Day 11 of the “12 Teams in 12 Days” segment, takes us to the Bayou in Baton Rouge, where I am breaking down the Lousiana State University Tigers.
The LSU Tigers certainly overcame expectations last season and managed an 11-2 record in 2010. Their only losses were on the road to then-No. 5 Auburn 17-24 and then-No. 12 Arkansas 23-31. The Tigers would beat Texas A&M 41-24 in the Cotton Bowl. LSU now has a ton of momentum heading into 2011.
Head coach Les Miles owns a 90-38 record and a national championship in his six years at LSU. He is thought by most to be a very underrated coach, and may have his best team of his career at LSU heading into the fall. The Tigers welcome back 15 starters and 54 lettermen.
The only big questions surrounding LSU and the few things seperating them from a Natonal Championship this year is…..
Can new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe make that much of a difference? It was a complete and total miracle that LSU won 11 games with the nation’s 107th ranked passing game, 92nd in passing efficiency, and 11th in the SEC in total offense. The team might be good enough to challenge for the SEC title as is, but if it wants to play for the national title, and that’s a realistic expectation, the attack can’t stink. Kragthorpe isn’t looking to rebuild the machine, but he’s looking to simplify how it works by making the reads easier for the quarterbacks. The moves have worked so far as Jordan Jefferson has thrown well in early practices, while the coaching staff has said it likes what Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger were doing. With eight starters returning, including the entire offensive line, the expectations are for the production to start to come.
The Tigers do lose RB Stevan Ridley, who carried the load with 1,147 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Jefferson was their second-leading rusher, and their No. 3 was Michael Ford. Ford is back, but he’ll likely have to watch from the bench as electric sophomore Spencer Ware gets the bulk of the carries.
LSU loses their top wideout Terrance Toliver, who had 41 catches for 579 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. They bring back their No. 2 and No. 3 receivers in juniors Ruben Randle and Russell Sheppard, respectively. Look for sophomore Kadron Boone to step in and take Toliver’s place. They also add in freshman WR Jarvis Landry, one of the top recruits in the country.
With the exception of second-team All-SEC LT Joseph Barksdale, who was drafted in the third round by the Oakland Raiders, the offensive line returns intact. They have nine of their top ten linemen back in all. Sophomore Chris Faulk will battle it out with redshirt freshman La’el Collins for the starting left tackle job. Both were top ten recruits along the offensive line coming out of high school.
Their defense on the other hand is one of the best in the business.
Only one year since Miles has taken over have the Tigers allowed more than 19.9 points/game. LSU is coming off a 2010 season in which they gave up just 18.2 points and 307 total yards per game. They bring back seven starters on defense and should be just as dominant in 2011.
The defensive line is the biggest concern, where they lose two starters. Second-team All-American DT Drake Nevis and DT Lazarius Levingston were each selected in the NFL Draft. Senior DE Kendrick Adams and sophomore DE Sam Montgomery return. The Tigers add in freshman DT Anthony Johnson, a top five recruit.
LSU welcomes back five of their top six linebackers from last season, but lose their best one. MLB Kevin Sheppard has departed after earning first-team All-SEC honors in 2010. Senior Linebackers Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francois each return to their starting positions.
The secondary was a team strength a year ago as the Tigers surrendered only 170 passing yards per game and 57 percent completions. They lose CB Patrick Peterson, who earned the Jim Thorpe and Bednarik Awards. He was also named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and was drafted No. 5 overall by the Arizona Cardinals. The Tigers bring back eight of their top 12 defensive backs, including seven very highly touted players. CB Morris Claiborne earned second-team All-SEC honors and is their top cover corner. This figures to be one of the best secondaries in the land despite the loss of Peterson.
LSU’s schedule this season opens up with a huge game against the Oregon Ducks in Dallas. Then the Tigers travel to Mississippi State to face a very good Bulldog team, followed by an out-of-conference game in Morgantown against the West Virginia Mountaineers. But what is key for LSU, is, they get Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas at home in Tiger Stadium. But have to face Bama in Tuscaloosa for what will most likely be for the SEC West and a trip to Atlanta.
The Tigers have the makings of a National Contender this year. Their defense is better and their offense is better. The winner of the LSU/Alabama game will be going to Atlanta, and I have the Tigers winning that game in OT. LSU has not only the best team in the SEC this year; they hae one of the best teams in the nation. LSU and the “Lucky Les” squeak out some close wins and go 11-1 in the regular season and they give the SEC a chance to have 6 back-to-back champions.