LSU football could storm its way to an SEC West title and spot in the College Football Playoff in the coming season, and I wouldn’t be surprised.
The Tigers finishing below .500 in conference play and Les Miles landing on the hot seat by season’s end wouldn’t surprise me, either.
Such is the peril of playing in a division as loaded as the SEC West, where all seven members reached bowl games last season, and each is built to do so again in 2015. But while such depth begets remarkable parity, I can’t say the same for other SEC West teams as I can LSU as this moment.
Alabama or Auburn may not win the division, for example, but I have a difficult time imagining either finishing worse than 9-3. Alabama’s basement may be 10-2, even. Ole Miss is in the same territory; the Rebels may not win the division, but there’s too much talent in Oxford for them to slip into the West’s lower half.
Mississippi State is on the other end of the spectrum. The Bulldogs lose so much from last year’s surprising 10-win team, especially on defense, that regression is inevitable even with Dak Prescott back behind center.
Mississippi State may not be destined for the cellar, but the Bulldogs’ ceiling may be no higher than fourth.
Texas A&M appears to have a similar cap. The Aggies will put up points — that’s just what Kevin Sumlin’s offense does, and it should be improved with Kyle Allen having a run through the conference to his credit. Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil give A&M one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the nation.
The Aggies will score points, but even after poaching away defensive coordinator John Chavis from the LSU football program, Texas A&M will be hard-pressed to muster the defense necessary to compete for the SEC West.
Arkansas is the only other SEC West with such a wide-ranging disparity between its best case scenario and its worst case as I foresee for LSU. But the Razorbacks’ ascent under head coach Bret Bielema is moving ahead of schedule, thus lending itself to some perhaps irrational exuberance.
The uncertainty ahead for the Tigers in 2015 is a snapshot of the overall undercurrent of LSU football in Les Miles’ decade as head coach.
LSU has routinely featured NFL-caliber talent on its defense, and the coming season is no exception.
Jalen Mills and Jamal Adams patrolling the backline, Tre’Davious White as the lockdown corner, Davon Godchaux up front manning the tackle position — a regular position of strength in the LSU defense — that’s a whole lot to love right there. And last season, many of these Tigers were responsible for LSU holding Ole Miss to seven points, Texas A&M to 17 and Alabama to 13 through regulation.
Offsetting such a stout defense with a consistent run game is typically the ideal recipe for success in the rough-and-tumble SEC West. LSU does that nicely with Leonard Fournette who, if he’s not the conference’s best running back, is at least second-best.
Though the LSU offense under Les Miles hasn’t relied particularly heavily on just one back, regardless of coordinator, Fournette has the makings of a 2,000-yard rusher.
That is, if he gets any support from the passing game to keep defenses off-balance.
I’m a firm believer in the cliche quarterbacks get too much credit in victory, and too much blame in defeat. But for LSU football, the adage just rang too true to be ignored last season.
Neither Anthony Jennings nor Brandon Harris impressed last season. Jennings had more opportunity to do so than the freshman Harris, but Jennings’ offseason tribulations have seemingly taken him out of the equation.
Harris may be the guy going forward, but is he the guy to give LSU’s offense enough balance to be effective on a weekly basis?
If Harris is at least serviceable, he’s working with a wide receiving corps that returns four starters and behind an offensive line retaining three. Such a foundation is conducive to success for a quarterback whose primary role is that of game manager. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron staked his reputation on not getting too risky in the passing game, allowing star running backs like LaDainian Tomlinson to shoulder much of the load.
But then, Cameron’s old-school philosophy has also warranted criticism. Drew Brees was good as a facilitator under Cameron at San Diego; Brees became a surefire Hall of Famer in New Orleans when he was free to move the ball around more, as he had in his illustrious college career at Purdue.
LSU’s offense suffered through bouts of stagnation similar to those that made Cameron a favorite target of Chargers fans.
As impressive as holding Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss to a combined 33 points over 12 quarters was, LSU mustering seven total points in blowout losses to Auburn and Arkansas should be unsettling for Tiger faithful.
Others don’t seem to share my trepidation on LSU football. The Coaches Poll, for example, ranks the Tigers No. 13. Phil Steele has the Tigers at a remarkable No. 10 heading into 2015.
I don’t necessarily disagree, but I also wouldn’t disagree if you told me LSU was off your Top 25 altogether. Frankly, I believe that perfectly crystallizes LSU football under Les Miles.