As in the last several years, this looks like another talented LSU team with an average quarterback, a running back who is excellent against everybody except Alabama, when he flops against the best defense he'll face in the SEC and in the entire country. It's a team that can win double digit games and will be close in the west, but can't get over the hump because of lack of talent at quarterback and a running back who can't solve Alabama's defense.
Coach Ed Orgeron enters his first full season after taking over from Les Miles last year midway through the season and guiding LSU to a 6-2 record and a 9-4 mark overall. O's a real entertainer and he has talent at the skill positions, a good defense, a massive but not spectacular o line, but a challenge at the quarterback spot. O has good coordinators though. Dave Aranda is very good with the LSU defense. He held the Crimson Tide to 10 points last season and his troops looked ready for fall battles in the SEC and nationally by the looks of the spring game. Matt Canada takes over the offense that has had some malfunction problems mainly due to lack of quarterback play, but Canada is excellent having run stellar offenses at Wisconsin, N.C. State and Pitt, places where he coached some prolific backs in Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon at Whisky, and James Conner at Pitt. Gordon now plays for the Los Angeles Chargers, White is an outstanding back for the New England Patriots, who, along with Tom Brady of course, helped the Patriots come back from a 28-3 deficit to the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 and scored the game winning touchdown in overtime for the Patriots in Super Bowl 51 as they captured their 5th Lombardi Trophy under Bill Belichick and Brady. They won 34-28. Ball set the FBS career rushing TD record in 2012 with 77. Navy's Keenan Reynolds surpassed that mark in 2015 and finished with 88. Ball was a second round pick by the Denver Broncos and is currently a free agent. Connor ran for 1,092 yards and 16 TDs last year under Canada. He was a 3rd round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers this past April. Canada has that explosive back once again in Derrius Guice, who ran for 1,387 yards in 6 starts and 12 games played while taking Leonard Fournette's place when Fournette was hurt. Guice led the SEC in rushing. Guice is 5'11", 212. and O and Canada have an excellent back behind him in Darrel Williams, 6'1", 233. Leonard Fournette's little brother, Lanard, looks promising, and Nick Brossette, a 6'0", 200 pound junior, looks very promising. The receiver position has explosiveness. D.J. Chark, a 6'3", 187 pound senior, is the leader and big play guy on the perimeter, and 6'3", 217 pound Drake Davis is another take it to the house guy. There is plenty of other talented players out wide.
The line will be led by senior left tackle K.J. Malone, a 6'4", 303 pound senior. It's a big and physical group like all LSU o lines are, so they'll be pretty strong. In the spring game, they looked pretty good with the run, but not as proficient with pass blocking. But there is size, talent and depth.
But the problem lies in the quarterback position. Danny Etling, who started 11 games last year and completed 160-of-269 passes, 60%, for 2,123 yards, 11 TDs and 5 ints, looked pretty average in the spring game. He was intercepted once and was 4 of 11 for 53 yards. He can be serviceable and with Guice and the weapons around him, could manage the game OK. But I don't see him winning big games for his team. Maybe he won't have to with Guice, the skilled players and the defense the Bengal Tigers will have, but he's going to be called upon in the clutch at pivotal times in the season. He'll have to deliver.
The defense looks very solid. Linebacker Arden Key is back. Key, 6'6", 238, took a hiatus in the spring for personal reasons, but if he has it together again, he can be an All American. The d line is big and stout though they're young. The Tigers lost 5 of the front 7 guys off last year's team, but there is very good size and ability for Aranda to work with. Kevin Toliver II is an outstanding cornerback, he had the interception in the spring game against Etling, and Grant Delpit, an early enrollee in the spring, was outstanding in the spring game. O is high on the 4 star Delpit and 5 star freshman JaCoby Stevens.
The talent is all over the field and around Etling. It's a matter of can he get the job done for the Bengal Tigers in crunch time. Teams will stack the box on Guice, so Etling will have to make key plays in crucial situations for this team to have a highly successful season. There is elite talent on this team, but Etling will determine how elite this team can be.
The Tigers open up the season at NRG Stadium in Houston vs BYU on Saturday, September 2nd at 8:30 PM CT on ESPN. That's not a bargain. BYU has a talented quarterback in Tanner Mangum, and is always a hard-nosed, competitive team. Another interesting thing, and I hope this doesn't happen, BYU will not play any football on Sundays, so if the game were to go past midnight, the Cougars would have to make a decision on whether they would keep playing. Hopefully it won't come to that because this is an excellent matchup. In week 2, Sept. 9th, the Tigers host Chattanooga at Death Valley. Then they're at Mississippi State on Sept. 16th facing State's prolific quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in what should be a classic. Syracuse comes to Death Valley on Sept. 23rd, the Troy Trojans then visit Baton Rouge on Sept. 30th. The Tigers then go to the Swamp to face the Florida Gators on Oct. 7th in what will be a classic after the fiasco between Florida and LSU last year when LSU made Florida come to Baton Rouge and play them after Hurricane Matthew hit Gainesville and the game was postponed. Florida came to Baton Rouge and upset the Tigers. Florida's has made this their homecoming game. Pretty interesting matchup here. Then the Auburn Tigers visit Tiger Stadium on Oct. 14th in what should most probably be a Saturday Night matchup on ABC with Death Valley rockin', Then the Tigers go to Ole Miss on Oct. 21st and that dysfunctional place. After a week off, the Tigers visit the Crimson Tide on Nov. 4th with possibly a lot on the line and Guice trying to prove that he's elite. Fournette couldn't do it against the Crimson Tide for 2 years, and Guice was irrelevant last year in the game at Death Valley, so he'll be hungry. That still may not be enough against an NFL defense. Arkansas comes to Tiger Stadium on Nov.11th, LSU goes to Tennessee on Nov. 18th, and then host A&M on Nov. 25th.
I see a good season for the Tigers under Coach O, and he is recruiting well for 2018 with the 8th best class in the country, Ohio State is No.1, Miami is 2, Texas is 3, Penn State is 4, Oregon is 5, Tennessee is 6, and Florida is 7. Alabama, Auburn and Georgia will start climbing soon. Coach O's 2017 class was the 7th best in the country. Coach O is known as a prolific recruiter. But the Hat recruited well and usually got a little above average results for his efforts. I see LSU playing well against most teams with toss ups against Auburn and Florida. State could give them some problems along with Tennessee, both on the road, but Alabama is going to be difficult unless Etling can make a marked improvement this month and during the season. This could be a 10 win team, it could be an 8 win team. I'll say they lose to Alabama, Florida and Auburn, and win 9 and go somewhere like the Outback Bowl again. I like O a lot. He's going to be fun. But he could have similar results to what Les did, unless LSU can find a top flight quarterback in the near future.
Tomorrow: Preview and Prediction for the 99th PGA Championship