As Les Miles (85-21 at LSU) enters his ninth
season coaching LSU football, the Tigers find themselves in an unfamiliar
position. Picked to finish just third in the SEC Western Division by league
media, the Tigers are clearly not the favorite to claim any championships at
the end of the year. Losing a school-record nine players to the NFL draft and a
schedule that is as challenging as any in college football are two of the
biggest reasons why.
However, in Baton Rouge and for Tiger fans
across the country, expectations will always be high because few programs boast
the overall talent level, rich recruiting base and general commitment to
winning of LSU. In 2012, the Tigers (10-3) lost their three games by a combined
13 points. This year's team is capable of producing double-digit victories for
the fourth consecutive season if the right pieces fall into place. LSU rewarded
Miles with a contract extension and raise earlier this year, so unless the wheels
completely fall off, he'll have some slack this season should the road ahead get
OFFENSE LEADS THE WAY
In a strategic move, Miles reached out to
lifelong friend and former NFL coordinator Cam Cameron to join his staff and
upgrade the Tigers' offense, which ranked 10th in the SEC last year in yards
per game. Under Miles, LSU has always been run first, pass second, but last
year opponents stacked up against the run too many times, meaning the Tigers
will need more balance this fall.
In the NFL, Cameron worked with the likes of
Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers while in San Diego and most recently, Super
Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco in Baltimore. His task is to bring out the
best of LSU's senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Entering his second full
season as a starter, Mettenberger threw for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns in
2012, but wasn't as consistent as the coaches wanted. During the Spring,
Cameron worked closely with Mettenberger in installing a new offense, which
should better utilize his arm strength and ability to spread the ball across
the field, while pushing it vertically as well.
What will also help the offense is stronger
play from the receiving corps. Juniors Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry
combined for 1,286 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, but too often, there
were too many drops in big games, some ending crucial drives. The receivers
must be more reliable in 2013 for the offense to be as efficient as possible.
Redshirt freshman Travin Dural is healthy and should be a threat to stretch the
field. The Tigers will also use the tight end more this fall, with Dillon
Gordon, Travis Dickson and freshman DeSean Smith in the rotation.
LSU's bread-and-butter offensive approach is
a wear the opponent down running game that dominates the fourth quarter.
However, the Tigers may be without their leading rusher from last season in
Jeremy Hill, who continues to battle legal charges of simple battery. Possibly losing
Hill (755 Yards, 12 Td's in 2012) is a huge blow for LSU's offense, but the
cupboard is certainly not bare in the backfield. Senior Alfred Blue returns
from his knee injury and junior Kenny Hilliard is back as well. Terrence Magee
and freshman Jeryl Brazil could also contribute.
What helps the cause is that LSU returns four
starters on the offensive line. Junior La'el Collins makes the move to left
tackle this year and was named a third team all-SEC preseason selection, along
with senior guard Josh Williford, who partners up with Collins on the left
side. A pair of sophomores will anchor the right side of the line in guard Trai
Turner and tackle Vadal Alexander. Both started the second half of last season
and can make huge strides heading into their second year in the program.
With the overall experience of the offense
returning in 2013, this group will have to carry the team early in the season
as a young defense comes into its own. If Mettenberger plays up to his
potential, the Tigers' offense should finally generate some excitement on
RELOADING ON DEFENSE
At programs like LSU, they plan on reloading
rather than rebuilding, and the Tigers have enough young talent to do so.
However, after losing seven starters to the NFL, coordinator John Chavis faces
one of his biggest challenges to date. The Chief must replace his entire
defensive line, several all-SEC performers and tons of leadership. The good
news is that several talented, soon-to-be standout players are waiting in the
wings like Jermauria Rasco, Danielle Hunter and Kwon Alexander.
Junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson will
anchor the line after totaling 42 tackles and four sacks in his first two
seasons. Ego Ferguson, Rasco and Hunter will join Johnson on the first team
unit. In the middle of the defense, a pair of senior linebackers in Lamin
Barrow and Tahj Jones return. Barrow is the team's top returning tackler after
posting 104 stops last season. Alexander will compete for the third starting
linebacker position along with fellow sophomores Deion Jones and Lamar Louis.
In the secondary, senior Craig Loston leads
the way. The first team all-SEC preseason selection is a hard-hitting safety
who enters his fifth year in the LSU program. Returning starters Jalen Mills
and Jalen Collins are also back at the cornerback positions, and junior Ronald
Martin should man the free safety position. Look for Micah Eugene and Corey
Thompson to see significant playing time as well, and freshman Tre'Davious
White will be one to watch this fall.
LSU's starting defense will be one of the
most talented in the SEC and in the country, but overcoming the NFL departures
of KeKe Mingo, Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan and
Tharold Simon is easier said than done. However, Tiger fans should rest easy
knowing that Chavis will have his young defense ready to roll.
GAUNTLET OF A SCHEDULE
In college football, there are cupcake games
and knock 'em out, drag down battles. LSU always has more of the latter than
any team in the SEC. After kicking off the season against a quality program in
TCU in Cowboys Stadium, LSU will face Auburn and Georgia in back-to-back weeks
to end the month of September. Playing what should be a top-ten Bulldogs team in
Athens will be extremely tough, but the Tigers are used to the league's hostile
environments. LSU also won its most recent game at Georgia in 2009.
But not only do the Tigers face Georgia, they
also square off with their permanent cross-division opponent in the Florida
Gators. Georgia and Florida went a combined 14-2 in the SEC last year, compared
to Alabama's two Eastern Division opponents in Tennessee and Kentucky (1-15).
Les Miles and LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva continue to voice their concerns
over schedule equality in the SEC, but there aren't any immediate changes on
Then there's the annual showdown with the
reigning national champion in Alabama. This year's game is set for November 9th
in Tuscaloosa, with the winner poised to have the upperhand in the West. Les
Miles is 3-4 against Bama coach Nick Saban with the Crimson Tide claiming the
last two wins in this rivalry series, including the 2012 BCS National
LSU closes out the regular season with
consecutive home games against Texas A&M and Arkansas. The Tigers put the
clamps down on Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in College Station, Texas
last year, and now they'll try to do the same in Death Valley in late November.
LSU and Arkansas will kick off their finale on the Friday afternoon following
If the offense takes a positive step forward
in 2013, the Tigers can produce at least nine or ten victories. They will be
underdogs in games at Georgia and at Alabama, but LSU has pulled off a few
big upsets under the Mad Hatter in recent years. I predict the Tigers will go 10-2
with losses at Georgia and at home against Texas A&M. LSU will receive an
invite to the Cotton Bowl to play Oklahoma State, Miles' former school.
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