Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2017-2018: 15. LSU Tigers

15. LSU Tigers

It's a new day in Baton Rouge, but will the same old problems persist?

  • Location: Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Conference: SEC (West)
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Ed Orgeron (first year)
  • Last Years Record: 8-4 (5-3 SEC)
  • Bowl Result: Victory in Citrus Bowl


There was no questioning how hot Les Miles' seat was in Baton Rouge entering 2016. The long-time, quirky head coach was going to be fired at the end of 2015 but was eventually retained following LSU's season finale victory over Texas A&M. A loss to Wisconsin in the Tigers' opener only warmed Miles seat further and after the team suffered a heartbreaking loss to Auburn, his time eventually came to an end. His replacement, former Ole Miss and USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron went a good, not great, 6-2 after Miles was let go. However, after LSU was unable to convince Houston head coach Tom Herman to come to Louisiana, they opted to bring back Orgeron on a full-time basis. Orgeron will have plenty of talent to work with, including a superstar running back, but unless he can figure out some new things to do with the offense it's hard to realistically see the Tigers overtaking Alabama and others in the loaded SEC West.

Derrius Guice
Offense: The Tigers' offense was putrid for years under former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but they hope things change under new OC Matt Canada. Canada arrives from Pittsburgh, where he engineered one of the country's most underrated offenses. Canada will hope to find a way to improve LSU through the air, where have been among the nation's worst teams over the past few seasons. Purdue transfer Danny Etling took over the quarterback job early on last season and while he wasn't terrific he seemed like a significant improvement over incumbent starter Brandon Harris. Harris decided to transfer to North Carolina, which leaves Etling as the clear-cut starter. The senior doesn't have the arm strength or big-time playmaking ability of some of the other solid quarterbacks in the SEC West but his play late in the 2016 campaign should have LSU feeling better about what they can do in the passing game in '17. At running back, the Tigers lose one of the sport's best players in Leonard Fournette, but amazingly could get even better at the position. Junior Derrius Guice filled in for the injured Fournette last year and put on an absolute show, rushing for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, while averaging 7.6 yards per touch. Guice is reportedly now squatting 650 pounds and has bulked up overall even more this off-season, which should strike fear right into the heart of opposing SEC defenders. In a featured role, there is no reason Guice can't cement himself as a serious Heisman candidate this year. Senior Darrel Williams helped out with 233 yards and three touchdowns in 2016 and should be a nice option as a backup. At receiver, LSU will have to replace two of their better pass-catchers, as Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural both depart. Dupre and Dural never quite put up the stats they had the potential to because of the Tigers' limited passing game but there isn't any denying the offense will miss their explosiveness. Senior D.J. Chark will likely take over as Etling's top weapon in the passing game after recording 466 yards a season ago, which included nearly 18 yards per reception. Beyond Chark, LSU will look towards a long list of players with potential, but who are very unproven. Sophomore Drake Davis is certainly a breakout candidate as the speedster can break open games. However, he had just one reception in six games last season, so it's hard to know what a "breakout" would really look like for the youthful wide out. Senior Russell Gage and sophomore Stephen Sullivan will also look for an increased role in 2017. At tight end, the Tigers must replace rock-solid Collin Jeter (11 catches for 157 yards) but junior Foster Moreau is exceptionally athletic for his position and a real matchup nightmare. There should no questions about what the offensive line can do this season, after it was dominant for much of '16 despite losing plenty of talent. This year, they lose their anchor, guard Ethan Pocic, but still return three starters with significant experience. Juniors Maea Teuhema and Will Clapp will open up massive lanes for Guice to run through, while senior K.J. Malone (the son of NBA legend Karl Malone) will be a staple at left tackle.

Defense: Throughout the Les Miles era in Baton Rouge, LSU consistently had some of the nastiest defenses in the country, and don't expect that to change at all under Orgeron. Former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda did a marvelous job in his first year with the Tigers in 2016, and the group could be even more dominant this season. It all starts with the defensive line, which doesn't have a real star but should still be very stout. Senior defensive end Christian LaCouture missed the entirety of 2016 due to injury but should have a big year now that he is fully healthy. He had 34 tackles in 2015, and has proven that he can give blockers major difficulties. At the other end spot, expect sophomore Rashard Lawrence to put together a big campaign. Lawrence didn't see much action his first season on campus but has really impressed this off-season and has the size (6'5", 300 pounds) to be an absolute force off the edge. Veteran Greg Gilmore (34 tackles in 2016) will lock down the nose tackle position in the Tigers' 3-4 look. At linebacker, LSU returns one of the country's most disruptive pass rushers in outside 'backer Arden Key. Key was a monster throughout last season, with a staggering 12 sacks and 56 tackles. He took a leave of absence from the program during the spring for personal reasons but should return with a vengeance. Aranda and Orgeron are both great at creating exotic blitzes to create different types of pressure, and Key should be at the heart of their efforts. The rest of the linebacker corps must replace some difference-makers, namely Duke Riley and Kendall Beckwith, who led the Tigers in tackles, with 93 and 91, respectively. Senior Donnie Alexander has proven that he can be a major help in run support and he'll have to play a big role at an inside linebacker spot, as will sophomore Devin White, who is expected to start alongside him. The outside linebacker position opposite of Key will see a competition for the starting job, as senior Corey Thompson, redshirt freshman Ray Thornton and sophomore Michael Divinity are all in the mix. Thompson, who was out for all of 2016, may be the favorite as he brings valuable experience and has been in the system since 2012. LSU has produced a long list of terrific defensive backs over the years, a list that includes current NFL stars such as Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and this year's No. 6 overall selection Jamal Adams. Adams really was a playmaker for this defense last season, recording 76 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. Even so, the defensive backfield should once more be very good, particularly at cornerback. Former five-star
Kevin Toliver
recruit Kevin Toliver is ready to step into a starting role, and the lengthy junior could have a huge season. Fellow junior Donte Jackson, who had eight pass breakups and two interceptions last season, is expected to join him as a starter but Saivion Smith, one of the stars of the 2016 recruiting class, should push him for snaps. At safety, LSU has nobody can that truly replace Adams' range and playmaking ability, but seniors Ed Paris and John Battle bring impressive experience.

Special Teams: Long-time placekicker Colby Delahoussaye departs after knocking down 11 of 15 field goals last season but big-legged senior Cameron Gamble could actually end up being an improvement at the position. Punting-wise sophomore Josh Growden returns after averaging 41.4 yards per punt in 2016. The return game shouldn't be a problem, with Guice and Donte Jackson likely to see plenty of opportunities.

Despite the fact Miles won a National Title in 2007 and played for another one in 2011, LSU fans, boosters, and alums alike were clearly frustrated with the direction of the program, which now hasn't won double-digit games since 2013 and has lost six straight to intense rival Alabama. The arrival of Orgeron and Canada should breath new life and energy into the program, and there should be no denying how talented the Tigers are on both sides of the ball. Yet, it's hard to see LSU really taking the next step until their passing game improves in a big way, which puts significant pressure on Etling and the receivers to make the offense more balanced. If the aerial attack improves, this is a team that can realistically contend for an SEC title and Playoff berth but if not, it's very hard to imagine the Tigers advancing much farther past the 8-9 threshold that's held them back the last few seasons.

Player to Watch
Danny Etling, QB
Etling was able to take over Brandon Harris' job in his first season of being eligible after transferring from Purdue, and had some major ups-and-downs. His downs were very severe (11-24 for 92 yards against Alabama) but he did play very well towards the end of the year, including throwing for over 300 yards against Texas A&M and shredding Louisville in the bowl game. Etling doesn't need to be an All-SEC quarterback but if he can at least improve on his 59 percent completion percentage or become a more dangerous down-the-field passer this team becomes much, much more dangerous.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)*
2013: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)*
2014: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)*
2015: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)*
2016: 8-4 (5-3 SEC)*

*= Bowl appearance

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.