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2017 College Football Preview: Athlon Sports
All text below that is not in brackets is from the magazine.

Athlon's Top Ten

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Florida State
  4. Washington
  5. USC
  6. Penn State
  7. Clemson
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Auburn
  10. Michigan

2017 College Football Playoff Predictions

  • Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs Washington
  • Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs Florida State

LSU is not ranked in the top 25.
The Tigers are projected to go 9-3 (5-3 SEC) and meet USC in the Fiesta Bowl.

Athlon asked each of its editors to answer some questions.

Which coach is under the most pressure in 2017?

  1. Mitch Light
    Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech. He's one of the most popular players in school history, but the results just haven't been good enough in four seasons. He's under .500 overall and 10 games under .500 in Big 12 games. The offense, as expected, has been very good, but the defense continues to be atrocious. Kingsbury will have to get to a bowl game at a minimum to save his job.
  2. Steven Lassen
    Jim Mora at UCLA. With USC emerging once again as one of the top-10 teams in the nation, there's added pressure on Mora to right the ship after a disappointing 4-8 season. Of course, it's unfair to pin the blame solely on Mora for last year's record. The Bruins lost QB Josh Rosen midway through the season with a shoulder injury and never recovered.
  3. Braden Gall
    Anyone in the SEC not named Nick Saban? Butch Jones at Tennessee is only under marginally more pressure than Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Kirby Smart at Georgia, or Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Jones' new AD won't take kindly to a bloodthirsty fan base.

Which top-10 team scares you the most? Which team do you think we might have over-ranked?

  • Mitch Light
    Probably Auburn, a team that failed to live up to lofty expectations two years ago. This time, though, is different (we think) because Jarrett Stidham should end up being much, much better at QB than Jeremy Johnson. But even if Stidham ends up being as good as we think, Auburn still has some question marks. The Tigers need some playmakers to step up at WR, and they lost two very good players on the D line in Carl Lawson and Montravious Adams. I like Auburn as the No. 2 team in the SEC West, but it wouldn't shock me if they don't end up in the top 10.
  • Steven Lassan
    A QB like Sam Darnold can mask a lot of issues ... or carry USC into the CFB Playoff. However, I think this team has more concerns than our No. 5 ranking would suggest.
  • Braden Gall
    There are a lot of volatile teams in the top 10 that need to prove it, but I will go with Oklahoma. Realistically, the Big 12 champ will be a top-10 team, and the Sooners are clearly the favorite. But stacked up against the rest of the top 10, Bob Stoops' bunch doesn't appear to be nearly as deep or talented.
    [Obviously Athlon's magazine went to press before Stoops retired in June.]

Name a coordinator hire that you like.

  • Mitch Light
    Tough one. I'll give Jim Leavitt, the new D coordinator at Oregon, the nod over Kevin Wilson (OC at Ohio State). Leavitt did a great job during his two years at Colorado and was a big reason the Buffaloes won the Pac-12 South title last season.
  • Steven Lassan
    Kevin Wilson at Ohio State. Even though the Buckeyes averaged 39.4 points a game last season, it was clear this unit needed an overhaul for 2017. Since Tom Herman left Columbus, the big-play ability and passing game ofOhio State's offense has regressed. But Wilson should immediately make an impact on a team capable of winning the CFB Playoff.

What was the most puzzling hire?

  • Mitch Light
    Major Applewhite at Houston. That program had a ton of momentum after Tom Herman put the Cougars on the national map in his two season, and it's arguably the most coveted Group of 5 head coaching job in the country. Applewhite might end up being a great coach, but it feels like Houston settled by tabbing a Herman assistant to take over. Seems like a guy like Sonny Dykes, who had been a successful head coach, would have been a better choice.
  • Steven Lassan
    I thought Nevada's hire of Jay Norvall was surprising. He's a 54-year-old career assistant with no previous head coaching experience. And his resume as an offensive coordinator leaves a lot to be desired.
  • Braden Gall
    Ed Orgeron. Coach O is a great recruiter, one helluva defensive line coach and a likable guy. But I have no idea if he's capable of handling the treacherous waters of Baton Rouge. Les Miles won nearly 80 percent of his games and a national championship and was still run out of town. That's the level of expectation at LSU, and it is a complete unknown if those stakes are too big for Orgeron. It's not the first time we've been puzzled by the LSU administration.

Teams on the Rise
Analytics can tell us which teams are poised to surprise in 2017.
I've been maintaining the S&P+ ratings at FootballOutsiders.com since 2008. They represent an attempt to dig deep, deriving efficiency and explosiveness from the play-by-play level. They combine aspects of football that affect college football's Five Factors - efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers - into a single opponent-adjusted number.
Each year, S&P+ produces results that make you doubt its creator's sanity. But if you know what you are looking for, a system like this can be useful. Among other things, it can drop pretty strong hints regarding who's about to have a really good, or really poor, season.

2016 S&P+ Rankings

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Michigan
  4. LSU
  5. Ohio State
  6. Florida State
  7. Washington
  8. Penn State
  9. USC
  10. Oklahoma

[Write up on LSU in the article - bold added by me]
Rarely is a dicthotomy as perfect as it was for LSU's offense in 2016. The Tigers played 12 games last fall - four against teams that were ranked in the top 10 of Defensive S&P+ and eight vs. teams that weren't.
Against the eight defenses outside of the top 10, LSU was dominant. The Tigers averaged 7.5 yards per play and, despite a slow tempo, 37.9 points per game. They went 8-0 in these contests, winning by an average of 21.8 points. This includes games against five bowl teams and a bowl matchup against Lamar Jackson and Louisville.
Against the four teams with elite defenses, however, the results were just slightly different: 4.9 yards per play, 9.3 points per game, and an 0-4 record despite a defense that allowed just 15 points peer game in these contests.
As observers, we see that and tie it to previous seasons. Les Miles couldn't develop a QB! LSU's offense stunk [because of a tiny sample)! The Tigers were overrated - again.
The numbers, however, see a team that was really, really close to a brilliant season. They were a late INT away from potentially beating an eventual 11-win Wisconsin team and suffered late goal-line miscues in losses to both Auburn and Florida. And while Alabama's 14-0 start featured 12 wins by at least 18 points, the Tide were tied with the Tigers, 0-0, heading into the fourth quarter.
S&P+ sees a team that had a brilliant defense and an offense that had four great gears but needed a fifth. It also sees a team that recruits at an elite level and has won an average of 10 games per season in the rugged SEC West over the last 14 seaons [and a still-solid 9.6 over nine years since its 2007 national title].
It sees, in other words, one of the safest bets in college football. Dominating iffy teams whlie losing tight games against good-to-great ones is a way to get overlooked in human polls while setting yourself up beautifully for the future, and LSU was closer to 10-2 or even 11-1 than 7-5 last year.
Of course, LSU does, in fact, need a QB. And while turnover was kept to a minimum during Ed Orgeron's shift from interim head coach to full-timer, the Tigers still have a lot of their hopes pinned on a new offensive coordinator. That's always a scary proposition. But it's hard to find many teams with more impressive raw materials, and there are just enough new influences involved to make you think this might be the year LSU again lives up to its full potential.

Coaching Report Card

We assess every Power 5 hire from 2012-16.
SEC Coaches

  • Home Runs
    Nationally relevant with no end in sight.
    5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn (2013- )
    The head coach at Auburn is never more than a bad year or two from the chopping block (see: Terry Bowden, Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik), especially when most of the oxygen in the state of Alabama is being sucked up by the Crimson Tide. Sure enough, Malzahn faced legitimate questions about his future last fall before the Tigers hit their stride en route to the Sugar Bowl. Regardless of when or how the Malzahn era eventually ends, though, or whatever else happens to unfold in the meantime, the Kick Six-fueled run to the BCS Championship Game in 2013 will always be worth it.
  • Holding Steady
    On the right track, but yet to win big.
    6. Jim McElwain, Florida (2015- )
    Back-to-back SEC East titles speak for themselves. But McElwain's teams haven't made any apparent headway on Florida State or Alabama at the end of the schedule, and even within the division they've arguably lost ground to Tennessee. Until McElwain finds a QB he can trust, the Gators are just treading water.
    7. Butch Jones, Tennessee (2013- )
    The 2016 Vols were erratic, combustible, and resilient - often on the same afternoon - a combination that temperated disappointment with sheer exhaustion. The result was a missed opportunity in a watered-down division, but also a reminder of how far the Vols have come on Jones' watch.
    8. Bret Bielema, Arkansas (2013- )
    It's probably too soon to suggest Bielema is facing a make-or-break year on the heels of three consecutive winning seasons, especially given the post-Bobby Petrino turmoil he inherited. But simply maintaining the status quo isn't going to keep the critics at bay, either.
    10. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (2014- )
    Mason's third season in Nashville included wins over Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee and a berth in the Independence Bowl, which by Vanderbilt standards qualifies as a banner year. The Commodores aren't going to repeat their historic success under Mason's predecessor, James Franklin, anytime soon, but as long as they don't feel permanently consigned to the SEC basement, Mason probably isn't going anywhere either.
  • The Thrill Is Gone
    Entrenched, but perhaps not for much longer.
    1. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (2012- )
    In retrospect, the initial enthusiasm of the Johnny Manziel years is beginning to look more like a curse. The lofty expectations (and even loftier recruiting rankings) that followed have fizzled in three consecutive 8-5 finishes, each one more deflating than the last.
    2. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss (2012- )
    [Since he's resigned, no point in reprinting what was said about him.]
  • Jury's Out
    Fledgling tenures yet to move the needle either way.
    2. Kirby Smart, Georgia (2016- )
    UGa fans were certainly hoping for more than Smart's debut campaign than an uninspiring 8-5 slog, one that often felt like a rerun of the Mark Richt era at its worst. But the Bulldogs did finish strong and sustained the momentum into the new year by inking a top-five recruiting class.
    3. Will Muschamp, South Carolina (2016- )
    The Gamecocks arguably exceeded expectations in 2016 by eking out six wins, a clear step forward from the 3-9 debacle in 2015. Even better: The leading passer (Jake Bentley) and rusher (Rico Dowdle) were both true freshmen, and, and the top two WRs (Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards) are back as well.
    10. Barry Odom, Missouri (2016- )
    Not that anyone expected Odom to guide Mizzou back to the SEC title game in Year 1, but obviously a last-place finish in a watered-down East Division doesn't lend itself to muich positive spin.

LSU Players on Athlon's Preseason All-America Team
First team offense – RB Derrius Guice
First team defense – LB Arden Key
Second team defense - CB Donte Jackson

SEC PICKS
SEC WEST SEC EAST
  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. LSU
  4. Arkansas
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Ole Miss
  1. Georgia
  2. Florida
  3. Tennessee
  4. South Carolina
  5. Kentucky
  6. Vanderbilt
  7. Missouri

LSU players on Athlon's All-SEC Teams:

  • 1st team offense
    RB Derrius Guice, OL Will Clapp
  • 1st team defense
    LB Arden Key
  • 2nd team defense
    DB Donte Jackson

Excerpts from full page write-up on LSU

  • Matt Canada, LSU O-Coordinator: "With the talent already here and what we will recruit, we can put together one of the best offenses in the country. We're going to develops QBs, score points and bring some excitement to the offense here at LSU."
  • Canada hasn't ... divulged a particular group [on his offense] that he wants to feature this coming season, but the Tigers' roster automatically becomes one of the deepest he's coached, especially an offensive line he says has been really, really impressive early in system installation.
  • The Tigers' offensive line is five guards in search of a tackle, but at least LSU can count on the experience of senior K. J. Malone at LT.
    A second-year coordinator must figure out how to cope with lack of defensive depth, particularly amongthe LBs. The preferred offensive style of play remains uncertain under a first-year coordinator. There will be retooling and new ideas on both sides of the ball. How LSU adapts to change could well determine its fate.
  • Guice now enters this season as Fournette did the last: as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, one on pace to shatter Fournette's just-established career school record for yards per carry (Fournette was at 6.2ypc, Guice is at 7.8).
  • Senior D.J. Chark returned after a bit of convincing from Canada. Now Chark, who says he had to give up root beer to stay conditioned for Canada's demanding drills, is set to emerge at Etling's top target after catching 26 passes for 466 yards and three TDs in 2016. The two developed chemistry as a scout squad combo two years ago.
  • Key is expected to return in the fall, but there was enough doubt to be disconcderting for the Tiger faithful given his immense talents. "He can just run around somebody," says Aranda ... "I've never been around a play who can do that."
  • The LB corps is the setting for LSU's biggest rebuilding job as the Tigers must replace their top two tacklers from 2016 in departed ILBs Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith.
  • Orgeron promises a more aggressive approach to returning and blocking kicks under special teams analyst Greg McMahon, formerly of the New Orleans Saints.
  • THE VERDICT
    2017 PROJECTION: 9-3, 5-3 SEC
    It's a familar story in Baton Rouge: LSU is loaded with elite playmakers on both sides of the ball, but there are perceived problems with the offense and concerns with the head coach. A quick look at the numbers, however, suggests LSU's offense was just fine in 2016; the Tigers averaged 6.7 yards per play in SEC games (second best in the league) - though they did struggle against top competition. The pressure will be on Ed Orgeron to prove he can successfully run a program after struggling to do so at Ole Miss. The pieces are in place from a talent standpoint for the Tigers to make a run at Alabama and win the school's first SEC title since 2011. The schedule could be an obstacle: LSU plays only three league games at home this fall.
    Postseason: Fiesta Bowl vs USC
  • Scouting the Tigers
    Opposing Coaches Size up
    LSU
    I think Ed Orgeron will do a good job of letting his coaches coach. Matt Canada is pretty sharp, so he'll be a good addition to their staff. He's very creative, and if you watched him at Pitt - especially their game against Clemson last year - he did an awesome job. Even though they're physical at the point of attack and they're going to run the ball, there's a lot of eye candy and misdirection built into his formations that takes a while to figure out. I think that really plays into their hands because in this league, people just kind of get passed around, and over time you get a book on people. When you hire someone from outside the conference, it takes the other staffs a year or so to get caught up. This will be a different style of offense, and he's obviously getting to work with a caliber of athlete he didn't have at Pitt.
    Even though Leonard Fournette got all the attention, I thought Derrius Guice was just as good of a back and was probably harder to scheme against because he wasn't all downhill all the time.
    I still question the QB deal. Danny Etling doesn't have much upside. He's just OK.
    On defense they had some freaks last year. I think five of those guys will play in the NFL for a decade.
    Ed figured out he had to hire a great staff so he can be the energy guy, but I think the big question mark is why they missed on so many in-state kids in recruiting this year. You can't lose three blue chip guys in the state to Alabama and expect to compete with them head to head.
By the Numbers
5
LSU's national rank in points allowed (15.8 ppg) in 2016
1
LSU's rank in TDs allowed (16 or 1.33 per game)
9
Number of games in which LSU allowed one TD or fewer
27.8
LSU offense's average starting field position - 110th in the FBS and 13th in the SEC.
10
National rank of Pittsburgh's offense under Matt Canada in scoring (40.9 ppg) in 2016
13
Pitt's rankings yards per play (6.71)
5/13
Of Clemson's 13 passing TDs allowed all last season, five came against Pitt - the only team to defeat the Tigers.

Interesting Quotations
Opposing coaches size up each SEC team

  • Alabama
    They get whoever they want in recruiting ... Now, how do they transition it with a new offensive coordinator? I think it will be more pro style, back to what they uesd to do. What's amazing about it is they run the same offense for the most part, it's just different window dressing.
    Jalen Hurts obviously gives them an element similar to Blake Sims. He can run the system. He seems to be smart. They like him, butyou could tell they didn't totally trust him.
    Bo Scarbrough is a monster, and they can keep it pretty simple and play more ball control, but Hurts has to grow as a passer and be more precise getting the ball outside.
  • Arkansas
    I think their offensive coordinator (Dan Enos) is awesome, just really, really good.
    They do stuff no one else really does anymore in terms of lining up and playing smashmouth football. ... They make you play a way you're not used to having to play.
    They made a change (at D coordinator). I don't know how much background Paul Rhoads has as a 3-4 guy, but they're going with it full bore because they just have such a hard time defending the spread.
  • Auburn
    It'll be fascinating to see what happens with (O-coordinator) Chip Lindsey coming in. I think Gus (Malzahn) is going to let him do what he wants. That's the rumor, anyway. I think if that's the case, their passing game will be more dynamic than you've seen in the past from them. ... I'd guess they have a chance to be sneaky good this year.
    I think defensively they've done as good a job as anyone recruiting other than Alabama.
    They're really good up front ... and they'll have a chance to be one of the better defenses in the league.
    Why haven't they been as good offensively? I wish I had an answer for that. I think it came down to inconsistency at QB.
  • Mississippi State
    I know Dan Mullen rubs some people the wrong way, but those guys can flat out get the job done.
    They're kind of boring schematically when you really watch them and break them down. ... Mullen does a good job - it's just not particularly creative. ... With Mullen, he kind of has his things he likes and that's what he does. There's no newness there.
    They're always just OK up front. ... they're not super talented.
    They're a developmental program ... You have have to respect what he (Mullen) does at a place where it's hard to recruit.
  • Ole Miss
    Schematically, they're pretty similar to Auburn but maybe even a little bit more creative.
    I would think they have to play Shea Patterson (at QB), but he was very up and down at the end of last season when they had to pull the redshirt. It's pretty important that they have a guy back there who can move around because they historically aren't great up front.
    Defensively, they fell off a cliff and had to make a change.
  • Texas A&M
    Kevin Sumlin bounced back a little bit last year, but it still feels like he might be on shaky ground ... They're as talented as anybody, but for whatever reason they don't put it together very often.
    I thought they continued to improve on defense, but losing Myles Garrett is definitely something we're happy about. John Chavis gets his guys ready to play and they'll always be tough on defense ... We had a great plan against them last year because he's pretty predictable on defense, but he just sits back and watches and over the course of the game they tinkered with things here and there and made it really tough. He just knows what he's doing.
    I thought (O coordinator) Noel Mazzone did a nice job last year.
  • Florida
    They're going to drop off on defense ... they're losing a lot of players who played a lot of football.
    This is a make-or-break year for them on offense. They need a QB and everybody knows it. Antonio Calloway is a damn good player, and he has had some issues.
  • Tennessee
    I don't think anybody outside of the building can speak to what's going on inside, but there's obviously some turmoil. That's a talented team that should win more games than it has.
    My question is, what are they trying to be on offense? I really don't know ...
    Their LBs are really bad relative to the rest of the division, so it'll be interesting to see if that gets exposed.
2017 College Football Preview: Lindy's Sports
All text below that is not in parentheses is from the magazine.

Lindy's Top Ten

  1. Alabama
  2. USC
  3. Ohio State
  4. Florida State
  5. Oklahoma State
  6. Penn State
  7. Clemson
  8. Washington
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Auburn

2017 College Football Playoff Predictions

  • Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs Florida State
  • Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs USC

LSU is ranked #15.

Five Coaches on the Hot Seat

  1. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
    He changed both coordinators in the offseason; the next move for AD Jack Swarbrick is obvious - if Kelly doesn't win.
  2. Jim Mora, UCLA
    Six consecutive Top 20 recruiting classes don't get you what it used to in Westwood.
  3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
    He's 44-21 in five season, which ain't half bad. But there's death, teaxes, and an A&M fade in November.
  4. (tie) Todd Graham, Arizona State; Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
    Graham, the defensive whiz, can't stop a summer breeze. Rodriguez, the zone-read master, still searching for star-level QB.
  5. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
    Fired since the magazine hit the newsstands.

Lindy's Top Five New Coaching Hires

  • Minnesota - P.J. Fleck
    Only 36, Fleck brings irrepressible energy to the program, and he owns the trademark "Row the Boat." He's an all-out attitude buy who should instill a positive culture at a place that needs it and will fight tooth-and-nail on the recruiting trail. Only question: Will Minnesota be able to keep him around long-term?
  • Purdue - Jeff Brohm
    What Brohm did in three years at Western Kentucky was just plain magical ... It's a heck of a jump, though, from WKU to Purdue ... actually, check that. It really isn't. Brohm probably has taken a slight step down in terms of the quality of his players, though the step up in competition is severe. But this hire makes all kind of sense. Brohm should be the Boilermakers' best coach since Joe Tiller.
  • Texas - Tom Herman
    Is it too much to call this a grand-slam hire? At the least, it's probably premature. Yet there are so many reasons this should work out well. Herman has strong in-state recruiting ties, not only from his brief time as head coach at Houston, but also from prevous bounce-arounds as a young assistant. His offensive style meshes nicely with the way high school ball is played in much of the state. The Longhorns return starters galore, so there's every chance to hit the ground running.
  • South Florida - Charlie Strong
    Breaking news: Strong and Texas weren't the greatest fit. But if anyone deserves a do-over, let's agree that it's Strong, who not long ago was universally regarded as one hell of a head coach. The Bulls are loaded with experience, and Strong won't let things drop off. This could be the start - make that the re-start - of something terrific for a guy who undoubtedly will feel more comfortable in Tampa than he did in Austin.
  • Western Kentucky - Mike Sanford Jr.
    First of all, give credit to WKU for its previous hires of Willie Taggart, Bobby Petrino and Brohm. And in that vein the Sanford hire just kind of feels right. He has no head coaching track record, but at 35, he has worked at Stanford, Boise State and Notre Dame ...

5 New Coordinators in Key Positions

  1. Brian Daboll, OC, Alabama
    Saban's sixth OC in 11 years suggests instability. But every one of his predecessors seemed to have thrived because of Nick, himself, or both.
  2. Jim Leavitt, DC, Oregon
    The founding father of South Florida football may not get back to being a head coach. But Leavitt's defensive chops are beyond doubt. After helping resuscitate Colorado's D en route to the South Division title, Leavitt needs to give some mouth-to-mouth to some ailing Ducks.
  3. Kevin Wilson, OC, Ohio State
    Scandal at Indiana allowed Wilson to fall into Urban Meyer's lap. J.T. Barrett is lucky to have this send-off. He will become a better QB because of Wilson.
  4. Chip Long, OC, Notre Dame
    Something has to give. Until Deshone Kizer, Brian Kelly had never had a QB stick in the NFL. (That still might not happen.)
  5. Matt Canada, OC, LSU
    It's a revolving door at LSU. Until the Tigers recruit a difference-making QB, not much is going to change.

Five Underachieving Programs

  1. Texas
  2. UCLA
  3. North Carolina
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Arizona State

LSU Players on Lindy's Preseason All-America Team
First team offense – RB Derrius Guice (#2 RB)
First team defense – LB Arden Key (#1 OLB)
Other Tigers ranked in the Top Ten at their position:
Will Clapp #4 center
Donte Jackson #8 CB

LSU Players in the top five seniors at their position on the NFL draft board
D. J. Chark - #3 WR
Christian LaCouture - #4 DT

SEC PICKS
SEC WEST SEC EAST
  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. LSU
  4. Arkansas
  5. Texas A&M
  6. Mississippi State
  7. Ole Miss
  1. Georgia
  2. Florida
  3. Tennessee
  4. South Carolina
  5. Kentucky
  6. Vanderbilt
  7. Missouri

LSU players on Lindy's All-SEC Teams:

  • 1st team offense
    RB Derrius Guice, C Will Clapp
  • 1st team defense
    LB Arden Key
  • 2nd team offense
    OL K. J. Malone
  • 2nd team defense
    DB Donte Jackson
  • 3rd team defense
    DB Kevin Toliver

Excerpts from full page write-up on LSU

  • PRIMARY STRENGTHS
    Athleticism abounds, as it has for the Tigers in past years. Highly acclaimed Guice leads a stable of RBs who were the focal point of the past regime. The offensive line has experience, as does QB Danny Etling. The defensive line features five fifth-year players. LSU finished strong in providing evidence of a return to glory.
  • POTENTIAL PROBLEMS
    A second-year coordinator must figure out how to cope with lack of defensive depth, particularly amongthe LBs. The preferred offensive style of play remains uncertain under a first-year coordinator. There will be retooling and new ideas on both sides of the ball. How LSU adapts to change could well determine its fate.
  • OVERVIEW
    The Tigers certainly won't lack for aggression under the emotionally charged Orgeron. That bodes well for a speedy yet stout defense that must avoid injuries that could hamper its production. The offense promises to display much-needed diversity. LSU has the potential to become a national powerhouse again, but must do more than show glimpses of its underlying potential.
  • (In the text accompanying LSU's #15 ranking)
    THE GOOD NEWS: LSU fans crave more creativity from the offense, but there's nothing wrong with handing the ball to Derrius Guice, who does a really nice impersonation of Leonard Fournette. A veteran front leads the way for a defense that's always relentless and always among the nation's best.
    THE BAD NEWS: The upside of QB Danny Etling is limited. The annual exodus of defensive stars - such as CB Tre'Davious White and S Jamal Adams - took place right on schedule. You can assume Orgeron is a better head coach that he was at Ole Miss, but let's call that one TBD.
    OUR CALL: In four of the past five seasons, LSU finished 14, 14, 16, and 13 in the final AP poll, and was unranked the other season. Can Orgeron's Tigers get back to the high-rent district? Not this fast.
By the Numbers
31-9
Three-year record of Bryan Harsin, Chris Peterson's replacement at Boise State. (Is Bryan desinted for a Power Five job next year?)
1998
Last year UCLA won a conference championship
$65M
Value of Saban's new contract at Alabama
181
Number of Division I football programs whose total athletic budget for the year is less than the value of Saban's contract
$950K
Yearly salary of Alabama LB coach Tosh Lupoi, which would make him 47th among FBS head coaches
7
Consecutive years Alabama has had the #1 recruiting class
0-6
Auburn's record against Alabama and Georgia the past three years

Interesting Quotations

  • (On Les Miles's unemployment) The former LSU coach is sitting this one out, but get him now - he won't be on the market for long.
  • (SEC coaches were asked to comment on their rivals anonymously)
    LSU doesn't have a QB. They can't throw the ball. And No. 5 (Guice) is a helluva player. But any way you cut it, the QB situation has got to be resolved. The QB is average as grits.
    Any time Vanderbilt beats Tennessee, they ought to fire the coach at Tennessee. ... Vanderbilt should never beat Tennessee. There's not an excuse on the planet for that.
    It's time Bret Bielema to put up or shut up. It's time to make substantial improvement, or the people in Arkansas will realize they've got the wrong guy. He hasn't done anything significant yet. What's he done that Houston Nutt didn't do in five years?
    I think Florida has recruited subpar the last three years and I think it will catch up with them this year. I don't think Jim (McElwain) enjoys recruiting; he won't get his fingernails dirty in recruiting.
    For Mississippi State fans, Mullen's done a good job. But nobody (from another school) has bit on him because he's a difficult guy to get along with. But if you're 7-5 at Mississippi State, they ought to be happy because Starkville is a hell-hole. If not for the junior colleges in the state, they wouldn't have a program.
    Alabama will miss Lane Kiffin. ... The guy did an unbelievable job at Alabama, probably the best job in the history of college football as an offensive coordinator ... If Lane had called the game vs. Clemson last year, Alabama would have won.
  • (On Ed Orgeron replacing Les Miles) Everybody loves Coach O, right? He was really good last season - just what the Tigers needed - and he fits like a glove in his home state. Players love him. Recruits love him. Everyone he meets loves him or least wants to be his buddy. So why is there skepticism about his chances to maximize what LSU can be? Orgeron will be 56 when the season starts and still battling the perception that he isn't CEO material. Whatever plays out, it'll be fascinating to watch.
  • The Big Ten had four teams in the top 10 of last season's final AP poll. The Pac-12 had two in the top four. ... The more Alabama dominates the SEC, the more we have to question just how good the football being played around the rest of that league is.
  • (On the playoff) It's in Year 4, for those of you scoring at home. So far it's been pretty good, right? Yet we'll see if a non-league champ makes it into the final four, as Ohio State did a season ago. ... Still waiting on one conference to place two teams into the semifinals. Better yet: Maybe we'll get four unbeaten league champs in 2017? It's the dream scenario.

TOP 100 HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS 2017-18LSU Verbal Commitments

39. Kelvin Joseph CB Scotlandville Magnet
44. Caden Sterns S Cibolo TX

Les Miles Retrospective - 4
The same question plagued LSU as the Tigers approached the 2010 season. Would the QB play improve?
  • Jordan Jefferson won the QB battle over Jarrett Lee and started all 13 games. But he completed only 56.5% of his passes and threw for only 7 TDs against 10 INTs. Jordan compiled the second highest rushing total on the team, 450y, behind only Stevan Ridley's 1147.
    A personal experience following the opening game of the 2010 season illustrates the attitude of some LSU fans toward their head coach. The Tigers had just defeated North Carolina 30-24 in the Georgia Dome in a game in which LSU jumped out to a 30-10 lead only to see UNC score two TDs, then drive to the 6 in the final minute. LSU had to bat down a short pass in the EZ on the last play of the game to preserve the victory. In the men's room afterward, a young LSU "fan" proclaimed, "I was hoping we'd lose so they'd fire Les Miles!" That brought approval from some others.
  • The highlight of the season was the 24-21 victory over defending BCS-champion Alabama in Tiger Stadium. The key play was a 75y TD pass from Jefferson to Rueben Randle running free in the secondary. The victory remains the Tigers' last over Saban in Tiger Stadium.
  • A 24-17 road loss to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers - on their way to the BCS Championship - the week before cost LSU a shot at the SEC West championship.
  • But most disappointing was the 31-23 defeat at the hands of Arkansas in Little Rock to end the regular season. Mixups in the secondary led to 80y and 85y TD passes from Ryan Mallett to Cobi Hamilton.
  • The Tigers completed their 11-2 season with a 41-24 triumph over Texas A&M (still in the Big 12) in the Cotton Bowl.

The return to double-digit victories set the stage for what was almost the greatest season in LSU history.

  • The 2013 Tigers were a juggernaut that crafted what multiple commentators called the greatest regular season in college football history.
  • They won 13 games without a defeat, culminating in the SEC championship in a 42-10 romp over Georgia.
  • Their non-conference victories included Oregon (40-27) at a neutral site and West Virginia on the road (47-21).
  • Most important of all was the 9-6 OT victory in Tuscaloosa. The #1-vs-#2 clash was dubbed "The Game of the Century." It was not so much that Miles outcoached Saban as that Nick and his staff made crucial blunders, such as having a WR limping with his injured ankle throw a pass from Wildcat formation that was intercepted at the goal line by Eric Reid. Also, the play-calling on Bama's possession in OT was atrocious.
  • The regular season ended with a 41-17 blasting of #3 Arkansas to clinch the SEC West.
  • But the Tigers' dream season suffered a bad stroke of luck when Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State on the road November 18. The Cowboys had vaulted to #2 following Alabama's loss to LSU the previous week. The day before the game, a plane crash killed OSU's women's basketball coach and his assistant. The tragedy had a huge psychological impact on the potent Cowboys squad. Coach Mike Gundy stated, "Honestly, the last thing that anybody wants to do, really, is play a game." Still, OSU raced to a 24-7 lead early in Q3 only to have the Cyclones rally to tie the game at 27. Still, the Okies had a chance to win in the last minute but missed a 37y FG. After the teams traded TDs in the first OT, Iowa State intercepted a tipped pass on the first play of OSU's next possession and kicked the winning FG.
  • Human voters immediately moved Alabama back to #2, where they remained despite OSU winning the Big 12 Championship. The Cowboys finished ahead of the Tide in the computer polls that comprised 1/3 of the BCS formula. But several voters in the Coaches' Poll, including Saban himself, ranked Oklahoma State lower than third, seemingly to make sure they didn't edge out Bama in the final BCS rankings.
  • So what was LSU's reward for its brilliant 13-0 season? Beat Alabama again.
  • The meeting in the Superdome was undoubtedly the game that turned a large percentage of LSU fans against Miles. An anonymous SEC coach, writing for Sports Illustrated, called it "almost unfair" to ask someone to beat Saban twice in the same season.
  • But it wasn't so much that LSU lost the rematch that irritated Tiger fans. It was the fact that Miles and his offensive staff came up with nothing new. Jefferson had had success running the option play in the first meeting. So LSU seemed to build their game plan around that play. But Alabama was all over it this time, and LSU seemed to have nothing else up its sleeve. The Tigers made only five first downs, 39y rushing, and 92 total yards. The great LSU defense - and I don't use the word "great" loosely since the unit included nine future NFLers - played their guts out, but you can only hold up so long when your offense can't keep you off the field.
  • The 21-0 Bama victory cancelled, in the minds of many, everything LSU had done during its 13-0 run. Miles's critics castigated his stubborn allegiance to old fashioned offensive ideas. If he couldn't win the BCS championship with this squad, he would never win it again.
  • The good that came out of Alabama's 2011 BCS Championship was Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany deciding to change his intransigent stance against a playoff. Plans immediately began hatching to convert the BCS into the College Football Playoff.

To be continued ...

Les Miles Retrospective - 3
The 2008 LSU season saw a big dropoff from the BCS Championship year of 2007.
  • The main factor was the absence of an experienced QB. Miles counted on Ryan Perilloux, the highly touted run-pass threat from East St. John whom Les targeted as his main recruit of his first class at LSU in 2005.
  • After a redshirt season in '05, Ryan saw spot duty in '06, then played much more in '07, leading the Tigers to the 14-7 victory in the SEC Championship game when Matt Flynn was injured.
  • But Ryan, who had been in and out of trouble in Baton Rouge, was kicked off the team before the '08 season.
  • That left Miles and Crowton with two choices for signal-caller: redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and true freshman Jordan Jefferson.
  • The two alternated throughout the season, with Lee throwing 269 passes and Jefferson, who was the better runner, flinging 73.

The second problem was the defense.

  • Unable to hire a big name D-coordinator to replace Bo Pellini, Miles went with co-coordinators: Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto.
  • The experiment didn't work as the Tigers gave up 314 points, 35 more than '07 (in one less game) and a whopping 150 more than '06.
  • The '08 Tigers gave up 51 to Florida, 52 to Georgia, 31 each to Troy, Ole Miss, and Arkansas.
  • All-in-all, LSU was fortunate to go 8-5 but were only 3-5 in the SEC.

The '09 Tigers got a new defensive coordinator, Jon Chavis, but won only one more game overall than the previous year but turned the conference around to 5-3.

  • Chavis's first defense allowed over 100 points less than the '08 team - 211.
  • LSU still didn't get as much production as needed from the QB position. Jefferson started 12 of the 13 games.
  • The Tigers were 8-2 with two games to play but lost to Ole Miss 25-23 in Oxford in a game that permanently damaged Miles's reputation with a significant segment of Tiger fans. After scoring a TD with 2:15 to play to cut the Rebel lead to 2, the Tigers receovered the onside kick. Needing only a FG to win, Crowton and Miles butchered the clock management. After Jefferson completed a desperation 43y pass to Terence Toliver on the 1 with 0:01 left and no timeouts, the Tigers should have hurried the FG team onto the field. Instead, the offense stayed in and Jefferson spiked the ball to end the game. The offense had obviously not been prepared to run the two-minute drill.
  • At home against Arkansas the following week, the Tigers fell behind 30-27 with 2:38 remaining. But this time, the offense executed the two-minute drill beautifully to set up a 41y Josh Jasper FG with 0:04 left to send the game into OT.
  • LSU kicked a FG to take the lead, then won when Arkansas missed its 36y FG.
  • The Tigers lost the Capital One Bowl to Penn State on a disgraceful muddy field that nullified the Tigers' speed advantage.

After going 34-6 his first three seasons in Baton Rouge (with Saban's talent according to Les's detractors), Miles had compiled a mediocre 17-9 the next two seasons. He needed to get back into the double-digit wins per year stratosphere and fast.

To be continued ...

Les Miles Retrospective - 2
In my opinion, the finest team Les Miles coached while at LSU was the 2006 squad.
  • Here's the number of future NFL players on each of Miles's Tiger teams.
    Each number includes only players who lettered that year.
    2005 - 35
    2006 - 36
    2007 - 35
    2008 - 39
    2009 - 41
    2010 - 41
    2011 - 39
    2012 - 40
    2013 - 39
    2014 - 44
    2015 - 42
    2016 - 42
    I haven't amassed the numbers for other colleges during this period, but I'd bet any money LSU sent more players to the NFL from 2005-16 than any team, including Alabama. So Miles and his staffs could recruit and develop talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
  • 2006 was JaMarcus Russell's final season at LSU. The junior was voted the All-SEC QB. He threw for 3,129y and 28 TDs. It was arguably the best performance by a QB during Miles's tenure, edging out Zach Mettenberger's 2013 season (3,082y passing and 22 TDs). Zach was injured for the bowl game his last year in Baton Rouge but he had the advantage of a 1000y rusher in Jeremy Hill and a 1000y receiver in Odell Beckham, plus another future NFL star, Jarvis Landry, to throw to also.
  • The '06 Tigers had two slipups, both on the road. In Week 3, they lost 7-3 to Auburn when a clear case of pass interference or holding (take your pick) on an LSU receiver inside the 5 with less than three minutes to play was waved off. The officials ruled the ball was uncatchable, which it certainly was seeing as how the receiver, Buster Davis, was tackled by the defender.
    Then the Tigers went to Florida three weeks later and lost 23-10 in a game in which Russell tried a QB sneak inside the Gator 1 but fumbled the ball. The game also featured Tim Tebow's first jump pass TD.
  • The next week, the Tigers took out their frustration on Kentucky, which had lost to Florida 26-7 three weeks earlier. Playing in Baton Rouge, Florida scored the first four times it had the ball for a 28-0 lead at the half on their way to a 49-0 blowout. (UK would get revenge for that shellacking the following year.)
  • The Tigers survived two tight games the rest of the way, edging Tennessee in Knoxville 28-24 on a last-minute pass by Russell and prevailing over Ed Orgeron's 2-7 Ole Miss Rebels 23-20 in OT.
  • In between, LSU beat Alabama in Tiger Stadium 28-14 in the last year of the Mike Shula era.
  • Ranked #9 in the final BCS standings, the Tigers went to the Sugar Bowl because Florida made the championship game, clobbering Ohio State 41-14. That happens to be the same score by which LSU smashed Notre Dame in the Superdome.
  • Miles lost the offensive coordinator he inherited from Saban, Jimbo Fisher, who went to Florida State to become the heir apparent to Bobby Bowden. Les would never again enjoy the services of as fine an O-coordinator as Jimbo.

All Tiger fans know what happened in 2007, when LSU won its second BCS Championship.

  • As Les Miles said at the end of the regular season, "We never lost in regulation."
  • Gary Crowton came from Oregon to replace Jimbo Fisher as O-coordinator and
  • A week after beating Florida at home 28-24 to rise to #1 in the greatest football game I ever saw in person, the Tigers went to Lexington and were upset by the Wildcats in triple OT.
  • LSU won the next four games to retake the #1 spot.
  • With a spot in the SEC Championship Game clinched, the Tigers again lost in triple OT, this time to Arkansas in Tiger Stadium 50-48.
  • Their BCS title hopes seemingly dashed, #5 LSU took care of business against Tennessee 21-14 for the SEC championship despite the distraction of an ESPN report that Miles was moving to Michigan to replace Lloyd Carr, who was retiring. (But that was false news. In fact, Michigan was not interested in Miles.)
  • That's when LSU got some luck. Everything that had to happen that last playing date came to pass. Oklahoma beat undefeated Missouri in the Big 12 Championship Game. Then unbeaten West Virginia fell to archrival Pitt in the Backyard Brawl.
  • LSU also leapfrogged #5 Georgia, which didn't win the SEC East, to the #2 position to make the BCS Championship Game for the second time.
  • And for the second time, the Superdome was the host site when the Tigers finished in the Top Two.
  • LSU defeated Ohio State 38-24 for their second BCS title in five years.
  • At that point, Miles had at least pulled even with Nick Saban in LSU lore if not surpassing him.

However, you could argue that both the 2006 and 2007 Tigers underachieved.

  • The '06 team might be forgiven for the loss to Florida, the eventual BCS champion. But the defeat at Auburn was inexcusable, bad officiating or not.
  • And the '07 team had no business losing to either Kentucky or Arkansas.
  • A factor in both '07 losses was Bo Pelini's defense, which gave up 43 points to the Wildcats and 50 to the Razorbacks (admittedly in 3 OTs in both games).
  • Pelini took the head coaching job at Nebraska for the '08 season.

To be continued ...

Les Miles Retrospective - 1
As LSU enters its first football season without Les Miles since 2004, it is fitting to recall his 10+ seasons in Baton Rouge.
  • First, Les did not follow a legend at LSU because Nick Saban was not yet considered the best coach in college football. However, Nick did restore Tiger football after the down period from 1988-99 and won two SEC championships and one BCS Championship.
  • Tiger fans were quite disappointed that Nick left for the Miami Dolphins but most understood that he had an "itch" that had to be scratched - can I be successful in the NFL? It was the same question that had led Steve Spurrier to bolt Florida for the Washington Redskins following the 2001 season.
    Steve lasted only two years with a difficult owner, Dan Snyder. The former Heisman Trophy winner compiled a 12-20 record with Washington before returning to another SEC school, South Carolina, where he took the program to unprecedented heights, winning 86 and losing 49 for a .637 mark.
  • Back in Baton Rouge, Miles inherited a talented team led by 17 returning starters, including ten on offense. He also enjoyed the services of Jimbo Fisher, the offensive coordinator starting his sixth season at LSU.
  • The first season with a new coach would have had enough challenges without nature intervening. But Hurricane Katrina hit southeast Louisiana August 29 and knocked the upcoming football season for a loop.
  • LSU's opening game against North Texas was postponed. Then the second game, scheduled for Tiger Stadium against Arizona State, was shifted to Tempe because the LSU campus was still being used for a triage center and home for refugees. With players completely off their training regimen for several weeks, LSU beat the Sun Devils on JaMarcus Russell's last minute pass.
  • The Tigers enjoyed a prescheduled bye in Week 3 before hosting Tennessee in the first home game after the storm. But that game didn't go off as scheduled either. Hurricane Rita, at the insistence of Philip Fullmer, the Vols' coach, forced postponement to Monday night. With Tiger Stadium at a fever pitch, the Tigers jumped out to a 21-0 lead but lost in overtime.
  • Fans (including me) ranted and raved about LSU's conditioning (ignorant of the fact that the Tigers' training program had been disrupted for a month because of the chaos caused by the storm). Saban wouldn't have blown that lead, we said. To his credit, Miles never gave the disruption caused by Katrina as an excuse for losing.
  • But faced with playing ten games in ten weeks, starting with Tennessee and including the rescheduled North Texas game in what was previously an off week, the Tigers won the next nine to win the SEC West. They played on sheer guts in the final game against Arkansas, holding on for a 19-17 win.
  • A week later, LSU ran out of gas against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, getting thumped 34-13. Again, Tiger fans howled. Saban won both his title games, including the 2001 upset of Tennessee, which had beaten LSU earlier that season.
  • But finally given a chance to recuperate, the Tigers clobbered Miami 40-3 back in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
  • All in all, Miles did an outstanding job in his first year as LSU coach.

To be continued ...

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About This Site
This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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