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SEC Preview: LSU

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith previews the 2020 LSU Tigers.

LSU TIGERS
Head Coach: Ed Orgeron (fourth season at LSU, seventh overall); 56-36 overall, 26-28 SEC
Offensive Coordinator: Steve Ensminger (tenth season)
Defensive Coordinator: Bo Pelini (first season)
2019 Recap: 15-0 (8-0 SEC); defeated Oklahoma in Peach Bowl, defeated Clemson in CFP National Championship Game
The dream season. No team in the 150-year history of college football has produced a resume like the 2019 LSU Tigers. The Tigers defeated five teams that finished in the final AP Top 10, and only one of those games was a one-score win (at Alabama). Joe Burrow’s Heisman Trophy-winning season was as prolific as any quarterback’s we’ve ever seen. The offense finally became the force that its talent always suggested it could be, and the defense was loaded with talent. Unfortunately, most of the key pieces from last year’s team are off to the NFL, and both coordinators have moved on. LSU never has to truly rebuild with the way it recruits, but expectations have clearly dipped despite a reworked scheduled that sets up pretty nicely for a young Tigers team that lost almost all of spring practice.

2020 Schedule
Sept. 26 – MISSISSIPPI STATE (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Oct. 3 – at Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Oct. 10 – MISSOURI
Oct. 17 – at Florida (3:30 p.m. ET)
Oct. 24 – SOUTH CAROLINA
Oct. 31 – at Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Nov. 7 – Idle
Nov. 14 – ALABAMA (6 p.m. ET, CBS)
Nov. 21 – at Arkansas
Nov. 28 – at Texas A&M
Dec.  5 – OLE MISS

Under Center
After Burrow was brought in to try to beat him out as a sophomore (and did), Myles Brennan is finally the man in Baton Rouge. With the 2020 season not counting for eligibility purposes, Brennan will have three seasons to play as a fourth-year junior. There’s not much to go on through two seasons as a backup and a redshirt year, but the Tigers are confident about finally unleashing Brennan into full-time duty.

LSU had some attrition behind Brennan, so there’s not a clear backup if Brennan falters or is injured. Max Johnson is an interesting option, but he’s only a true freshman. Keeping Brennan healthy is imperative.

In The Trenches
Defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin was overshadowed last season by the ridiculous amount of talent around him. The junior was expected to be the most experienced player in a front seven that is young and learning both a scheme and personality change with the arrival of fiery defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. That changed on Aug. 31, however, when Shelvin opted out of the season. Defensive end Justin Thomas left the team in August, but LSU did add North Dakota State transfer Jabril Cox, an FCS All-American, who should replace K’Lavon Chaisson as the team’s top pass rusher.

On the offensive side of the ball, four of five starters have moved on. Right tackle Austin Deculus is the only returner, but guard Ed Ingram has seen quite a bit of work over the past couple seasons. There’s promise in this unit, but little production. They should gel nicely by season’s end, but it could be a bumpy road as the Tigers figure out their ideal starting five.

On The Edge
Ja’Marr Chase was due back after taking home the Biletnikoff Award in 2019 by racking up nearly 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns (postseason included). He joined Shelvin by opting out of the season, however, presumably ending his LSU career. Fellow junior Terrace Marshall is more than a solid No. 2 option, but can he now be a true No. 1? He caught 13 touchdowns as a sophomore. The concerns begin after Marshall. Is true freshman Kayshon Boutte (a perfect name for an LSU player) a viable No. 2 option right away? Where does 5-star freshman tight end Arik Gilbert fit in? And does one of Chris Curry or John Emery emerge as the No. 1 running back? Or do they share work again (Curry had exactly one more rushing yard than Emery in 2019)? So many questions.

LSU has as much of a claim to the “DBU” moniker as any program in the country, and that won’t change this season despite losing two of their top three cornerbacks and an All-American safety. Sophomore Derek Stingley Jr. enters the season as the top candidate for the Thorpe Award, while senior safety JaCoby Stevens was one of the few junior starters from the 2019 team not to turn pro. Stevens led all returning players in tackles last season with 92.

Ranking The Units
1.   Defensive Backs
2.   Offensive Line
3.   Receivers
4.   Defensive Line
5.   Linebackers
6.  Running Backs
7.   Quarterbacks

Schedule Analysis
The perception among non-Alabama fans is that the SEC favors Alabama in its scheduling decisions. That can’t be said this year, as the Tigers added Missouri and Vanderbilt with the 10-game conference schedule, and both games were placed in the first three weeks, along with a Mississippi State team that has completely reinvented its offense this offseason under new head coach Mike Leach. The trip to Florida comes a week after the Gators make a long trip to Texas A&M, and South Carolina is a manageable sandwich game before LSU heads to Auburn. The idle week before Alabama was maintained, and the visit to Texas A&M is surrounded nicely by games with Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Season Prediction
In some ways, this season might be more telling about Ed Orgeron as a head coach than last season’s national championship. He’s proven to be a very good coach who is a shell of what he was at Ole Miss, but can he maintain success with the odds stacked against him? 7-3 would be an acceptable season, and I think the Tigers can reach that mark if they can find a road win at Florida, Auburn or Texas A&M. I think they get it at Auburn – a program that LSU has a bit of a hex over. Alabama will get revenge for last year’s loss in convincing fashion, but this season will be perfectly acceptable for the Tigers given all of the turnover.

Record: 7-3
CFP Ranking: 8
Bowl: Peach Bowl vs. Louisville

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.