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SEC Season Preview: LSU

By Matt Smith
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Previewing the 2017 LSU Tigers.

Head Coach: Ed Orgeron – first year at LSU, sixth year overall (22-29 overall, 7-23 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Matt Canada (first season)

Defensive Coordinator: Dave Aranda (second season)

2016 Record: 8-4 (5-3 SEC); defeated Louisville in Citrus Bowl

Returning Starters: 9 (5 offense, 4 defense)

2017 Schedule

Sept. 2 – vs. BYU (Houston) (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Sept. 9 – CHATTANOOGA (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network Alt.)
Sept. 16 – at Mississippi State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Sept. 23 – SYRACUSE
Sept. 30 - TROY

Oct. 7 – at Florida
Oct. 14 – AUBURN
Oct. 21 – at Ole Miss

Nov. 4– at Alabama (8 p.m. ET, CBS)
Nov. 11 – ARKANSAS
Nov. 18 – at Tennessee
Nov. 25 – TEXAS A&M

What We Know

-The backfield isn’t losing a step even without Leonard Fournette. Yes, the No. 4 pick in the NFL Draft was a special player, but his “backup” had 1,000 more yards and seven more touchdowns last season. Derrius Guice returns as an All-American candidate in his junior season after that breakthrough sophomore campaign hoping to make Fournette’s name quickly forgotten on the bayou. The 1-2 punch certainly isn’t as strong as it was last year, but senior Darrel Williams is a capable backup to Guice.

-The defense will look much different this season, but the second level should still be quite strong. Yes, Duke Riley and Kendall Beckwith are gone, but their star, outside linebacker Arden Key, is back after a spring absence and appears to be good to go for the season. Two seniors, Donnie Alexander and Corey Thompson (a sixth-year senior) join Key in the linebacking corps. They each have starting experience and have played plenty of football at LSU. Matching last year’s 15.8 points per game allowed will be nearly impossible, but if the LSU defense does fail to do so, it won’t happen because of this group.

-The schedule is brutal. Thanks to athletic director Joe Alleva’s botching of the weather-rescheduled Florida game last season, the Tigers have to play five SEC road games this fall. With the finale against Texas A&M at home, five of the first seven SEC games are away from Baton Rouge, and the Tigers are the only SEC West team to play two of the three SEC East bluebloods (Florida and Tennessee). LSU played well on the road late last season in wins at Arkansas and Texas A&M. That level of play will have to carry over to this fall if the Tigers hope to contend in the West.

What We Don’t Know

-Can Danny Etling do what Jacoby Brissett and Nathan Peterman did? The two SEC castoffs thrived under offensive coordinator Matt Canada at N.C. State and Pittsburgh respectively in 2015 and 2016. Canada now inherits Etling, a transfer of his own, having started his career at Purdue. Etling was hot and cold last season after taking over for Brandon Harris, struggling against the conference’s top defenses. No one thought Brissett’s or Peterman’s careers could be resurrected after their failures in the SEC, but Canada did just that. Can he do the same with Etling? There’s not much of a proven supporting cast, as D.J. Chark is the only returning receiver or tight end who had more than 100 yards in 2016.

-How much of a drop-off can we expect in the secondary? Two first-round picks must be replaced in cornerback TreDavious White and safety Jamal Adams. There’s plenty of talent with the likes of junior cornerback Kevin Toliver and senior safety Ed Paris, but they haven’t shown the game-changing ability to date of their predecessors. Don’t doubt what defensive coordinator Dave Aranda can come up with, but it’s going to be hard to match last year’s unit. Explosive plays allowed could come down, but keeping the same efficiency as a year ago is going to be a challenge.

-Is Ed Orgeron really a different head coach than the guy who went 3-21 in SEC play at Ole Miss? He claims to be, but it’s much easier to say that than to actually do it. He struggled with the CEO aspects of being a head coach, but that was almost 10 years ago now. He’s got two highly respected coordinators, but when the pressure is mounting and quick decisions have to be made late in the game, will he be composed? Or will he make calls in the same scattershot way that his predecessor did? If it’s the latter, this experiment is going to be over as quickly as it was in Oxford.


Etling – Duh. Outside of Zach Mettenberger’s final season in 2013, LSU has been searching for steady quarterback play going all the way back to its 2007 national championship team. Etling doesn’t look like he’s the guy to buck that trend, but Canada’s recent track record suggests otherwise. The defense will take a bit of a step back, but if Etling can be the next Brissett or Peterman, this team can win double-digit games. If not, given the schedule, only six or seven wins isn’t out of the question.

Ranking The Units

1.   Running Backs
2.   Linebackers
3.   Defensive Line
4.   Offensive Line
5.   Defensive Backs
6.   Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
7.   Quarterbacks

Season Prediction

I’m on record saying the Orgeron hire won’t work long term. However, there’s enough talent here and good enough play-calling on both sides of the ball to have a successful season for at least one year. Nine wins almost got Les Miles fired in 2015, but it will be seen as a positive start for the Orgeron era. A win at Florida will be sweet revenge, but the Tigers will again show just far they have to go yet when they visit Alabama. The season will end with a rubber match against a team that has split two neutral-site games with the Tigers in recent years.

Overall Record: 9-3
SEC Record: 5-3
Final CFP Ranking: 18
Bowl: Outback Bowl vs. Wisconsin

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.