NCAA Football: Florida at Louisiana State

LSU's previous quarterback capped off the best season in history at the position by lighting up a victory cigar. LSU's next quarterback has some heavier lifting to do. That's only a fleeting reference to Myles Brennan's offseason workout routine. Joe Burrow's replacement stayed in shape during the pandemic squatting and bench-pressing tree trunks.

As No. 6 LSU opens its defense of its national championship Saturday against Mississippi State, both the mission and transition are significant. The mission is to follow up a national championship. The transition from the talent on that team suggests it won't be done.

All of it begs the question that defines coach Ed Orgeron's program at the moment: Is it easier to win a championship or stay at a championship level?

"Obviously, being where we are right now, it seems like it's going to be harder to maintain it," Orgeron said this week.

We're about to find out definitively. While LSU has now won three titles since 2003, it hasn't always been a national power. In fact, Les Miles slipped enough that he was let go -- can it be? -- four years ago today (Sept. 25, 2016).

Orgeron himself lost to Troy in his first full season as coach.

After winning it all in 2003, the Tigers slipped back to No. 16 the next season. After becoming the only two-win champion in the BCS era in 2007, LSU finished out of the top 25. In fact, over the last 16 years, LSU finished in the top 25 just 14 times. That's only two more times than Group of Five darling Boise State.

Few are expecting an LSU title run this season. The losses have been so significant it seems the Tigers could make a bowl with the talent they've lost, including their Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 1 overall NFL Draft choice in Burrow along with their best wide receiver (Ja'Marr Chase), running back (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) and two key coordinators (Joe Brady, Dave Aranda).

What LSU does have is a future. After a presumed dip this year, Orgeron has positioned the program for sustained success. That means making the Tigers something they haven't always been, an annual national power.

They are absolutely loaded at running back. Chris Curry foreshadowed his value with a career-high 89 rushing yards against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff. There have been raves about freshman tight end Arik Gilbert. Ali Gaye is a 6-foot-6 junior defensive lineman who has played at two jucos after moving from The Gambia in West Africa.

LSU's task gets doubly tough playing 10 SEC games.

"Gotta forget about it, let it go," Orgeron said of last season. "It's a new season. I don't want to put too much pressure on this team. [There's] a first-year quarterback. I remember when Joe was a first-year quarterback not everything was perfect all the time. I don't think everything is going to be perfect."

Brennan won't be Burrow, but who will? The days of LSU struggling to recruit and develop quarterbacks are over. Brennan might have a better arm than Burrow, and he's already showed something rare in the game these days – loyalty. The redshirt junior has stuck around to throw all of 70 passes in three seasons.

"It doesn't change anything for me," Brennan said. "Joe came in here and did his thing and that was great. It's my turn now to do my thing."

What his thing will be is unknown. What LSU does will be fascinating because its reign is not over, just delayed, in 2020. LSU will face Mississippi State in the first SEC on CBS game of the year on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Here's what else you can look to see ahead of Week 4.

  • If you think you have it bad, consider Florida State (at No. 12 Miami). Coach Mike Norvell will miss Saturday's game at Miami due to COVID-19. His team is coming off a dreary season-opening loss to Georgia Tech. Norvell had to maneuver through a player revolt in the offseason. All that coming off a second straight sub.-500 season since 1976. An already suspect offensive line is responsible for the eighth-worst rushing attack in the country.
  • No. 2 Alabama (at Missouri) has won 18 consecutive games against the SEC East. Counting playoff and SEC title games, the streak is 26. The next longest streak in the SEC is three. Since the SEC expanded in 1992, the Tide have lost 19 games to the East.
  • Florida play-by-play legend Mick Hubert's streak of being on-site for 394 straight games ends this week. Hubert will remain in Gainesville, Florida, doing the game while the No. 5 Gators open at Ole Miss with new coach Lane Kiffin.
  • The season starts with Mississippi State's Kylin Hill (at LSU) not having lost a fumble since his sophomore year in high school. Hill has fumbled once (but recovered) with the Bulldogs. Something has to change. Hill was third in the SEC last season with 1,350 yards. No Mike Leach running back has ever reached 1,000 yards.
  • Texas Tech allowed its most passing yards in 24 years in the opener against FCS Houston Baptist (572). Here comes Heisman Trophy candidate Sam Ehlinger and No. 8 Texas.
  • Sympathies to Houston, which would be playing North Texas on Saturday but now has had five games either canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. The Cougars are now scheduled to open the season Oct. 8 at home against Tulane. If the Memphis game is rescheduled, Houston can still play eight regular-season games. To date, the program has endured eight schedule changes and two date changes.

Quick Kicks: More Alabama: It has won 91 straight games against unranked opponents. That's more than 7 ½ regular seasons … Kiffin has promised something "pretty neat" on a show of social justice by the Rebels and Gators on Saturday … Florida's Kyle Trask had the SEC's second-best passer rating next to Burrow … No. 8 Auburn has won 17 of the last 18 against Kentucky. The Tigers are a 7.5-point favorite over the No. 23 Wildcats, if you're interested in one of the more interesting underdog plays of the week.