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LSU football coach Ed Orgeron will not get fired Saturday night or on Sunday or next week, should he lose at Mississippi State Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN), but it will be the first step toward his dismissal.
Mississippi State (2-1), which is a 2.5-point underdog by FanDuel, is not as good as No. 23 Auburn (2-1), which is not as good as No. 11 Florida (2-1). The Tigers (2-1) host Auburn a week from Saturday before a trip to Kentucky (3-0) on Oct. 9, with the Gators coming to Tiger Stadium the following week.
So, it is not a reach to say that, if LSU loses to Mississippi State, it could be 3-4. That’s assuming it beats Kentucky, which is probably penciling in LSU as a win as we speak. If LSU gets by Mississippi State, the Tigers will feel good about themselves for the first time all season entering the Auburn game. LSU will be breathing again, and Orgeron may have a whisper of a chance.
And Auburn has not won in Tiger Stadium since 1999, but Auburn looks better than LSU so far. So does Florida.
After Florida, LSU is at No. 13 Ole Miss (3-0) on Oct. 23 and at No. 1 Alabama (3-0) on Nov. 6. Right now, Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama look like sure losses.
Sure wins? Right now, only Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 20. LSU is a team that looked worse in its win over FCS McNeese State than it did in its loss at UCLA. McNeese pushed around LSU’s offensive line. Why wouldn’t everyone else, starting Saturday?
One can no longer pencil in No. 16 Arkansas (3-0), which will be in Baton Rouge on Nov. 13, as a sure win for the Tigers. Then No. 7 Texas A&M (3-0) closes the regular season on Nov. 27.
If Orgeron does not get by Mississippi State, he may not even be coaching when the Aggies visit. A loss to State could mean a 2-7 or 3-6 start entering the open date before Alabama. After a 5-5 season last year that started off 3-5, Orgeron may already be a double secret firing or a public lame duck by the Bama game with that type of record.
A loss to Mississippi State means Orgeron will be struggling mightily to get to six or seven wins. And 7-5 may not even be enough with an athletic director, Scott Woodward, who did not hire Orgeron and who has a record of quickly making major coaching moves. While in his second year as athletic director at Texas A&M in 2017, he fired football coach Kevin Sumlin after the Aggies went 8-5 in 2016 and 7-6 in 2017.
Orgeron – a journeyman assistant for most of his career who is now 60 – is also not Woodward’s type of hire. He prefers younger and more up and coming.
Woodward has been at LSU for just over two years, and he has watched the football program start to crumble from a 15-0 national championship in 2019 to 5-5 last year and to what is looking like much of the same again in 2021. You can bet Woodward already has a few names in mind, but that’s routine operating procedure for athletic directors.
Still, Orgeron has been here before and is not done quite yet. It just doesn’t look good, particularly if he loses Saturday because Mississippi State is probably worse than every remaining team on LSU’s schedule other than ULM. But it also looked this bad for Orgeron in his first full season at LSU in 2017. After a 37-7 loss at Mississippi State and a 24-21 home loss to 20-point underdog Troy, the Tigers were 3-2 going to No. 21 Florida (3-1) with No. 10 Auburn (5-1 with only a loss to No. 3 Clemson) coming in the next week.
The LSU decision makers even met quietly about firing Orgeron then, but somehow he got by the Gators, 17-16, and their coach – Jim McElwain – was soon fired. Then Orgeron’s Tigers fought off a 20-0 deficit to Auburn in the second quarter to win 27-23, and he was on his way to a 9-3 regular season finish.
There was no reason to think that would happen after the loss to Troy, but somehow Orgeron got everything together and signed graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow from Ohio State the next summer. And after more improvement in 2018 and a 10-3 finish, he won it all in 2019.
But more and more, Orgeron looks like Auburn’s Gene Chizik, who went 14-0 and won the national championship in 2010 with transfer quarterback Cam Newton, who like Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and was a generational talent. The next year, Chizik fell to 8-5, then to 3-9, and he was gone.
Orgeron’s fall, if it continues, is much more shocking. This is a coach who has signed three top four signing classes on his roster – No. 3 in 2019 and No. 4 in 2020 and ’21 from Rivals.com.
Player development is just not there. This was also previous coach Les Miles’ problem. Juniors and seniors on this team are not performing well on either side of the ball. Recruiting rankings also do not weigh how well a coach replenishes positions. They just look at the individual player rankings, regardless of position.
Orgeron has not recruited offensive linemen well. LSU had to kick starting left tackle Dare Rosenthall off the team for repeated rules violations, and Cameron Wire, who started while Rosenthal was suspended last year, is hurt now. But still, LSU should have enough talent to keep a McNeese State out of its backfield.
LSU has the same problems it had on defense last year – not as bad, but still bad. The coordinator changed, but many of the the same linebackers and defensive backs are leaving gaping holes for the running and passing games. And LSU’s secondary – with or without All-American Derek Stingley Jr. – continues to treat crossing routes as if they were invented by Mississippi State coach Mike Leach last year.
And Stingley may not be available Saturday because of an injury.
Meanwhile, LSU has too many players who have not been available because of team rules violations. This means Orgeron does not have a good disciplinary handle on his team. And it is well documented how poorly Orgeron handled the disciplinary cases of former players Drake Davis and Derrius Guice, whom he enabled by looking away.
Of course, that would not matter if he were winning.
But Orgeron’s handling of the sexual assault cases involving Davis and Guice could weigh into his contract buyout, which would be in the $20 million range later this season. LSU would have a case if it attempted to fire him with cause. Such a threat could also decrease the buyout.
In other words, if LSU’s power brokers want Orgeron fired this year, it could happen. Historically, when LSU needs the money for football, it finds it. It’s decrepit library? Not so much.
If Orgeron can find a way to win at Mississippi State, he could be on his way back. If he loses, it may be only a matter of time before he is done.
Obviously, Orgeron’s national championship game against Clemson was a big one, but Saturday in Starkville, he faces the game of his coaching life.