After leading LSU to the program's first 10-win season since 2013, coach Ed Orgeron's job security has improved considerably heading into his third full season with the Tigers. Under Orgeron's guidance last season, the Tigers won the Fiesta Bowl over Central Florida and dominated a Georgia team that was ranked number two while avoiding the inexplicable losses against Mississippi State and Troy that blemished his inaugural head coaching campaign in Baton Rouge. Yet, there's still plenty of room for improvement, as evidenced by the team's three Southeastern Conference losses.
The man known on the bayou as "Bebe" has yet to snap LSU's eight-game losing streak to Alabama and was shutout 29-0 last season in Death Valley by the Crimson Tide. All roads to the SEC Championship in Atlanta run through Alabama. But beating the Tide for the first time since 2011 will not be easy this year in Tuscaloosa. However, even if LSU were to falter a ninth straight time against Nick Saban's squad, 11 other wins throughout the season could convince the College Football Playoff Selection Committee to grant the Tigers an at-large bid.
Joe Burrow: Part Deux
At this time last year, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was still getting acquainted with the south Louisiana humidity after transferring from Ohio State. Since completing his first season under center, the most popular Ohioan in Louisiana represents something the Tigers have often lacked at the quarterback position the past decade-a tough, experienced leader with gumption. Although his accuracy needs improvement, Burrow takes care of the ball (only five interceptions in 2018) and is a running threat who's not afraid to lower his
shoulder for extra yardage.
Burrow's development as a second-year starter should be aided by the arrival of passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who joins the Tigers after spending the previous two seasons on the New Orleans Saints staff. Brady is tasked with helping LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger
vault the Tigers' offense to new heights,
and they have the weapons to accomplish great things.
The Tigers possess a versatile stable of running backs, headlined by junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire and talented freshman John Emery. Fellow freshman Tyrion Davis-Price and redshirt freshman Chris "Baby Beast Mode" Curry could play important roles throughout the season as well.
On the outside, Justin Jefferson leads a fearsome receiving corps. Jefferson led the team with nearly 900 yards and six scores last season. The Tigers also return talented sophomores Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. and seniors Dee Anderson and Derrick Dillon.
The most critical factor to success on this side of the ball, and the heartbeat of this team, is the offensive line. Of LSU's eight returning offensive starters, four of them are linemen. The unit will need to improve tremendously after tying Texas A&M for most sacks allowed (35) in the SEC last season. Give Burrow and company time, and the offense should flourish.
The Tigers lost two defensive stalwarts to the draft in linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams. LSU cannot replace those two impact players, but, fortunately, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's crew is loaded with veteran talent, including an über-talented freshman.
Consensus All-America safety Grant Delpit is grabbing preseason headlines, and for good reason. The latest recipient of the illustrious No. 7 jersey heads up a dynamic secondary that's sure to strike fear into the hearts (and arms) of opposing quarterbacks. Upperclassmen JaCoby Stevens and Kristian Fulton return as secondary anchors, while number one recruit, freshman cornerback, Derek Stingley, Jr. is primed to make a substantial impact.
Even with the departure of White, LSU still boasts an impressive trio of linebackers. Jacob Phillips, LSU's second leading tackler last season behind White, is joined by Michael Divinity Jr. and Patrick Queen. On the edge, K'Lavon Chaisson returns after suffering a torn ACL in last year's season opener. If Chaisson regains his preinjury form, it'll be tough to keep him out of the opposing backfield.
There's no shortage of big bodies on the Tigers' defensive line. The rotation includes Rashard Lawrence, Breiden Fehoko, Glen Logan, and Neil Ferrell working the edge, with Tyler Shelvin and freshman Siaki Ika filling up the middle at nose tackle. Championships are won and lost inside the trenches, and this line has the potential to be one of the SEC's most formidable.
New Leg Needed
The Tigers struck gold last season with graduate transfer Cole Tracy, who connected on 29-of-33 field goals and vaulted the program into the top 10 of field goal percentage. This season, LSU's kicking hopes rest on the combined talents of freshman Cade York and junior Connor Culp. After connecting on 11-of-16 field goals in 2017, Culp did not attempt a field goal last season. Sophomore Avery Atkins handled every kickoff in 2018, with 90 percent resulting in touchbacks. Junior Zach Von Rosenberg will resume punting duties after averaging nearly 46 yards per punt last season.
LSU's return game is up for grabs following Jonathan Giles' abysmal punt return performance last season. Edwards-Helaire did the lion's (tiger's) share of the work in the kick return game in 2018, but LSU could see an infusion of youth with the arrival of Derek Stingley Jr. and John Emery.
LSU will be tested early with a top 10 match-up at Texas in week two. Win that game, and the Tigers are likely 5-0 when Florida travels to Baton Rouge in mid-October. Losing to the Longhorns isn't the end of the world for LSU, but it leaves little room for error the rest of the way. The Tigers lost to Alabama, Florida, and Texas A&M last season, but LSU gets the Gators and Aggies at home this year. Until proven otherwise, pencil in LSU to lose to the Crimson Tide. One more loss is lurking out ther -possibly in Austin or a late October hiccup against Mississippi State or Auburn.
LSU: 11-2 (6-2), New Year's Six Bowl
photos courtesy of LSU's Athletic Dept.