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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 14. LSU Tigers

Travin Dural
14. LSU Tigers 

Coach: Les Miles (10th year)
2013-2014 Record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)

August 30th vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)
September 6th vs. Sam Houston State
September 13th vs. Louisiana-Monroe
September 20th vs. Mississippi State
September 27th vs. New Mexico State
October 4th @ Auburn
October 11th @ Florida
October 18th vs. Kentucky
October 25th vs. Ole Miss
November 8th vs. Alabama
November 15th @ Arkansas
November 27th @ Texas A&M

For the fourth straight season, LSU won double-digit games, going 10-3 after an Outback Bowl victory over Iowa. Though the team lost to Alabama once more (they have been 0-3 against 'Bama since the "Game of the Century") and lose some major contributors to that 2013 team. Along with the graduation of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the Tigers lose a number of dangerous skill position players and the defense suffers some major losses. It is still LSU, and it is still Les Miles, the Tigers should once more continue to be a threat in the SEC West.

Backfield: Under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, QB Zach Mettenberger showed tons of improvement in his second and final year in Baton Rouge. The Tigers will sorely miss Mettenberger, but LSU has two talented quarterbacks competing to replace him. One is incoming freshman Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings, who started and played well in LSU's victory in that Outback Bowl. Both have looked really good this spring, especially Harris, who enrolled early to compete for this job. Harris has the raw tools to be a great quarterback, gifted with tremendous speed and a huge arm that can make all the deep throws. Though, throwing in a freshman at quarterback to compete against some of the nation's best defenses rarely works the way you want. Jennings has at least seen some college action, throwing 29 passes in 2013. Jennings is pretty dangerous with his legs and seems to have a better grasp of the offense than Harris. The competition appears close and it might last for a long time, possibly all the way up to the team's first game, August 30th in Houston. The nation's No. 1 incoming recruit, running back Leonard Fournette, arrives in Baton Rouge with lofty expectations. Some people have called Fournette the next Adrian Peterson, and his coach Les Miles compared him to Michael Jordan at SEC Media Days. Fournette will come in and contribute, but he might not start right away. Senior Terrence Magee backed up now departed Jeremy Hill last season, rushing for 626 yards and eight touchdowns. Another senior Kenny Hilliard, who has had a great career with the Tigers, is also bound to get carries. With Fournette, Magee and Hilliard, this backfield is stacked, which should take pressure off whoever starts at quarterback.

Receivers: Not only do the Tigers lose Mettenberger, they also lose their top two receivers in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, who are both now in the NFL. Together the two recorded 136 receptions, 2,345 yards and 18 touchdowns and they will be sorely missed. The top options now in the LSU passing game include sophomore Travin Dural, former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden and two true freshman, Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre. There isn't much experience here, but there is certainly talent. Dupre is the No. 1 receiver in this 2014 recruiting cycle, while Quinn is the No. 3, giving LSU two amazing talents that can help now and in the future. Bolden, who transferred from Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, is a quick possession receiver who can be very dangerous in the middle of the field (Note: as of press time, Bolden was considering transfer from LSU). Dural, who caught seven passes and two touchdowns last year has to step up big time. He is also quick and can burn defenders deep occasionally; if Harris does indeed start, Dural and him could form a scary combination. At tight end, junior Dillon Gordon gives LSU another option in the passing game. Gordon had six receptions last year but is expected to be more of a contributor in 2014-2015.

Offensive Line: Other than the very deep stable of running backs, the offensive line is definitely the strength of this LSU team. Four starters return to lead this unit, which was already pretty strong last season. Senior La'El Collins is an All-American caliber tackle and has transformed into a legit NFL prospect. The 6'5" beast of a linemen will start at left tackle for the Tigers and is extremely strong and smart. Joining Collins on this O-Line will be left guard Vadal Alexandar, another massive linemen, who returns for his junior season. Center Elliott Porter gives the Tigers an important anchor in the heart of the line who can be pretty dominant at times. Along with those other three returning starters, right tackle Jerald Hawkins returns for his sophomore season after putting together a pretty strong freshman campaign. Guard Evan Washington could possibly start at right guard, opposite of Alexander; the senior will provide valuable experience. The addition of guard Garrett Brumfield, a local product from Baton Rouge who is the nation's top guard prospect, gives LSU another talented linemen to work with.

Defensive Line: LSU has had a long line of great, impact defensive linemen over the past couple of years. This 2014 team will be led by junior Danielle Hunter, an athletic defensive end who could be ready for a breakout year in Baton Rouge. Hunter has great size and fantastic speed off the edge, he could be a very disruptive force this year for the Tigers. On the other side, senior Jermauria Rasco returns after leading the Tigers with four sacks in 2013. Rasco is another athletic end who could be very disruptive this season. Up the middle, LSU will rely on junior Quentin Thomas, a player with a very high motor and also the ability to rush the quarterback and force him into mistakes. Sophomore defensive end Tashawn Bower is ready for a big 2014. Bower has all the tools to become a fantastic pass rusher; great size, athleticism, instincts and great stamina. Four-star Travonte Valentine is ready to make plays in his first year with the Tigers. Not very athletic, Valentine relies on his huge size and his strength to stuff up running lanes.

Linebackers: This linebacker corps looks a lot different this year but there is certainly a lot of talent on this team. It does return senior D.J. Welter, a tackling machine who recorded 80 tackles last season. Welter, who will start for LSU at middle linebacker, will give the Tigers a quick 'backer who can also help in coverage situations. Also returning is junior Kwon Alexander, an outside linebacker who could be extremely dangerous this year. Alexander had 6.5 tackles for loss last year and should continue to improve as a pass rusher. He also is a pretty nice help in run defense, he had 65 tackles last year. Les Miles and this staff did a great job picking up a number of impact linebackers in this year's class. LSU went into Big Ten country to land four-star inside linebacker Clifton Garrett, a great athlete who could turn into a fabulous playmaker for years to come in Baton Rouge. Outside linebacker Donnie Alexander is a nice four-star addition to these linebacker corps from nearby New Orleans. He could possibly compete for a starting role at the other outside linebacker position opposite of Alexander.

Jalen Mills
Secondary: LSU's pass defense was its usual fantastic self in 2013, holding opponents to just under 200 yards per game. Three starters are gone, but there is still plenty of experience. Junior free safety Jalen Mills looked great this spring; he spent most of last year at cornerback but he looks very comfortable at free safety. The addition of safety Jamal Adams definitely helps the Tigers. He may not start this year but he will find a way to make an impact. Adams is a great athlete with fantastic versatility. Joining Adams will be Arlington, Texas stud Edward Paris Jr., another safety who will find ways to contribute. Paris is another great athlete who can hit very hard and will definitely be a help in coverage. Both cornerbacks will most likely be a little bit inexperienced but playmaking sophomore Rashard Robinson has the chance to grow into a dominant coverage corner. Starting alongside Robinson will be Tre'Davious White, another fabulous athlete with loads of potential. The good news is both Robinson and White along with the rest of this secondary, will get time to adjust to their roles. Wisconsin, Sam Houston State nor Louisiana-Monroe are good passing teams, which will help this pass defense.

Special Teams: Australian punter Jamie Keehn returns for a junior year after a great 2013 campaign. He averaged 41 yards last year and he has a huge leg with improving accuracy. Sophomore kicker Colby  Delahoussaye is also back after a strong 2013 in which he went 13 for 14 on field goal opportunities. The return game has a number of dangerous weapons that could be major factors.

As usual, LSU lost their fair share of talent early to the NFL, especially on defense. But, it is LSU and once more they have a fabulous recruiting class that will provide depth and immediate help at need positions. The SEC West will of course be stacked and an early meeting against Wisconsin does not help, but if the Tigers find an effective quarterback anything is possible, even a chance at the inaugural College Football Playoff.

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