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What LSU's victory means for the Tigers and the college football playoff

What LSU's victory means for the Tigers and the college football playoff
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Saturday was one of the seemingly endless "game of the year" candidates we have in college football at least once every two weeks. For once, however, LSU-Alabama lived up to the hype. The Tigers pulled off a 46-41 victory over the Crimson Tide.

The game had everything. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow cemented his Heisman campaign with a 31 of 39 passing effort for 309 yards and three touchdowns. After a slow start, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa rallied the Tide from a 33-13 halftime deficit with a 418-yard, four touchdown passing performance of his own.

There were big defensive plays among all the offense. There was a punt return touchdown. Both running backs - LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Alabama's Nejee Harris - made huge plays in the running and passing game. It was college football at its best.

It was also a major win for an LSU program that had scored a whopping 10 points in its last three games against Alabama. The Tigers shattered that on Saturday night. The bigger question is what does it mean for LSU moving forward?

A Heisman for Burrow?

Joe Burrow's performance might have earned him a Heisman trophy. Besides his excellent passing effort, he rushed for 64 yards on 14 carries, including a clinching first down late in the game. The moment was never too big for him, and he was at his best on the biggest stage. His numbers are phenomenal. He has completed almost 80 percent of his passes for 3,198 yards, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Against Top 25 opponents, he has 11 touchdowns against just two interceptions. In the SEC, he has 17 touchdowns and just one interception.

Barring a collapse, here is your Heisman winner.

Playoff resume

The Tigers have four wins against teams that were in the Top 10 when they played them - Texas, Auburn, Florida and Alabama. There is no team in the country with a better resume. While they might not be the best team - Ohio State has a case for that as well - they have the most impressive body of work. And while you can debate who is No. 1 or 2, what you can't debate is that even if they lose a game, the Tigers are going to the playoffs.

What lies ahead

Next up is Mississippi, which is a decent team. LSU could easily have a letdown after Saturday's huge win, especially considering the injuries that piled up against Alabama. This could be their toughest test before the championship game. Ole Miss pushed Auburn and A&M, and won't be a pushover. LSU is better than those schools, but don't be surprised if this one is tougher than it looks on paper.

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After that is Arkansas, which is one of the worst teams in a Power Five conference and LSU could win this one with backups.

Finally, a rematch of a classic

The last regular season game is against Texas A&M, which is a solid program that has not been able to get over the top against highly ranked teams this year. Ordinarily this might be a game that LSU might overlook, but after last year's Aggie victory, LSU will come into this prepared off an easy game.

On to the championship - and the impact

Assuming the Tigers win two of the three, they will get Georgia in the championship game. Here is the bottom line: If LSU wins its next three, it will be in the playoff even with a loss to Georgia. A one-loss LSU will have a better resume than any team in the country. One loss Oklahoma? One loss Oregon? None of those teams would measure up. Ideally, winning out and completing an undefeated season is the obvious goal, but the win over Alabama allows for a little wiggle room. Even a loss to A&M or Ole Miss would be meaningless if the Tigers beat Georgia for the title.

That makes the playoff picture a little more clear.

Ohio State and Clemson look like they have two of the playoff spots locked up; it's unlikely either loses down the stretch. If LSU finishes with one or no losses, they have the other spot. Which leaves one spot for Georgia (wins out with a win over LSU), Oklahoma or Baylor, Oregon or Utah, and yes, still Alabama, who is by no means out. Anything beyond that seems unlikely. Minnesota is unbeaten but will have to play Ohio State. Penn State's loss on Saturday likely eliminates them, but an unlikely win over Ohio State in two weeks could conceivably get them back in the mix. That does not seem likely.

Realistically, it will be LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and a player to be named. Ohio State still has some challenges, but they have trucked everyone and look like they will win out. If they do, that takes Penn State and Minnesota out of the equation. Clemson is playing much better football and has no real tests left, so they look safe.

In the Big 12, Oklahoma still has a path to the playoffs, but after losing to K State and almost losing to Iowa State, there are no guarantees, even if they win out. Baylor is unbeaten but will still have to face OU at least once and still has Texas on the schedule. With their weak overall schedule, one loss likely eliminates them. A one loss Oregon or Utah might have a case, but the Pac-12 is a lot like the Big 12; it simply does not have enough good teams to help their chances. In the end, the fourth spot could come down to Georgia with an upset over LSU in the title game or Alabama, who will need to win out, lurk and hope for the best. The Tide does not have a real signature win, but they do have Auburn left on the schedule, and a convincing win would give them a case over Oregon, who lost to Auburn Week 1. So if everything plays out and the top three win out, the remaining contenders for the fourth spot would be Alabama, Oklahoma and the Pac-12 winner with one loss.

What does it all mean for LSU?

LSU likely has a Heisman winner, is clearly one of the top two teams in the country, is a legitimate national title contender and has finally slayed the Alabama demon. Saturday's game was a classic, but there is still work to be done.

However, with the victory, LSU has already accomplished a great deal and set itself up to accomplish so much more.

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The Astros need to turn things around in a hurry. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros have already been swept in four series this season. They were swept in four series all of last season. As Mexico City says bienvenidos to the Astros this weekend, there are certainly more than a few folks fretting that the Astros are already close to saying adios to playoff hopes. The Astros are not at the point of no return, though one can see it out there on the horizon. It wouldn’t take another month of their garbage level 7-19 performance for the season to be essentially down the drain.

If the Astros were in the American League East, they’d already be ten games out of second place. But they’re not! If in the AL Central they’d be eleven and a half games back of Cleveland. But they’re not! Dozens of teams have rebounded to win divisions from larger deficits much later in the season than the Astros face presently. The Seattle Mariners lead the thus far weak AL West at 13-12. The Astros being six and a half games in arrears of the M’s and six back of the Texas Rangers in late April is far from optimal but nowhere near devastating.

Multiple media outlets have noted how few teams historically have started a season in as stumblebum a fashion as the 2024 Astros and wound up making the playoffs. What every outlet I have seen noting that failed to include: this is just the third season since Major League Baseball added a third Wild Card to each league’s postseason field. So, while 7-19 out of the gate is indisputably awful, it is not the death knell to the extent it has been over generations of MLB.

The issue isn’t where the Astros sit in the standings, it’s that they have played atrocious baseball and aren’t providing reason for optimism that a stark turnaround is imminent. The starting rotation is the best hope. Justin Verlander has made two starts. Framber Valdez rejoins the rotation Sunday. Cristian Javier should be a week or so away. Obviously, Ronel Blanco isn’t going to continue pitching as well as he has through his first four starts. But if he is a good number four starter, that’s fine if the top three coming into the season pitch to reasonably hoped for form.

Hunter Brown simply is not a good big league pitcher. Maybe he someday fulfills his potential, but the data at this point are clear. What can Brown do for you? Not much. Spencer Arrighetti needs better command to be a good big league starter. J.P. France was a revelation over his first 17 starts last season, but since has looked like the guy who posted underwhelming numbers when in the minor leagues. If the Astros wind up with 50-plus starts from Brown/Arrighetti/France their goose will probably be cooked.

The only MLB teams with worse staff earned run averages than the Astros’ horrific 5.07 are the Chicago White Sox (Wait! They have Martin Maldonado!) and Colorado Rockies. At 3-22 the White Sox are on an early pace to post the worst record in the history of Major League Baseball. The Rockies never have a chance to post good pitching stats because of the mile high offensive freak show environment in Denver.

Way to go, Joe

Props to Joe Espada for his conviction in making what he believed to be the right call in pulling Verlander after four and a third innings Thursday at Wrigley Field. Verlander allowed no runs but had reached 95 pitches in just the second outing of the injury-delayed start to his season. Not easy for a rookie manager skippering what has been a Titanic journey thus far to pull a surefire Hall of Famer who was two outs away from qualifying for a win. Many were no doubt poised to destroy Espada had Rafael Montero given up the lead in the fifth. Verlander was angry at being pulled from any chance at his 259th career win. Understood, but the manager’s job is to make the decisions he thinks are in the ballclub’s overall best interest. That Montero and Bryan Abreu combined to blow the lead in the sixth is immaterial.

Then there's the offense…

Six runs total the last four games. Scored more than four runs in just one of the last nine games. Timely hitting largely non-existent.

At last check Alex Bregman still hawks that “Breggy Bomb” salsa. At the plate, he’s been mostly stuck in “Breggy Bum” mode, including zero bombs (home runs). 23 games played without a homer is Bregman’s longest drought since 2017 when he had separate 35 and 27 game stretches between dingers. Bregman has a history of slow first months of the season, but never anything as inept as he’s posted thus far. A litany of lazy fly balls, infield pops, and routine grounders add up to a .216 batting average and feeble .566 OPS. Reference point: Martin Maldonado’s worst OPS season with the Astros was .573. If Bregman was a young guy handed a starting job coming out of spring training, if a viable alternative were available, there’s a chance he’d be a Sugar Land Space Cowboy right now. Bregman’s track record makes it a decent bet that he winds up with decent numbers, but nothing special. Certainly nothing remotely worth the 10 years 300 million dollars or whatever Bregman and agent Scott Boras intend(ed) to seek on the free agent market this coming offseason. Two hits Thursday did get Bregman to the 1000 hit plateau for his career.

Despite arriving south of the border with his batting average at .346, even Jose Altuve has his warts. With runners in scoring position, Altuve has one hit this season. One. In 16 at bats. Small sample size, but it counts. That’s .063. Yordan Alvarez has been no great shakes either, five for 24 (.208) with RISP.

One wonders what would happen if the Astros got a hold of and “lost” Jose Abreu’s passport/visa this weekend in Mexico City and Abreu couldn’t get back into the U.S. after the two-game set with the Rockies.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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