http://www.dfw.com/mld/startelegram/sports/columnists/wendell_barnhouse/4332881.htm LSU on BCS prowl Tigers playing as if they belong among elite Crouching Tigers, hidden contenders. LSU, the defending Southeastern Conference champions, started the season with a loss. And that 26-8 defeat at Virginia Tech (which looks more respectable with each Hokies' victory) dropped the Tigers off the national radar screens. Ranked 14th in The Associated Press preseason poll, LSU's season-opening loss dropped it to 24th. Since then, though, the Bayou Bengals have won six consecutive games. The odds are long that LSU will wind up playing for the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Tigers are one of a handful of teams playing their best ball going into the season's second half. "We've been able to play with some consistency," LSU coach Nick Saban said. "We're not giving up very many points, and now we're starting to get some turnovers and make some big plays. We've also cut down on the number of big plays [surrendered]." If nothing else, LSU is proving to be one of the more resilient teams. First, the Tigers had to replace their offensive and defensive leaders, quarterback Rohan Davey and linebacker Trev Faulk. Then, top running back LaBrandon Toefield went down with an injury before LSU won at Florida. Late in that game, quarterback Matt Mauck suffered a foot injury that will sideline him indefinitely. Playing at home Saturday against South Carolina, LSU spotted the Gamecocks a 14-3 lead before scoring 35 consecutive points for a dominating 38-14 victory. Quarterback Marcus Randall played well and the defense turned dominant after allowing South Carolina 212 yards in the first half. "Nobody has been able to attack LSU," South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said. "Nobody. ... They're as well-coached and fundamentally sound as any defense you'll see." Last year, for the first time since 1988, LSU became the first SEC team other than Florida, Tennessee or Alabama to win the league title. The Tigers followed that with a 47-34 victory over Illinois in the Sugar Bowl. This year, under first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, LSU leads the nation in total defense (allowing 217 yards a game) and is second in scoring defense (11 points a game). The Tigers' defense is of championship quality. The offense is showing signs of catching up. The season opener at Virginia Tech was a train wreck. First, the Hokies were able to get in a warm-up game, playing Arkansas State in the Hispanic Fund Classic. LSU went into the game with a quarterback (Mauck) making his first start and an overestimated view of its self worth. "I do think our success last season affected how we played in the Virginia Tech game," Saban said. "Maybe we learned a lesson from that." To reach the championship game, the Tigers will need a lot of luck. They'll be around No. 10 when the first Bowl Championship Series ratings are released today. And their five Division I-A victims thus far have a 19-19 combined record, so strength of schedule is not their ally. But if LSU wins out against Auburn, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, plus wins the SEC title game (against perhaps a top-five Georgia team), it would no doubt move up in the BCS rankings. The key would be how many of the undefeated teams ranked ahead of it loses.