Conventional wisdom, based on the last 8 years, is that LSU's best chances at SEC championships (and therefore a BCS bowl) occur in odd years. Because that's when LSU has played Florida and Auburn in Baton Rouge.
There's a reason it's conventional wisdom - it played out pretty well. LSU won the SEC in 2001, 2003, and 2007. They won the SEC-west in 2005. Of course, the Tigers won the BCS Championship in 2003 and 2007. During each odd numbered year, LSU beat Auburn at home and split the games 2-2 with Florida.
LSU lost to Auburn in each of 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006. They split those games with Florida again. Most importantly, the Tigers did not compete for the SEC Championship in any of those years.
The key to this conventional wisdom is clearly Auburn, not Florida. When LSU beat Auburn, they competed in the West. And until this past year, the home team had won the LSU-Auburn matchup since 2000.
But what now? LSU beat Auburn on the road in 2008. And Auburn appears to be on the ropes and fading fast. After a very tough season, Tubby is out, Chizik is in, and nobody seems to think that's anything other than an Auburn disaster. Assuming they're right, is the "Odd Year" conventional wisdom still applicable?
No. LSU's road to Atlanta and a future BCS championship game will be just as tough in the odd years as it has been in the even years.
Why? Because the conference has significantly changed. Alabama is back and they're not going anywhere unless Saban's ego pushes him into insanity again. That may not happen. Ole Miss has a good QB, a very good football coach, and - with Mississippi State struggling again - they may just be able to haul in enough 4 stars to make a run at the West on occassion. And who knows what Arkansas is going to do in ANY year? They've got LSU's number lately, that's fo sho. Florida will continue to roll, although a resurgent Florida State and Miami may take a bite out of Urban Meyer's classy recruiting business. Georgia still has a great coaching staff, tons of talent, and are recruiting very, very well. Tennessee, like Mississippi State and Auburn, appears to be in a downward spiral. But the difference there is that Tennessee (I think) can recruit themselves right back into the thick of the SEC East in just a year or two. Not so much with Auburn and Mississippi State in the West.
So how does that play out?
In 2009, LSU's significant home games will be Florida, Auburn and Arkansas. We've already established that the Florida series is a toss-up and Arkansas is completely unpredictable. The Tigers could very easily lose both those games any season - as recent history clearly shows. Assuming Auburn is tumbling down mediocrity mountain, we'll call that one a more secure W. LSU's significant away games in 2009 will be Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss. Ouch. That looks tough. All told, I think it's a toss up whether LSU is more likely to struggle at home or away in 2009. Maybe both? With a new DC (God, please!) and mystery of all mysteries at QB? 2009 may be the most unpredictable LSU football season in recent memory.
In 2010, LSU plays Florida, Auburn and Arkansas away, with a similar analysis. Of course, Auburn may have recovered a bit, but Arkansas will probably be as good as they're going to be under Petrino by then. The home schedule includes Tennessee, Alabama and Ole Miss. Arguably our toughest challenge, especially if Tennessee has recovered under thier new coach by then. LSU, by 2010, will have secured it's defensive schemes, settled in at QB, and have some of the 2009 recruiting class playing as sophomores. If I had to pick the next year that LSU is likely to compete for the SEC title again, I'd say it's 2010.
So, the conventional wisdom that says our season depends on playing Auburn and Florida at home is over. It was valid - at least in the case of Auburn - until this past year.
Now, the conventional wisdom will be - what? Even years because we have Alabama at home? Maybe. But I doubt it.
I don't think there will be any conventional scheduling wisdom for awhile. The SEC may be reaching a level of parity that will make any season a contender-possibility for up to 3 teams in each division. Lots of drama. I'm just hoping that we can get an SEC team through the championship game each year with only 1 loss so that they can compete for the big show. That might be another casualty of too much parity.