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SEC Season Preview: LSU

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Previewing the LSU Tigers, ahead of the 2018 season.

Head Coach: Ed Orgeron – second* year at LSU, fifth* year overall (31-33 overall, 13-25 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Steve Ensminger (first season)

Defensive Coordinator: Dave Aranda (third season)

2017 Record: 9-4 (6-2 SEC); lost to Notre Dame in Citrus Bowl

Returning Starters: 9 (4 offense, 5 defense)

*Interim coach at LSU for eight games in 2016, interim coach at USC for eight games in 2013

 

2018 Schedule

Sept. 2 – vs. Miami (FL) (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Sept. 8 – SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA

Sept. 15 – at Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Sept. 22 – LOUISIANA TECH

Sept. 29 – OLE MISS

 

Oct. 6 – at Florida

Oct. 13 – GEORGIA

Oct. 20 – MISSISSIPPI STATE

 

Nov. 3 – ALABAMA

Nov. 10 – at Arkansas

Nov. 17 – RICE

Nov. 24 – at Texas A&M

 

What We Know

-The secondary is well-stocked as usual. The Tigers’ defensive backfield has been an NFL factory over the past 15 years, and cornerback Greedy Williams  and safety John Battle are next in line (Williams isn’t draft-eligible until 2020). Williams led the SEC with six interceptions last season, and has unique size for a cornerback at 6’2”. Even with second-round NFL Draft pick Donte Jackson out the door, my concern is minimal about another fantastic LSU secondary.

-The motions and shifts of 2017 are going away. The Matt Canada hire was a disaster, less so because Canada wasn’t a good play-caller, but because Orgeron tied his hands. Canada is now at Maryland, and Orgeron re-promoted Steve Ensminger to the coordinator role he held during Orgeron’s interim stint in 2016. It was a mixed bag in 2016 under Ensminger, with LSU scoring 38 points or more in four of six SEC games, but 0 and 10 in the other two. The Tigers need to win the trenches to be effective this season, as there won’t be nearly as much of an attempt at deception this season.

-LSU has the toughest schedule in the SEC. The SEC West is always a challenge, but outside of division play, the Tigers replace BYU and Tennessee, which went a combined 8-17 last year, with Miami (FL) and Georgia, which went 23-5. There are also trips to Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M, and a home game with Mississippi State, which pummeled LSU last year in Starkville. And oh yeah, there’s still Alabama.

 

What We Don’t Know

-Is Joe Burrow the clear-cut starter? The Ohio State transfer lost out to Dwayne Haskins for the backup job last season and the No. 1 job this spring, but he may be the best option in an LSU quarterback room where four guys are competing to start. The percentage of hits with graduate transfer quarterbacks is small, and I don’t see Burrow bucking that trend. Expect both Burrow and sophomore Myles Brennan to start games this season, with perhaps redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse also getting a chance if things really far apart.

-Where are the skill position players? LSU returns exactly zero rushing touchdowns from last season and exactly zero players who ran for more than 100 yards. The wide receiver situation isn’t much better, with DJ Chark and Russell Gage, who were both NFL Draft picks, gone. Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles, who had more than 1,100 yards in 2016, and true freshman Terrace Marshall must make immediate impacts. Tight end Foster Moreau is a reliable target and a team leader, donning the No. 18 jersey reserved each year for the best representative of the program.

-Is Orgeron certain to be back in 2019? I anticipate the record to be poor enough to justify a firing after just two full seasons, but it’s hard to see the LSU decision-makers allowing athletic director Joe Alleva to make another coaching hire. Would they move on from both and start fresh? Or would they try to find the right athletic director and let him make the decision on Orgeron after 2019? The latter seems more likely, but if this year goes the way I think it might, it may simply be too toxic to bring Orgeron back.

 

Ranking The Units

1. Defensive Backs

2. Defensive Line

3. Linebackers

4. Offensive Line

5. Wide Receivers

6. Running Backs

7. Quarterbacks

 

Quick Hitters

Swing Game: Oct. 6 at Florida

Trap Game: Sept. 22 vs. Louisiana Tech

Offensive MVP: WR Jonathan Giles

Defensive MVP: LB Devin White

Floor: 4-8

Ceiling: 8-4

 

Season Prediction

It’s going to be a disaster. Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia are pretty much certain losses, and the Tigers need to find a way to go 3-1 against Florida, Miami (FL), Mississippi State, and Texas A&M to make this season tolerable in Baton Rouge. Frankly, I’m not sure they win any of those games given the coaching advantage those teams possess. 6-6 is probably the most likely finish, but I’m going out on a limb and saying LSU is home for the postseason (barring an APR-based 5-7 bowl bid) for the first time this century.

Overall Record: 5-7

SEC Record: 2-6

Final CFP Ranking: NR

Bowl: None

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.