Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Prelude to a Season... #7

#7.) LSU

What You Need to Know: Let's chat about success, shall we? In 2002 the Tigers tasted victory on the grandest stage, winning a BCS title, and announcing under coach Nick Saban that they were a dynasty in the making in the SEC. Saban bolted for the NFL (though now at rival Alabama) in 05, and the Tigers hired Les Miles, head coach of Oklahoma State.

Miles' first weeks of the 2005 season were trying to say the least. He was replacing the man viewed as the resuscitator of LSU football, as well as the students, school, and region dealing with the fallout for Hurricane Katrina. These were auspicious beginnings for Miles.

In his three seasons at LSU, Miles has many fans asking, "Saban who?". He's rattled off 34 wins, a Top 8 final ranking each season, 2 SEC West Titles, 2 BCS Bowl berths, and a national championship. That's an impressive resume for any coach under any length of time, but to have that be in your first three years of a job is ridiculous.

Miles excels at playcalls that are unconventional and risky, fake FGs, going for it on 4th down, and his team embodies that sort of swagger. But this 2008 edition of LSU has major holes to fill and many questions to be answered. For the Tigers to continue with their 4th-straight ten-win season, they will need to find viable replacements for 10 starters, 6 of them defensive. It isn't so much that they lost starters, it's more the starters that they lost. Gone from the roster are the likes of DT Glenn Dorsey, TB Early Doucet, SS Craig Steltz, QB Matt Flynn, LB Ali Highsmith, and CBs Chevis Jackson and Jonathon Zenon. These are tremendous impact players, and the Tigers must find a way to replace their production and leadership.

Of course, LSU is LSU, and any team at this level with this sort of success is loaded with talent on the two-deep. New man under center, Andrew Hatch, who has all of one career completion. The good news for Miles and crew is the offensive line. They return all but one starter, and the O-line is big, fast, strong, and agile. Which makes sense considering Miles was a former O-line coach at Michigan. They will give Hatch time, and open up plenty of holes for whichever one of the half dozen or so tailbacks vying for Doucet's spot has the ball.

Defensively, LSU was known for its intensity and hits of the large variety. Replacing the holes in the front seven will be doable, but the biggest impact will be felt by the loss of both starting corners. By having such lock-down coverage at the corner position as they did last year, it allowed the front 7 and the occasional DB to pressure the opposition into mistakes, lost yardage, and turnovers. If the Tigers have to drop back into more zone coverage with the LBs, this defense will not be as fearsome.

Who You Need to Know and Their 07 Stats:
RB Keiland Williams: 478 yds, 6 TD
WR Demetrius Byrd: 35 rec, 621 yds, 7 TD
DT Kirston Pittman: 7.5 sacks

Game To Watch: The good news for the Tigers is they play 8 home games, but the bad news is they play four SEC games on the road (Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn). There are three games LSU fans look to as a barometer of the season, the first is a must-win September 20th at Auburn. The next two are not necessarily must-wins, but a 1-1 split will be needed for the Tigers to play for the SEC title in Atlanta. The two games in question? October 11th at Florida, and October 25th versus Georgia. Of course, there's the rivalry game versus Alabama on November 8th, but its a home game for LSU, and very few teams win under the lights in Baton Rouge.

They'll Do Well If...: Hatch picks up the offense, gains confidence in three cupcake games early, and begins to play like an SEC QB.

Season Outlook: It's the same story as a lot of other SEC teams. Loaded with talent, conference schedule from hell, speed like a jackrabbit on crystal meth. LSU will be favored to win the West, but the league did them no favors by trading out Kentucky for Georgia. The good news for the Tigers is their schedule is weakest early, where they can allow for some growing pains and a sizable learning curve. The Auburn game is critical, but I expect an LSU win. Adding in a loss at Florida and an upset win against Georgia on a bayou Saturday night, and it's a an 11-1 regular season and a rematch with Florida in Atlanta for the SEC title.

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