AP Photo/Michael Woods

CFP or Not, LSU Completes Unique Turnaround with SEC West Title

David Kenyon

The book on LSU's season is not closed, and the Tigers are hoping their 2022 story continues with a trip to the College Football Playoff.

But today—right now—that pursuit is not the focus.

Ten weeks ago, the debut of new head coach Brian Kelly ended in gut-wrenching fashion. LSU nearly overcame a 14-point deficit to Florida State in the fourth quarter, capping a 99-yard drive with a touchdown as regulation expired. Overtime loomed after the extra point.

Stunningly, FSU blocked the attempt, and LSU instead suffered a devastating 24-23 loss.

At that moment, there was little reason to believe the Tigers would legitimately compete in the SEC. About a month later, they barely survived a mediocre Auburn team before the apparent nail in the conference coffin.

Tennessee's high-powered offense flat-out destroyed LSU 40-13 in front of a stunned crowd. More than 40 percent of LSU's offensive yards came after it was 37-7.

LSU trailed by 30 points. Thirty points. At home.

In what world did that suggest LSU would be slipping on the SEC West crown? How could one of Alabama or Ole Miss—both undefeated at that moment—not wind up the division champion?

The simple, not-so-easy answer: Beat 'em both.

LSU's surge started the next weekend in a 45-35 victory over conference rival Florida. The contest, not coincidentally, also marked the star turn of dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels. He threw for a season-high 349 yards and three touchdowns, also scampering for three scores.

Then, in the two biggest games of the season, the Arizona State transfer was the best player on the field. Daniels accounted for 369 yards with five touchdowns in the 45-20 rout of Ole Miss and 277 yards with three scores in the 32-31 upset over Alabama. He lasered the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime to topple Bama too.

Suddenly, the UT-wrecked Bayou Bengals—predicted to finish fifth in the division in the preseason poll—owned the cleanest path to the SEC West title.

Saturday's victory at Arkansas wasn't a beautiful one, but freshman linebacker Harold Perkins keyed the critical 13-10 win. He matched a program single-game record with four sacks and forced a game-sealing fumble. LSU officially clinched the West later in the evening when Bama stopped Ole Miss' potential go-ahead drive.

In a word: Incredible.

LSU is the first program since 2015 to reach the SEC Championship Game despite having a 20-point home loss. Only once in the last 14 years has the SEC West winner dropped multiple regular-season games. Kelly joined a small group of first-year coaches to make the SEC title game.

Between modest preseason expectations, a disappointing start, an embarrassing home loss and the competition within the division, LSU basically had every reason to not be here.

But, no, the Tigers are booking a trip to Atlanta.

Three weeks from now, we might be talking about LSU in the College Football Playoff. That would only add to the preposterous nature of this adventure, given that top-ranked Georgia presumably awaits in the SEC Championship Game.

No matter what happens down the stretch, however, 2022 LSU's legacy is secure.

All of these bizarre, unanticipated and fascinating twists have resulted in a championship story that LSU fans will be telling their fah-muh-ly for years.

The road started with Kelly's fake accent that spawned months of mockery. The journey required two disheartening losses. The season ended, at absolute worst, with an improbable SEC West championship.

And maybe—just maybe—the Tigers aren't done yet.


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