New Orleans • It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Having mostly held their own in several college football games at NFL stadiums against Power Five schools since going independent in 2011, the BYU Cougars agreed in January of 2015 to meet SEC power LSU in Houston, a four-hour drive from Baton Rouge but also a city with a large number of BYU fans.
Then Hurricane Harvey happened, creating massive flooding in South Texas and forcing the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff to be moved out of Houston to New Orleans, where LSU’s home-crowd advantage for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. MDT kickoff at the Superdome will be even greater than it would have been in Texas.
Oddsmakers noticed, pushing No. 13 LSU from a 12-point favorite to a 16- or 17-point favorite at the home of the New Orleans Saints and about a 90-minute drive from LSU’s campus in Baton Rouge. It is as close to a home game that LSU can get without actually playing in Death Valley.
For their part, the Cougars, who posted an unsatisfying 20-6 win over FCS Portland State in their opener last week, have said all the right things about the change of venue and refused to complain or look for an excuse.
Any suggestion that BYU is at a disadvantage has been met with a reminder that the people in Houston have it far, far worse.
BYU officials believe they would have had 15,000 or more fans in the seats at NRG Stadium; It is anybody’s guess how many will show up in the Big Easy, where Mormons are few and far between.
BYU at NFL stadiums
Regular season games for the past 10 years:
2009 • Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas •BYU 14, Oklahoma 13
2009 • Superdome, New Orleans • BYU 54, Tulane 3
2009 • Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego • BYU 38, San Diego State 28
2011 • Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas • TCU 38, BYU 28
2013 • NRG Stadium, Houston • BYU 47, Houston 46
2015 • Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. • Missouri 20, BYU 16
2016 • University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. • BYU 18, Arizona 16
2016 • FedExField, Landover, Md. • West Virginia 35, BYU 32
BYU hasn’t been this big of an underdog since 2009, and folks in Provo remember that occasion fondly. Quarterback Max Hall led No. 20 BYU to a 14-13 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma, a 21-point favorite, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Can the Cougars do it again? Or will they lay an egg like the last time they were a double-digit underdog, Sept. 26, 2015, at Michigan? The Wolverines overwhelmed then-freshman Tanner Mangum and his punchless offense 31-0 at the Big House. The Cougars gained a paltry 105 yards.
Bad news for BYU fans: LSU’s defense is probably even better. The Tigers allowed just 16 touchdowns last season, leading the country in fewest TDs allowed.
“This will be a good challenge for us, to see how we stack up against them,” Mangum said. “Obviously, LSU has shown over the years they are one of the top programs in the country, and for good reason.
“We have to respect them and give credit where credit is due, but also have confidence in ourselves and know that we can match up with them and know that we are up for the challenge.”
LSU will be without stud linebacker Arden Key, who is injured, and several other players who have been suspended. The Cougars will be closer to full strength than they were last week against the Vikings because starting middle linebacker Butch Pau’u is expected to play.
The junior tackling machine and his mates will have their hands full with one of the top running backs in the country, LSU junior Derrius Guice.
“He was dynamic [last year] and he can really run,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “That’s going to be a huge task for our guys. But I think Fred [Warner] and the guys are ready to roll. … We will prepare for it and see what happens.”
Coincidentally, LSU coach Ed Orgeron has already seen an epic BYU upset first-hand. He was No. 1 Miami’s defensive line coach in 1990 when BYU beat the Hurricanes 28-21 in Provo. The Cougars were coming off a lackluster season-opening win over UTEP, while Miami hadn’t played yet, like LSU this week.
“This is going to be a battle,” Orgeron said. “There are going to be some mistakes that we are going to have to fix. But we will be totally prepared for a battle.”
When BYU stunned Oklahoma, quarterback Max Hall famously screamed at fans and television cameras that the Cougars were going to win as they ran off the field at halftime. Mangum said it will take that kind of confidence to pull off another monumental upset in front of a national television (ESPN) audience and probably more than 50,000 LSU fans.
“We know that we gotta be sharp,” Mangum said. “We know that we gotta be better than we were on Saturday. So every [practice] has been sharp for us. We are making sure that we are dialed in, energetic, and sharper than before. I think guys are feeling ready for the challenge.”
BYU vs. No. 13 LSU
At the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. MDT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records: BYU 1-0, LSU 0-0
Series history: First meeting
About the Tigers: Offensive lineman K.J. Malone is the son of former Utah Jazz great Karl Malone, and was born in Salt Lake City. … Defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko, a Texas Tech transfer who is sitting out this season, once lived in Provo and has a brother on BYU’s coaching staff, Sam Fehoko. … Their defense allowed just 16 touchdowns last season,fewest in the country. … RB Derrius Guice rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016. QB Danny Etling threw for 2,123 yards and 11 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
About the Cougars: They are coming off a 20-6 win over Portland State last Saturday while LSU was idle. … They are 5-5 the last 10 seasons in their second game of the season. … Ten different receivers caught passes against Portland State, led by sophomore Aleva Hifo with four receptions. … Freshman TE Matt Bushman caught three passes for 56 yards. … Junior LB Butch Pau’u is expected to start after missing last week’s game for undisclosed reasons.