Back during the 2011 season, LSU put together one of the best regular seasons ever, beating eight ranked teams (including three in the top-three) on their way to an SEC title.
Unfortunately, they couldn't finish the deal, ultimately losing to Alabama in the national championship game, and frankly the entire program hasn't really recovered since. The Tigers have had at least three losses in the last four seasons, and have gone 0-5 against Alabama in their last five meetings.
That's also why the 2016 season is so important: With virtually every key piece returning off last year's roster (most notably superstar running back Leonard Fournette) it feels like an "SEC title or bust" season in Baton Rouge. Which might mean the end of the Les Miles era at the school if the Tigers don't win big.
Understand however, that's not just the opinion of this writer, but of one of the most legendary players in LSU football history.
That would be Rohan Davey, the quarterback who led LSU to the 2001 SEC title. He went on radio in Baton Rouge and explained just how important this season really is, and why if it doesn't this season, it might not ever.
"There's no excuses [this season]. You're not going to get any punchlines from me with this one. No excuses. The job has to be done this year," Davey said. "No excuses. It's prime time. Everything's set. The team is set. They're working their behinds off. All we got to do is play (quarterback). We play the position, we're going to put ourselves in position to do great things at the end of the year. There's no excuses this year. None at all."
Like the rest of the college football world, Davey knows that for LSU to succeed, it ultimately comes down to one player: Quarterback Brandon Harris. With Fournette in place, and the defense as good as it's been in years, it all calls come down to how Harris performs. And who he does it against.
"They need him to understand that the position consists of you moving the football. He needs to be a point guard with this team, and when the time presents itself later on in the season when you're playing against top competition, when they're loading the box to stop Leonard, that's when you have to perform and that's when the guys around you, the receivers, the tight ends, that's when it's time to perform," he said. "It's not time to perform against Appalachian State and the teams at the beginning of the season. That's not when you want to be prepared in the passing game to turn it on.
"You want to be prepared and ready when the Alabama's, the Auburn's, when those guys come and put seven, eight in the box and say we're going to stop the Heisman Trophy candidate and we want to see if the quarterback with 'the strongest arm in America,' we want to see if you can beat us. Because that's what's going to happen."
Holy crap, there's a lot to unpack here. At the same time, there's nothing Davey said that's incorrect. The simple truth is that if you talk to anyone associated with college football, and they'll tell you the same thing: LSU's season all comes down to Harris. Furthermore, Davey's assessment wasn't wrong either: Harris really is a different quarterback against the good teams and the bad.
Take last season for example. On paper, Harris' 13-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't awful (it isn't great either), but what gets lost in the shuffle is that of those 13 touchdowns, nearly a third (four) were thrown in out of conference blowouts against Western Kentucky and Syracuse. Another two were against South Carolina, which at 1-7 in league play, was arguably the worst team in the SEC. Meaning, nearly half of LSU's touchdown passes came against the three worst teams on the schedule.
Then there were those three LSU losses where Harris completed just 53 of 105 passes (a robust 50 percent completion percentage) and where because of it, the Tigers' offense stagnated. That included a miserable performance against eventual champion Alabama, which included just 182 yards of total offense.
Will things be better for LSU against all their opponents in 2016? Only time will tell.
But a large portion of whether the answer to that question is a "yes" or a "no" rests on the right arm of Brandon Harris.