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College Football Preview 2015-2016: 13. LSU Tigers

Leonard Fournette
13. LSU Tigers

2014-2015 Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
Coach: Les Miles, 11th year (103-29 overall)

Recruiting Rundown
Key Losses: OL La'El Collins, DB Jalen Collins
Heisman Hopeful: RB Leonard Fournette
Breakout Player: WR Malachi Dupre

It has been the greatest last couple months in Baton Rouge. Not only did the Tigers fall in their bowl game to finish off 8-5 (their most losses since 2008), their defensive coordinator John Chavis ditched to SEC West foe Texas A&M. Then, the Tigers failed to land Everett Golson or any other transferring quarterback to fix their offensive issues. Even with all that, expectations are still high for the Tigers, as usual. Les Miles still has some crazy talent at his disposal and it starts with running back Leonard Fournette. And, while the Tigers did lose some talent to the NFL, it wasn't the complete gutting that the pro draft usually does to LSU. All that has LSU fans thinking this is a serious national championship contender; and they are, though a one-dimensional offense and usual brutal schedule could hold back the Tigers from their true potential.

Backfield: A year later, LSU will head into the season with the same question at quarterback: Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris? Jennings started all but the Auburn game last season for LSU but certainly didn't hold down the job. Overall, Jennings would finish with 1,611 yards and 11 touchdowns. Though, he completed just 49% of his passes, which is just atrocious, and he just didn't seem very comfortable in control of the LSU offense. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has simplified his complex system, which should help Jennings, especially when he has another year in it. Harris, meanwhile, was an early enrollee who saw one start last season, in that Auburn game. He showed talent, but he didn't complete a single pass in the second half of the season. He would finish 452 yards and six touchdowns, completing 55 percent of his throws. He also showed that he could make plenty of plays with his legs, with 159 yards and three scores. Harris certainly has the potential to be a star with the Tigers, but it would take a lot to supplant Jennings. Jennings wasn't great by any means last year, but he seems to have a better grasp of the LSU offense and showed he could make the right moves in big games. The arrival of Purdue transfer Danny Etling gives LSU fans something to look forward to, but he isn't eligible until 2016. The good news is that there may not be a more imposing tailback in the nation than Leonard Fournette, and that is saying something with the amount of talent at the position. The top overall player in the Class of 2014, Fournette drew comparisons to Adrian Peterson before even earning a snap at LSU. The freshman certainly showed he wasn't all hype earning the starting job and rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. He does have AP-like qualities; he possesses a scary mix of size and speed and just brute power. Want evidence of it? Look no further than this clip, ( as he plows through a Texas A&M defender. Fournette has a chance to have a crazy 2015, and is certainly a popular Heisman name this season. LSU has long been a run-orientated team under Les Miles, and that means multiple players beyond Fournette will also likely see carries. Sophomore Darrel Williams brings a change of pace to LSU's backfield, and a proven talent. True freshman Derrius Grice, a four-star prospect from Baton Rouge, could also see opportunities this year. At fullback, LSU has questions as a number of inexperienced players are looking to compete. Included among them is newcomer David Ducre along with sophomore John David Moore, who will also see action at tight end. They will all compete to replace stable Conner Neighbors, who graduated, at the position.
Travin Dural & Anthony Jennings

Receivers: If Cam Cameron and the LSU offense can get the passing game going this year there is good news; there is pretty of talent to work with at receiver. Junior Travin Dural is the Tigers' leading returning receiver, and he does bring plenty of explosiveness to the table. Dural recorded 37 receptions for 758 yards along with seven scores. He averaged over 20 yards a catch, showcasing breakneck speed and superb route running ability. If someone can consistently feed him the ball, he could be a 1,000-plus yard receiver. While Dural may be seen as the most likely receiver to put together an impressive campaign, sophomore Malachi Dupre is ready to break out. In his first season in Baton Rouge, Dupre showed plenty of potential. He had 14 catches, 318 yards and had five touchdowns. Despite not overwhelming numbers, they show his big play potential as well (22.7 yards per reception) and ability to finish off plays with those five scores. Dupre uses his athletic frame to make wonderful grabs (at 6'3") and some of the grabs he makes may remind some LSU fans of a former Tiger receiver just a few years ago (Odell Beckham). Junior John Diarse is a solid, well-rounded target who had a solid 2014. Despite not being the quickest or most explosive player, Diarse is a reliable option with good hands and the ability to find space in opposing defenses. He should once more be primed for a productive year. Sophomores Trey Quinn and D.J. Clark will also be important weapons in the passing game. Quinn put together good numbers throughout the 2014 season, while Clark is a speedy quick target who will be scary in screens and short yardage passing situations. Highly touted Tyron Johnson arrives on campus as a five-star recruit by 247 Sports, coming out of New Orleans. Johnson is as dangerous as they come, and could soon grow into a formidable deep threat in his own right. Fellow Louisiana product Brandon Martin is a physical receiver, with good size and certainly some pro potential. The tight end position is likely going to be manned by senior Dillon Gordon. Gordon didn't record a single catch last season, and has just six in his career with the Tigers, but he is a good blocker and a hard worker. Junior DeSean Smith is likely to back him up, while Lafayette find Bry'Kiethon Mouton could see action. Cameron and Miles could also be hoping for an improved effort as a receiver out of the backfield from Fournette. He certainly has the talent to be dangerous as a receiver, and it would only boost his NFL Draft stock.

Offensive Line: The Tigers' offensive line is the only real unit on this offense that some pretty severe losses (the backfield saw graduations, but it is still clearly a strength), as La'El Collins departed, along with center Elliott Porter. Collins was an incredibly tough loss to swallow, considering he had been a longtime starter for LSU and could play anywhere on the line. The good news is that there is still plenty of talent on the O-Line, spearheaded by senior Vadal Alexander. Alexander is a versatile offensive linemen, but his most likely role for the Tigers this season will be at right tackle after he spent most of his time at guard in 2014. Alexander is a humongous presence, towering over people at 6'6", 320 pounds and he has many NFL scouts excited about what he could be at the next level. The other two returning starters to the line are going to be juniors Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic. Hawkins is the slated starter at left tackle; a powerful blocker with versatility as well, Hawkins could grow into a formidable weapon. Pocic is massive, at 6'7", and the guard is clearly a gifted run blocker. The opposite guard spot of Pocic with the move of Alexander is relatively up in the air, with sophomore K.J. Malone, junior Josh Boutte and possibly even true freshman Maea Teuhema. Teuhema certainly has the most potential out of the trio, but it is definitely a risk throwing a true freshman into SEC trenches. Even so, Teuhema can hang, he is incredibly strong and only growing, and has a great football mind. Also joining the unit in this year's recruiting class will be tackle Chidi Valentine-Okeke. Valentine-Okeke is a talented Georgia prospect who brings major upside to the offensive line. Also coming in will be guard Toby Weathersby, who Miles and staff went into Texas to snag, along with a pair of solid three-star tackles in Adrian Magee and George Brown Jr.

Defensive Line: While the hiring of former Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to replace John Chavis drew mixed reviews from LSU fans, the hiring of Ed Orgeron as defensive line coach was an instant hit in Baton Rouge. The former longtime USC assistant (who was a serious candidate to replace Lane Kiffin full time at USC after being named intern) is a wonderful recruiter, and he will also be tasked with improving LSU's pass rush. LSU has had a long history of great pass rushers and impact defensive linemen (Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Michael Brockers to name a few), though last season the Tigers didn't really have a true sack machine or anything very similar. End Danielle Hunter certainly was good, recording 13 tackles for loss but he is now gone. That leaves Orgeron looking for answers in the form of a number of unproven ends and interior linemen. Perhaps the most proven on the defensive line will be none other than junior Christian LaCouture. LaCouture just has a name that sounds like a LSU football player and he is a solid player as well. He is the team's returning sack leader, with 2.5 in 2014. Those are modest numbers, but he has the chance to rack up even more this season. Despite being 6'5" and over 300 pounds, LaCouture moves quickly and side to side very well. He probably won't ever be a truly dominant linemen, but he can plug running holes and still clearly make plays. Fighting for snaps next to LaCouture will be sophomore Frank Herron along with senior Quentin Thomas and sophomore Davon Godchaux (42 tackles last season). Thomas has been a longtime reserve and he has shown the ability to help when needed. Though, Herron has the potential to be a dominant run defender and be a very, very good linemen. But, he is a little bit undersized at the moment and he has to bulk up if he wants to have success against the big boys of the SEC. Sophomore Greg Gilmore is a big, physical presence who will also compete for snaps at defensive tackle. The end positions are certainly question marks at the moment, but Orgeron will teach them up. Junior Tashawn Bower has the chance to be the team's pass rusher. A late flip to LSU on National Signing Day in 2013, Bower appears ready to make a clear impact for the Tigers. As mainly a reserve last season, Bower had 2.5 tackles for loss and he showed his explosiveness and nose for the football. He continues to grow and get stronger and he is a natural pass rusher. Joining Bower will be junior Lewis Neal along with sophomore Deondre Clark. Clark has the potential to also grow into an imposing pass rusher. He is also blessed with a similar nose for the football, and he has a number of great power moves already in his arsenal. The big recruit joining this defensive line will be Arden Key, a gifted end with upside as well. Key is rated as a four-star prospect out of Georgia by most recruiting services.

Linebackers: Not only will the defensive line have some growing pains, at least to begin the year, the rest of the front seven has some holes. LSU lost impact linebackers Kwon Alexander (All-SEC) and D.J. Welter this offseason. Alexander led the team with 90 tackles last season, and proved to be a very good leader in the unit. His departure puts pressure on junior Kendall Beckwith to step up for the Tigers. Beckwith had 77 tackles last season, which was good enough to measure up just behind Alexander. Beckwith also recorded 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and showed decent coverage abilities, with three pass deflections. Beckwith is gifted with incredible instincts and great closing speed, and he could certainly compete for All-Conference honors. And, although there are two starters missing alongside him, there is at least experience at the outside linebacker spots. Senior Lamar Louis is competing for snaps at one position, while Deion Jones will play on the other side. Louis is a solid veteran who was pretty productive last season, picking up 29 tackles, 2.5 of them coming for a loss, as a rotational player a year ago. Jones is a more dangerous pass rusher who will constantly be disrupting the backfield off the edge. Expect Steele to let Jones and Louis both be aggressive off blitzes. Juniors Ronnie Fiest and Duke Riley both add depth to the unit, Riley had 20 tackles a season ago, while Fiest had just four, but he should see a ton more action.

Secondary: The Tigers also lose a significant contributor in their defensive backfield. Jalen Collins was prone to mistakes at times but he was still a good-sized corner who went high in this year's NFL Draft. Though, the secondary should actually be the strength of the team, with still a number of impact playmakers making their return to Baton Rouge in 2015. The top among them is senior Jalen Mills, who should start at free safety. Mills has drawn plenty of affectionate comparisons to former LSU All-American free safety Eric Reid (now starring for San Francisco), and for good reason. While Mills doesn't have quite the feel for the game and range of Reid, he is a better athlete and a big hitter. Expect receivers to fear running over the middle, with Mills possibly coming over to lay down a major hit. Mills will hope to continue to improve as a ball hawk and playmaker, as he had just one interception last season. Joining Mills will be sophomore Jamal Adams, an extremely talented strong safety. Adams had one heck of an impressive first season as a starter for the Tigers, as he picked up 66 tackles along with five tackles for loss. He should only improve in his second season as a major contributor, and that should strike fear into the rest of the conference. The cornerback positions are in pretty good hands as well even without Collins. Junior Tre'Davious White is likely to take over as LSU's top cornerback. White proved to be a pretty productive player last season, with 33 tackles and two interceptions. White doesn't have great size, but he is a wonderful athlete with good ball skills, and he could turn into a formidable defensive back. The other cornerback slot opposite of White is a little bit more of a question, with Ed Paris and Dwayne Thomas as the top two competitors for it. Both are well-rounded cornerbacks, but they should still expect to be picked on, as quarterbacks won't exactly enjoy throwing near White or either of the safeties. Perhaps also likely to see some starting snaps, especially near the end of the season will be Kevin Toliver II. Toliver enrolled early in Baton Rouge, and is the gem of the Top 5 LSU class. He has the size to be a shutdown corner from Day One, and he moves with a fluidity and speed that is extremely impressive. Steele and Miles will be smart in working him into the lineup, but he has the talent at a very not deep position to see a ton of snaps from the opener onward. Joining Toliver will be four-star cornerback Xavier Lewis along with JUCO transfer Jeremy Cutrer. Cutrer is also seen as a four-star pickup for Miles and staff, hailing from Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, and brings much needed depth.

Special Teams: LSU traditionally has had great (and sneaky) special teams under Miles and that should not change this season. Kicker Colby Delahoussaye is a big-legged junior while punter Jamie Keehn is a proven senior.

Les Miles has done a wonderful job at LSU, but heading into his 11th year in Baton Rouge, there is anxiety around the program. Once more, LSU has some really impressive talent, but the quarterback situation has to improve a ton for this team to be a true Championship contender. Plus, beyond an opening trip to FCS foe McNeese State the Tigers' schedule is absolutely brutal. Their last four games are as tough as you may find in the entire nation. Even though, it is never wise to write off a Les Miles team, no matter what losses they have suffered or any issues. This team could very well fulfill that potential, claim the SEC West and go on to bigger and brighter things.

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