The dream season finally happened. After nearly a decade, LSU beat Alabama, returned to the national title game, and reclaimed its spot atop the college football landscape. Led by a coach who compiled a 3-21 Southeastern Conference record at Ole Miss and a transfer quarterback who could not win the starting job at Ohio State, the Tigers defied the odds en route to a magically perfect 2019 season.
However, to paraphrase former Celtics head coach—and now disgraced—Rick Pitino, "Joe Burrow's not walking through that door. Joe Brady's not walking through that door, and Dave Aranda is not walking through that door."
The 2020 Tigers underwent a drastic makeover in the offseason, losing an SEC record 14 players to the NFL draft, including Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, wunderkind passing game coordinator Joe Brady to the NFL's Carolina Panthers, and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to Baylor.
The latest incarnation of Coach Ed Orgeron's squad will look different, but no less formidable.
Offense: The Heir Apparent
After watching the greatest quarterback in LSU history rewrite the record books last season, the biggest elephant in Tiger Stadium (besides the visiting Crimson Tide) is: How good is his successor?
Myles Brennan has never started a game for the Tigers in his previous three seasons on campus. The redshirt junior has completed 42 of 70 passes for 600 yards and two touchdowns in mostly mop-up duty while under center in Baton Rouge but now is deemed the heir apparent to Burrow. The former highly rated prep prospect has waited his turn to lead LSU, but that does not make him the next Matt Flynn, the former fifth-year senior who led LSU to the 2007 national championship after his predecessor, JaMarcus Russell, was selected as the top pick in the NFL Draft.
Brennan will have to prove himself, without the luxury of any non-conference tune-up games and minus LSU's top two receivers from last season. Instead, Brennan will rely upon Terrace Marshall (46 receptions, 671 yards, and 13 touchdowns in 2019), Racey McMath, and unproven youngsters Trey Palmer and Kayshon Boutte. Throw in freshman tight end Arik Gilbert, the crown jewel of the 2020 recruiting class, and Brennan has the makings of a pretty decent receiving corps. It does not hurt that the Tigers are loaded at running back, with the three-headed monster of Chris Curry, Tyrion Davis-Price, and John Emery Jr.
The real question is: Who will protect Brennan? LSU lost a slew of offensive linemen from last season, but if the new guardians can keep their untested quarterback upright, the Tigers may just be able to find a winning formula to navigate the SEC-only schedule this year.
Defense: New Look, Same Dominance
The Tigers' 2020 restoration continues on the defensive side of the ball with the return of former LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini back to his old stomping grounds. Pelini guided LSU's defense from 2005 until 2007 and has returned to Baton Rouge with his trademark fiery intensity. Despite losing plenty of valuable defensive playmakers to the draft, as well as a few more over the offseason for various reasons, this unit has cause for plenty of optimism this season.
Derek Stingley Jr. is the best defensive back in the country, helping anchor a national championship secondary with six interceptions as a freshman. He is joined by senior safety JaCoby Stevens, LSU's top returning tackler, to help usher in the latest version of DBU.
In the front seven, expect to see tackles Siaki "Apu" Ika and Glen Logan making waves on the defensive line, while All-American graduate transfer linebacker Jabril Cox joins Damone Clark and Micah Baskerville to fill the void left in the center of LSU's defense.
This unit may be unfamiliar and unproven now, but by season's end, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the SEC.
With plenty of question marks surrounding this year's LSU squad, opponents will rightfully think that the Tigers have been defanged after losing many key ingredients to last year's perfectly seasoned team. In this wild, wacky year, however, those foes would be unwise to underestimate any team lead by Orgeron. The man whose accent was previously mocked by the college football world has suddenly become a titan in his sport. LSU may not obliterate every opponent in 2020, but the Tigers can still strike fear into the hearts of SEC adversaries.
LSU: 9-2, New Year's Six Bowl