PREVIEW: LSU in season openers

One-hundred-and-eleven seasons of football at LSU. One-hundred-and-eleven season-opening games. Seventy-eight wins. Twenty-eight losses. Five ties.

Opening night belongs to the boys on the Bayou. The first ever football game played by LSU was on November 5, 1893, when a team led by quarterback Ruffin G. Pleasant and head coach/ chemistry professor Dr. Charles E. Coates picked out some purple and gold Mardi Gras ribbons from a store in downtown Baton Rouge, and headed to New Orleans to take on Tulane University.

That game, LSU's first-ever season opener, was the only game the ‘purple and gold' played all season, and judging from the 0-34 loss it was probably just as well.

The following year brought a little more success, as a season-opening 26-0 victory at Natchez AC led to a 2-1 final record – the first winning season in LSU history.

LSU bettered their 1894 effort by one in 1895, by avenging their 1893 loss to Tulane with a season-opening 8-4 win at home en route to a perfect 3-0 record. The final opponent that year? Alabama, whom LSU beat 12-6.

The purple and gold adopted the nickname ‘Tigers' one year later, and celebrated by once again running the table, winning all six games played that fall. They kicked the year off in style with a 46-0 thrashing of Centenary, and when the final curtain came down on the season, the ‘Tigers' had claimed Tulane, Ole Miss, Texas, Mississippi State, and Southern as victims.

Following a season-opening loss to Ole Miss in Meridian, Miss., on Nov. 3, 1899, the Tigers went on a 30-0 season-opening tear that saw them defeat, among others, Millsaps (1900), LSU Alumni (1903) and the New Orleans Y.M.G.C. (1908), before losing to T.C.U. in 1931. Despite the loss to the Horned Frogs, 1931 is one that has gone down in LSU history for a much more memorable reason – a 35-0 win over Spring Hill one week later was the first night game ever played in Tiger Stadium.

With head coach Bernie Moore at the helm, the Tigers kicked off the 1937 season with a win over current SEC rivals Florida, and defeated them 19-0 before going 9-1 and booking themselves a berth in the Sugar Bowl, where they ultimately lost to No. 9-ranked Santa Clara. LSU's only regular season loss in 1937? A 7-6 loss to No. 20 Vanderbilt.

The 1937 season was Bernie Moore's third as head coach at LSU, and the legendary Tiger figure stayed around until 1947, before leaving with an impressive 9-3-1 record in season-opening games. Moore's ten victims were Rice (four times), Florida, Louisiana Tech (twice), Louisiana Normal, and Georgia.

Gaynell "Gus" Tinsley took over as head coach in 1948, and stayed on the bayou for seven years, where he failed to follow in Moore's footsteps and left with a 2-7 record in season openers, including consecutive losses to Kentucky.

Paul Dietzel replaced Tinsley at the helm of the newly-monikered ‘Fighting Tigers' in 1955, and promptly dispatched the Wildcats 19-7 in front of a Tiger Stadium crowd of 38,000. However, the Tigers then failed to win another season-opener for three years, finally breaking the drought with a 26-6 win over Rice in 1958, before defeating, among others, Hardin-Simmons, Duke, Mississippi State, and Clemson on their way to LSU's first national championship.

The next name to appear on the coaching carousel was that of Charlie McClendon, who reigned supreme in Tiger Stadium for 18 years, posting a 13-4-1 record in opening games, including four straight over Texas A&M and two straight over a ranked Colorado team.

McClendon's final season-opener was a 44-0 win over the Buffaloes in 1979, the fourth time the two teams had met in a season opener, and came with current Sports Illustrated writer John Ed Bradley serving as captain while holding down the center spot on the offensive line. LSU lost five games that season, including a 12-17 loss at the hands of current enemy-du jour No. 1 Southern Cal, a loss the Tigers had to wait five years to avenge.

LSU's 2004 season-opening opponent, Oregon State, came to town on September 18, 1982, to kick off Jerry Stovall's third season in charge on the bayou, and was promptly sent packing with a 45-7 defeat suffered in front of overjoyed 78,425 fans. The win was the Tigers' third over the Beavers, and the two teams have not met on the football field since.

Since that game, LSU has gone 12-8-1, highlighted by a six-game win streak under Gerry DiNardo and current head coach Nick Saban, and lowlighted by a five-game losing streak under Curley Hallman and DiNardo. The final four losses all came against highly-ranked Texas A&M teams, and the streak was snapped with a 35-24 victory over Houston – the same win that sparked the aforementioned six-game win streak.

The Tigers begin their defense of their second national championship against the Beavers at home on September 4, with a seven-game home season-opening winning streak on the line. Overall, LSU has won 66 home season-openers dating back to the 8-4 victory over the Green Wave 109 years ago, a proud tradition that 2003 Head Coach of the Year Nick Saban hopes to continue under the Tiger Stadium lights in front of 92,000 cheering fans – a far cry from the several thousand in attendance the first time the first snap was taken in New Orleans, 111 years ago.

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