The highlight of the second week of the college football season is the primetime matchup between the no. 6 LSU Tigers and the no. 10 Texas Longhorns. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 EST on Saturday, September 7 at Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.
Oddsmakers list the Tigers as 4.5-point favorites on the road with an over/under of 55 points. Click here to check out all of this week’s college football betting odds.
Unlike the last two seasons under Tom Herman, the Longhorns managed to win their season opener, taking care of business against Louisiana Tech. Texas put together a rather convincing performance, leading 38-0 after three quarters and ultimately winning 45-15. Coming off a season that helped put Texas football back on the map, it was important for the Longhorns to resist the urge to look ahead to the showdown with LSU and focus on beating Louisiana Tech, something that Herman and company accomplished.
LSU, meanwhile, was also one of the more impressive teams during the first week of the season. The Tigers went up against a rebuilding Georgia Southern team and obliterated the 27-point spread, winning 55-3. The Bayou Bengals dominated on both sides of the ball, giving up less than 100 total yards and coming one 47-yard field goal away from pitching a shutout. Of course, that game was merely a warmup for LSU’s trip to Austin this week.
While these are two programs with a lot of pride and history, they’ve only met once in the last 50-plus years. That game was Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day 2003 when Nick Saban was coaching at LSU and Mack Brown led Texas. The Longhorns won the game 35-20, although a lot has changed at both programs since that game.
Despite both teams having impressive victories the opening week of the season, we didn’t learn much about either team because both played weak competition. With that in mind, I’ll lean slightly toward the Tigers, who looked better on paper coming into the season. I’ll like the Tigers to win on the road and do enough to cover the spread.
The biggest difference between these two teams is on defense. Neither team is short on talent, but the Longhorns are replacing most of their starters from a year ago while the Tigers return most of their starters. To be fair, the home crowd will help the Texas defense. But the LSU defense will travel well and won’t be affected by being on the road, and they’ll become the catalyst for an LSU win.
A few flaws in the Texas defense were evident last week against Louisiana Tech. While they managed to stuff the running game, they allowed Louisiana Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith to throw for over 331 yards. To be fair, he had 51 pass attempts, and with the Bulldogs playing from behind all game, they were bound to put up big numbers in the passing game. But the Texas defense had just one sack and one interception in over 50 pass attempts. Smith also completed two-thirds of his passes, which is a problem. The Longhorns should have been pinning their ears back and coming after him, but they did little to disrupt Smith despite playing with a lead.
To me, that spells trouble against the LSU offense, which is going to be less about power running this year and more about passing the ball. Quarterback Joe Burrow was also super-efficient in the season opener, completing 23 for his 37 passes for 278 yards and throwing five touchdowns. I don’t think he’ll be that good against Texas. But if the Longhorns struggle to put pressure on him, Burrow will be set up for another big game.
To be fair, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was sharp in the season opener, doing so against a better defense than the one Burrow faced. However, the Longhorns are a little short-handed at running back behind Keaontay Ingram. Plus, Ehlinger isn’t always the kind of quarterback you want in a shootout. He’s a good passer and a capable runner, but Ehlinger is far from the kind of gunslinger who can be relied upon to score 40-plus points in a game against a quality defense.
Unfortunately for Texas, the LSU defense surely qualifies as a quality defense. I won’t overreact too much to the Tigers dominating Georgia Southern last week, especially since GSU is a triple-option team. But the talent the Tigers have on that side of the ball is extraordinary. The Longhorns are also a little young on the offensive line, so I can see LSU winning in the trenches and gaining a big advantage in this matchup.
Ultimately, I feel safer siding with the SEC team in this kind of matchup. Even on the road, I think the LSU defense will shine, making things a little easier for Burrow and the offense. The Tigers only need to win by a touchdown to cover, and I think that’s feasible, so I’ll lean toward LSU over Texas.