Friday, July 19, 2013

College Football Preview: LSU

LSU has been on quite a run the last decade.  Ever since Nick Saban's 2003 squad upset Oklahoma to win the national title, the Tigers have seemingly been in the title hunt each season. The '05 and '06 teams went 11-2 and in '07, Les Miles led his team to a national title as the first 2 loss champion.  After back to back 8 and 9 win seasons, the last 3 LSU squads have won 10+ games while the '11 team played for yet another Crystal ball.

So what do we expect of the '13 version of the Tigers?  The college football poll website does a consensus ranking that shows LSU with a ranking of 15.  A little low, but considering the talent and experience they lost, also seems fair.  LSU had more NFL Draft early entrants than any other school with 11, and while the losses of Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Brad Wing, and Chris Faulk can won't hurt too much, it's the losses on D that put LSU in a tough place.

But LSU always seems to reload on defense and even with the losses of Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, and Bennie Logan, they have some young players ready to step up.  First on that list is DT Anthony Johnson, who could go from back up to 1st round pick in 1 season.  He is joined by 3 other new starters on the D-Line but after the 1st string, no other Tiger DL has any game experience.

Several starters do return that will continue to have a huge impact, including Craig Alston, Jalen Mills, and Lamin Barrow.  But how this group meshes with a lot of new pieces will go a long towards determining the Tiger's fortunes in '13.

There is a chance that for the 1st time in a while, LSU may have to depend on its offense to win some big games.  Zach Mettenberger returns and while he threw for 2500+ yards, seemed to struggle in some of the Tiger's big games.  Although he did show some potential in the Alabama game,  LSU needs his arm to open up their running game, which is what they do best.

Four of the five starters on the OL return and while starting RB Jeremy Hill knocked a Baton Rouge man unconscious recently, Alfred Blue is coming back from an injury and can start as well.

Playmakers are available for Mettenberger in Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry, which could make the offense much improved from '12, where they only averaged 18.8 points per game against teams that finished the season ranked and barely squeaked 12 points out against 0-8 Auburn.

Unfortunately for LSU, the schedule isn't much easier in '13.  Coach Les Miles reminded us all of this yesterday during his rant on SEC scheduling.  He knows his team once again has a much tougher road to Atlanta than Alabama and he let everyone know his displeasure at SEC Media days.

So is this a reloaded defense with young studs that won't miss a beat?  Is the offense much improved and ready to be the Tigers best unit?  Most importantly, can LSU make it through their brutal schedule?

All this being said, I'll get to the fun part now...making predictions.

I'm sure Coach Miles wishes he could start with an opponent other than dangerous TCU.  The Horned  Frogs return playmaking QB Trevone Boykin and his top target in Josh Boyce along with 10 returning starters on D. However, I don't see LSU losing back to back non-conference game and the Tigers squeak out a close one.

The next 2 home games against UAB and Kent St should be easy wins, but the following week at home against Auburn is worrisome.   The other Tigers almost upset LSU in 2012 and this game is a week before the LSU-UGA showdown in Athens.  Being at home should be enough to get LSU the W, but I expect it to be close again.

The next 6 weeks are what will make or break the Tigers season.  At UGA, at Mississippi St, vs Florida, at Ole Miss, vs Furman, at Alabama.  Wow.  Thankfully LSU has a bye after the Bama game, but that's as tough a stretch as you will see.

I see LSU falling to UGA, knocking off MSU (making 14 straight), but losing again to Florida.  The Ole Miss game is scary because the Rebs are 2-2 their last 4 in the series and almost won in Baton Rouge last year.  I say Mississippi takes this one.  Furman will be a blowout and Bama will get its 3rd straight against the Tigers.

After the bye week, LSU gets it rolling again and knocks off Texas A&M and Arkansas to finish their season at 8-4.

But again, this is LSU football.  With so many toss up games, they could easily use the UGA game to springboard them to another championship run.  However, lose the opener and it could be a long season.

Hopefully for Tiger fans, the wins will come in bunches as those in Baton Rouge have become accustomed to watching their team finish in the top 10 and they still have a sour taste from the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

But you can certainly never count out Les Miles, as he has shown over the years the old Mad Hatter can strike at any time.  He may squeak out 2-3 extra wins this year with an onside kick here and there, fake field goals, and other special teams surprises.  That's part of what makes this team so intriguing heading into 2013.

The '03 National title helped the Tigers geaux on a remarkable 10 year run.  Will 2013 be the start of another or signal the end of an era?

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