fall season? Will La Brea be renewed? Probably. I hope so. Huge fan of Natalie Zea, ever since her turn in the FX series Justified, and loved her in The Unicorn on CBS opposite her old Justified cast colleague Walton Coggins, who is brilliant every at-bat.

But this ain’t Entertainment Tonight, and I am definitely not Kevin Frazier (who once was a sports anchor in Alexandria). Staying in my lane, here’s some quick takes on football remaining for LSU, Louisiana Tech, Grambling and Northwestern.

BRIAN KELLY and LSU:  Seriously, did you think a program with about 40 scholarship players at the end of last season could be turned on a dime? Like in La Brea, there was a sinkhole in Tiger Stadium. Kelly is mapping a way back to this century. This is not Star Trek. Scotty can’t beam up Burrow, Chase, the Honey Badger, et al. Also, is it coincidence that one of La Brea’s Season 1 focal figures was “Marybeth Hill, a police officer from Baton Rouge,” who happened to be in LA (that one, not this one) at the wrong place and time. She tumbled to 10,000 BC, but she isn’t coming home.

Kelly is a very accomplished coach – maybe not the coaching savant some hoped. Few exist. Scott Woodward was thought to have hired one at Texas A&M, but at this stage of Jimbo Fisher’s career in AggieLand, his career mark is one under Kevin Sumlin’s W-L there at the same point. Woodward tapped Kelly. Time will tell if that’s a better hire. Meanwhile, this is a rebuild even bigger than what Nick Saban faced at LSU, at least as far as talented frontline performers and depth are concerned. All the bells and whistles to get the best players to BR are at Kelly’s disposal, but not even a transfer portal will be enough to avert a mediocre-at-best finish. 

SONNY CUMBIE and TECH:  The Bulldogs weren’t gonna beat Missouri, let alone Clemson. Nobody saw South Alabama finally getting it right – until this season, a classic underachieving program. But last Saturday’s Conference USA debut, coming off a refreshing open date, was an encouraging 41-31 win over a solid UTEP team.

UTSA may be the best of show in CUSA again, but that’s not clear cut. The league looks like a tar pit, with bubbles everywhere, and an eruption possible anywhere. Don’t see Louisiana Tech as a contender, but don’t see the Bulldogs as puppies trailing everybody else, either. 

HUE JACKSON and RAMBLING STATE: Hue took the G away. So I did, too. Although the 1-5 Tigers were one play from sweet victory last week in a 2OT loss at Alabama A&M, it seems unlikely Jackson will reward his players for being competitive throughout. The Tigers will not have the fabled G on the side of their helmets for their home opener Saturday – yes, that’s right, on Oct. 15, Grambling is home for the first time all fall.

Grambling has played one half of quality football, on Sept. 10 in a blowout of Northwestern State in the “Shreveport Classic.” The SWAC has some bad teams and a few good ones. Jackson won’t have a winning record in his first season but shouldn’t dwell in the SWAC cellar, either. At least Jackson can soothe his pain with his own brand of tequila. He is partner and chief strategy officer of Grand Leyanda. Yeah, me either. Time for new strategy with the tequila and the Tigers. 

BRAD LAIRD and NSU:  There can’t be a team that starts games any worse than the retooled Demons, a squad with more than 30 newcomers, most through the portal, and a nearly-new coaching staff, aside from Laird and veteran defensive assistant/assistant head coach DeVon Lockett. The last three weeks, nobody’s been any better at coming back.

If the Demons can prevail Saturday night at Houston Christian, they’ll sail into November unbeaten in the Southland (3-0), but with the league’s three best teams left to play. But to do that with momentum, they’ll also have to handle a 5-1 Southeast Missouri team next weekend at homecoming.

Confidence, and homefield, are valuable commodities. The Demons’ fortunes hinge on coming home from Houston with more than deals from the CVS drug store that is a few feet off the visitors’ sideline at Husky Stadium.

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