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2009 CFN LSU Preview, Part 2

Yesterday, we discussed CFN's preview of LSU and how it pertained to the new defensive coaching staff, Jordan Jefferson, and a few incoming freshmen.  Today, we look at a few more topics.

The 10 Best Players on the Team:

Ten Best Tiger Players
1. WR Brandon LaFell, Sr.
2. RB Charles Scott, Sr.
3. OT Ciron Black, Sr.
4. LB Perry Riley, Sr.
5. DE Rahim Alem, Sr.
6. TE Richard Dickson, Sr.
7. QB Jordan Jefferson, Soph.
8. DT Drake Nevis, Jr.
9. LB/S Harry Coleman, Sr.
10. CB Patrick Peterson, So.

Well, at least he didn't name an incoming freshman as one of our 10 best players.

I think 1 through 3 are right on, or at least I only disagree in their order.  I would put Ciron ahead of Charles Scott, but if you asked me who the 3 best players on the team are, those are the three I would name.  After that, we start getting into some murky waters on who *I* would name, but CFN pretty much goes off the rails with the #4 pick.

I happen to be quite fond of Perry Riley as a player.  When he was a freshman getting mop-up duty, I saw glimpses of a budding star.  Last year, as a junior, he finally got a chance to start, and the results were solid, but underwhelming.  One of my general principles in observing player development is that "the player you are as a junior is probably the player you will be as a senior."  By your junior year you have some experience on the field.  You should know the system.  Your body should be fully matured and you should be in the best shape you'l ever be in.  I have no empirical data to back this up, but I firmly suspect that the vast majority of players in college football do not make great strides in their game between their junior and senior seasons.

This is no indictment of Perry Riley.  I think he's a fine player and a solid linebacker for us.  I just do not believe he is going to be in the same stratosphere with guys like Rennie Curran, Brandon Spikes, and Rolando McClain.  And who knows?  There's reason to believe that last year's team didn't get all it could get out of the linebackers.  Maybe Perry Riley is a coiled spring ready to be released.  Pete Fiutak seems to think so:

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Perry Riley. DE Rahim Alem should be the team's star pass rusher and he should be an all-SEC selection, while tackle Drake Nevis could grow into the special player to build around. But it's Riley who has the size, range, and experience to be the biggest playmaker in the more aggressive system and he should be a stat-sheet filler on the outside in a veteran linebacking corps.

If this is true of Riley, then either he greatly improved in the offseason, or our defensive coaches were worse than we thought last year.

After Riley, the next two are very defensible.  Rahim Alem is, after all, a returning 1st team All-SEC performer.  Many people would place him even further up this list, perhaps even at #1.  Richard Dickson is an experienced and consistently productive tight end whose blocking skills are greatly underrated in my opinion.

Here is also, though, where we get to an omission.  We all know what kind of an athlete Chad Jones is.  How many starting free safeties are also the best left-handed pitcher on his particular campus?    And bat over .300?  And can chase down Darren McFadden from behind?  Yes, it's not like Chad Jones tore it up last year, but Fiutak has shown himself to not be shy about projecting great increases in production from year to year (see Riley, Perry).  If you're going to project that sort of thing, Jones is the better candidate.  It is widely acknowledged, even by Jones himself, that he was misused last year, moving from position to position between plays, confusing him and leading often to him being out of position or scrambling even to get on the field.  With him parked at the free safety spot, a monster year can be expected of him.

After this, I think it becomes very difficult to differentiate between a number of possible candidates to add to the 10 best.  Here is my list:

1.  Brandon Lafell, Sr. WR
2.  Ciron Black, Sr., OL
3.  Charles Scott, Sr., RB
4.  Rahim Alem, Sr., DE
5.  Chad Jones, Jr., S
6.  Richard Dickson, Sr., TE
7.  Patrick Peterson, So., CB
8.  Drake Nevis, Jr., DT
9.  Lyle Hitt, Sr., OL
10.  Perry Riley, Sr., LB

That's right.  I put Perry Riley in the top 10 anyway, but really at this point you could have put Harry Coleman, Keiland Williams, Joseph Barksdale, Chris Hawkins, Jacob Cutrera, Josh Jasper, or even special teams sensation Ryan Baker.

On LSU's Schedule:

LSU isn't exactly extending itself in the non-conference slate, even though it's not the program's fault that Washington stinks. The SEC schedule is nasty with Georgia and Florida to deal with from the East, while trips to Alabama and Ole Miss in November could end any hopes of winning the SEC West. Holding serve at home, even against Florida and Auburn, will be a must with three road trips in four weeks down the stretch. The battle against the Gators on October 10th could be a preview of the SEC Championship


The season will be a success if ... LSU wins the SEC West. Just getting to Atlanta for the SEC title will require a war and a negotiation of landmines with road trips to Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss to deal with, along with home games against Florida and Auburn. But this is LSU, and to shoot for anything less than the SEC title is selling the team short after loading up with talented recruiting class after talented recruiting class.

Nov. 7 at Alabama. The Tigers can split against Georgia and Florida from the East and still win the West, but it'll take wins at Alabama and Ole Miss to get the job done. If they lose to the Tide, the game in Oxford will end up being to shake out the pecking order for the bowls. If they can beat their old head coach, Nick Saban, and get a little revenge after losing last year's thriller, then LSU will be in the thick of the SEC title hunt.

I will have a lot more thoughts on this particular subject later.  It is pretty much unmistakable that our nonconference schedule (@Washington, UL-Lafayette, @Tulane, La Tech) is a sure 4 wins with probably not a game in there that will be closer than a 20 point differential.  We also have what appears to be the toughest conference slate of anyone.  (@Georgia, Florida, @Alabama, @Ole Miss).  My quick thoughts on that are, a) I think Georgia is better than most people think, b) Florida is a tall order for this or any other team to beat, but at least we get them at home, c) Bama's offense is not going to be nearly as good as it was last year but the defense should be stellar barring injuries, and d) Ole Miss isn't sneaking up on anyone this time around.

Our other four conference games are Vandy, @Mississippi State, Auburn, Arkansas.  Vandy should be halfway decent, but I don't think they're in our class.  Mississippi State is going to struggle.  I keep going back and forth on Auburn between thinking they'll be better than everyone expected and realizing that their head coach has a career 5-19 record.  Arkansas is a very solid team who can and may beat anyone on their schedule, including us.

Its a difficult schedule, but every one of these games is winnable.  We have 3 sets of 4 games.  Four nonconference games that should not be particularly stressful.  Four conference games against teams that are probably not as good as us, but we need to avoid let-downs to avoid upsets.  Four conference games against very good teams.  The key I think will be avoiding upsets against the 8 teams we really should beat.  If we do that, we really have something to play for in the 4 games against really good teams.

That's all for today.  We continue this series tomorrow with even more thoughts on the schedule and other topics.