Depending on how you regard TCU and Auburn—both of which appear to be decent but not great—LSU faces either its third, second or first true test of the season at Georgia this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
But no matter how you regard the Tigers' previous opponents, this upcoming test will certainly be their biggest.
No one would be "shocked" if LSU won between the hedges. It's probably a slightly better team than Georgia and, at worst, the two are more or less even.
But Vegas Insider has the Bulldogs as three-point home favorites, making LSU, technically, an underdog to leave Athens undefeated. Which begs a vital question:
If the Tigers lose on Saturday, how would it affect their BCS hopes?
Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, only two teams have reached the BCS National Championship Game after losing in (or before) Week 5:
|Team||Week Lost||Record||Championship Result|
|1998 Florida State||Week 2||11-1||L 16-23 vs. TEN|
|2008 Florida||Week 5||12-1||W 24-14 vs. OKLA|
The Tigers' saving grace would be Florida's 2008 squad, which lost to Ole Miss before Tim Tebow resolved to run the table, made good on his promise and led the Gators to another BCS National Championship.
Beyond that, LSU's hopes of losing to Georgia but still winning a BCS title appear bleak. In order to do so, it would almost certainly have to win at Alabama, run the table—which also includes games vs. Florida, at Ole Miss and vs. Texas A&M—then make and win the SEC Championship Game.
Is that possible? I guess it depends on how much you trust this LSU team.
Either way, a team that starts conference play 0-2 or 1-1 shouldn't resign itself to season-long failure. Programs frequently find a way to bounce back.
For example, nine of the last 12 SEC Championship Games have featured at least one team which lost its first or second conference game.
If LSU loses on Saturday, that, in a vacuum, would be great news. But this stat comes with a disclaimer.
Here's how those teams fared in the conference championship game:
|2001 LSU||8-3 (5-3)||W 20-9 vs. TEN||Sugar Bowl|
|2002 Arkansas||9-3 (5-3)||L 3-30 vs. UGA||Music City Bowl|
|2003 Georgia||10-2 (6-2)||L 13-34 vs. LSU||Capital One Bowl|
|2004 Tennessee||9-2 (7-1)||L 28-38 vs. AUB||Cotton Bowl|
|2005 LSU||10-1 (7-1)||L 13-34 vs. UGA||Peach Bowl|
|2007 Tennessee||9-3 (6-2)||L 14-21 vs. LSU||Outback Bowl|
|2008 Florida||11-1 (7-1)||W 31-20 vs. ALA||BCS Championship|
|2010 South Carolina||9-3 (6-3)||L 17-56 vs. AUB||Chick-Fil-A Bowl|
|2011 Georgia||10-2 (7-1)||L 10-42 vs. LSU||Outback Bowl|
Once again, only Tebow's '08 Gators would serve as a template for losing to Georgia but still winning a national championship. Otherwise, seven of the eight listed teams failed to make a BCS bowl at all.
Perhaps that had to do with the opponents they were facing—very often a team that went on to be crowned national champion—but it appears to be a trend nonetheless.
LSU, of course, won't care about any of that. If it makes the SEC Championship Game, it will expect to win—no matter who it faces. It won't care what history says about its chances to make a BCS bowl.
That being said, if they're able to temper expectations, the Tigers can miss the conference championship game and still finish the season on a high note.
Since the BCS expanded to five bowls in 2006—a seven-year span—five teams that didn't make the SEC Championship Game have played in a BCS bowl:
|2006 LSU||10-2||Sugar Bowl||Notre Dame||W 41-14|
|2007 Georgia||10-2||Sugar Bowl||Hawaii||W 41-10|
|2010 Arkansas||10-2||Sugar Bowl||Ohio State||L 26-31|
|2011 Alabama||11-1||BCS Championship||LSU||W 21-0|
|2012 Florida||11-1||Sugar Bowl||Louisville||L 33-23|
The only years when it didn't happen were 2008 and 2009, when Florida and Alabama met in the conference championship as No. 1 and No. 2 in America. Given the current shape and depth of the SEC, it's highly unlikely for a similar circumstance to play out.
If LSU Loses at Georgia, What Bowl Will it Play In?
In simpler terms: The team that loses the SEC Championship Game will likely miss a BCS bowl; but the best team omitted from the SEC Championship Game will likely make one.
And 60 percent of the time, that "best omitted team" has been 10-2, so LSU could theoretically lose at Alabama and still be in good shape.
LSU fans are all in with their team right now; after a fast start, this season has become championship or bust. Even with a loss at Georgia, if it wins out for the rest of the season and gets lucky with upsets in other leagues, there's a chance it can still make that happen.
But the Tigers should also take solace in this backup plan. Even in Baton Rogue, making a BCS bowl—one of the last five BCS bowls—has to be considered a successful year.
And even with a loss in Athens, LSU might be able to make that happen.