Here we sit less than a year removed from the LSU Tigers winning their second BCS championship in the last 5 years. Yet, across the nation, there are still questions posed by college football fans when they look at LSU as a whole.
When Alabama faces LSU in late November there is going to be a lot of fanfare regarding the match-up. The media will, with no doubt, publicize this game as the “return of Nick Saban to Death Valley.” A lot of the LSU fans will jump on this media bandwagon as they re-live the bitter disappointment, some the anger and others the realization, that Saban accepting the Alabama job meant the Tide finally had a good coach at their helm. Some Alabama fans will follow the lead of the Tiger faithful and get caught up in the smaller stories that will revolve around this game. Others, hopefully the majority, will look at this game in terms of the bigger picture. A picture that could very well have the Tide battling for the vacant spot left in Atlanta for the SEC West division winner.
I’ll find myself disappointed in some of the Bama fans wanting to talk about Les Miles and his coaching ability, or in their eyes “lack of coaching ability.” All of this in spite of a great SEC record in terms of wins vs losses and now a coach having hardware to support the notion he’s done a good job in Baton Rouge.
Despite all of these story lines lets take a closer look at what has changed for the reigning SEC Champs versus what hasn’t changed.
The question on everyone’s mind falls on the QB position and how that plays out for the 2008 season. Now that Ryan Perrilloux is no longer in Baton Rouge, a subject with no reason to delve into when it comes to the reasons why, the focus is on three players; Andrew Hatch, Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. If one wants to pull a positive out of Perrilloux’s dismissal they need to look no further than the timing which couldn’t have been better. His “transfer” to Jax State allowed all three QB’s to practice with the team over the spring camp and during the summer that should translate into smaller growing pains as they enter their fall schedule.
Whether it ends up being Hatch or Lee (Hatch appears to be the front runner right now) the one thing that hasn’t changed about this LSU offense is their QB will be surrounded by a wealth of talent.
Even with Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton seemingly known as a pass-happy OC, LSU ran the ball just under 60% of the time last season. The loss of Jacob Hester and the consistency of his play would appear to make this a rebuilding year in the running back position. But, LSU remains talented and deep with 4 SEC caliber backs in Charles Scott, Richard Murphy, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday. That group provides every aspect a coach could want in his running backs: a break-away threat, a great passing receiver along with a back who can run between the tackles for 15+ carries a game.
Even with the loss of Early Doucet, their skill positions in their receiving corps will not miss a beat as well when the Tigers field Demetrius Byrd and Brandon LaFell as their wide-outs. One would be greatly amiss if they overlooked the returning tight end, Richard Dickson, who was just slightly behind Byrd in total receptions last season.
However, even with all of that talent in skill position, perhaps the most talented player for LSU is along the offensive line where Junior tackle Ciron Black rivals Alabama’s Andre Smith as the best offensive tackle in the SEC. He’s good enough where he could move to the #1 position in the NFL draft for next years top offensive tackle.
While the 2008 LSU defense doesn’t return as many starters as their offense and loses All-American Glenn Dorsey there will be very little, if any, drop off from the 2007 squad. Names like Tyson Jackson, Kirston Pittman and R. Jean Fran-cois will be heard often around the SEC in terms of ability to rush the passer and the ability to stuff the run. Sr. Tyson Jackson is the headliner of this group playing at 6’5” and weighing just over 290lbs. Frankly, a player his size would be a perfect fit for Alabama’s 3-4 at defensive end. He’ll need to put up bigger numbers than he did last year with just under 5 tackles for a loss but there is little doubt when it comes to his ability against the running game.
The question marks begin to arise when we start looking at the linebackers and defensive backs. Middle linebacker Derry Beckwidth returns and is the player expected to anchor the unit with Jacob Cutrera shoulding a lot of the burden here as well. If both players manage to get through this season injury free LSU should be OK with their linebackers.
A bigger question mark, perhaps even in bold, comes into view when we start looking at their defensive backs. In 2007 LSU had arguably the best secondary in the SEC but in 2008 they’ll look to lone returning starter, safety Curtis Taylor, to lead this group. Even with the fact of losing three starters it is important to note there isn’t a lack of depth question with their safeties. Many of their reserves from last year have already seen plenty of SEC action and have held their own. The cornerback position is where opposing offensive coordinators are going to look when the veteran LSU will look to is Junior Chris Hawkins. The opposite side of the field will have the winner of a sophomore versus freshman battle.
The 2008 LSU team isn’t as talented as the 2007, but appears to be on par, if not better, than their 2003 squad. While last years team had a lot of things fall their way this years team very well may need the same luck to find itself challenging for a return trip to the BCS Championship. For LSU to return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship they’ll need to at least split games versus Florida and Auburn on the road and hold their own at home versus Georgia and Alabama.
A 9-win season is easily foreseeable, and a 10-win regular season is where I see it with LSU dropping games to Florida and Georgia then returning to ATL as the defending Western Division Champion.
Head Coach: Les Miles (4th year, 34-6, 7th year overall 51-25)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 5