By Harold Hughes
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During the 2017-2018 season, the planner will offer itineraries for college football away games or neutral-site games played in major cities and right now, we are focusing on several early-season games we feel will be great match-ups.
Week 1: BYU vs LSU, 9:30 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, September 2, at NRG Stadium in Houston
Overview: This year’s AdvoCare Texas Kickoff game is shaping up to be a David vs. Goliath affair; fortunately for Brigham Young University, the Cougars’ faithful and players alike should all be keenly aware of who wound up winning that Biblically lopsided faceoff. The youthful Texas Kickoff series began in 2013, and – not that LSU needs any additional advantages – the Tigers will be making their second appearance in the series. The first time, in 2014, LSU defeated No. 14-ranked Wisconsin, 28-24. LSU represents the powerful Southeastern Conference, while the Cougars became a Division I independent in 2011, after – most-recently – playing a year in the Mountain West Conference. While it might rob BYU of some credibility, playing as an independent does give the program the opportunity to play a diverse schedule, and in recent years BYU has challenged opponents including Ole Miss, Texas, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, notching at least one win against each of those opponents except Notre Dame.
How they stack up: LSU comes in at No. 13 in the Associated Press’s pre-season top 25, while BYU didn’t make the list. Frankly, Brigham Young didn’t make any Division I top-25 list we could find; however, CBS Sports 128 ranks the 2017 Cougars at No. 44 in its preseason top 50. That about matches ESPN’s optimism for BYU’s chances in this season-opening game: According to the sports network’s Matchup Predictor, LSU has a 90.4 percent chance of winning the game.
Why we love this game: BYU wound up last year’s 8-4 regular season on a tear. The Cougars took the last four games before heading to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, where they continued their winning ways with a 24-21 nationally televised victory over Wyoming. After 11 seasons under standout head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who left to take over the Virginia Cavalier program, the Cougars now are coming into their second full season under head coach Kalani Sitake, who took over in December, 2015 – and the program seems to have found its groove. Sitake played fullback for the Cougars until he graduated in 2000, then signed a free-agent contract with the NFL’s Bengals before an injury forced him to hang up his cleats and pursue a coaching track. Also, as the first Tongan to become a collegiate-football head coach, Sitake could well be the answer to a question on TV’s “Jeopardy.” On the other side of the field, LSU wound up dropping two of its last five games on its way to an 8-4 2016 regular-season finish, which the Tigers capped off with a 29-9 pummeling of the Louisville Cardinals in the Buffalo Wild Wing Citrus Bowl. 2016 was even rockier for the LSU coaching staff than it was for BYU: After 12 years and four games, head coach Les Miles was dumped by LSU in September and replaced by interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who was then promoted to head coach in November. So while LSU is the odds-on favorite, this game could well provide some surprises. After all – David did defeat Goliath.
Fun Fact for BYU: While LSU comes into this game after a summer off, the Cougars will have already had a season-opening tune-up on Aug. 26, against Portland State (3-8 in 2016). It’s even a home game, and marks the first season-opener in Provo since the 2012 season. It’s an early start to accommodate BYU’s rare 13-game regular-season schedule, an exception granted by the NCAA to teams that schedule away games against Hawaii during the regular season.
The Cheering sections: So, can a Cougar take a Tiger in a fair catfight? Feline fans will have a lot to roar about in this game, but that’s hardly unusual on a Saturday in the fall, since the ranks of NCAA mascots are rife with animals. In the feline family alone, you have Jaguars, Lynxes, Leopards, and Catamounts (which is really a big-cat catch-all), in addition to the more familiar Tigers and Cougars. It should also be noted that LSU’s Tigers are actually the “Fighting Tigers,” which might give LSU’s “Mike the Tiger” mascot an advantage over “Cosmo the Cougar.”
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