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The LSU Youth Movement

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Where even the sophomores are grizzled vets.

Still two more years of this guy
Still two more years of this guy
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

How young is this football team? So young that LSU returns more freshmen who started at least one game (7) than juniors now entering their senior season (6).

Last year, LSU had more games started by sophomores (91) than any other class. LSU had more games played by freshmen (212) than any other class. The sophomore class (203) was second in games played. That's 415 games played by underclassmen out of the team's total of 702 man-games played, just shy of sixty percent.

The smallest class last season was not the senior class, gutted by early draft entries, but the junior class. LSU could not absorb the losses sustained by the senior class because there was virtually no junior class left to step up.

Class

GP

GS

Players

Fr.

212

31

30

So.

203

91

19

Jr.

132

84

14

Sr.

155

80

17

702

286

80

Of those 14 juniors, only 11 return this season with a total of 105 GP and 59 GS. Let's put last year's youth movement into perspective: Les Miles played 30 freshmen last season and 31 upperclassmen. LSU was the negative of Mississippi State and their loads of senior experience.

The cost of such a strategy last season was inconsistent play. The team rode emotion like a roller coaster last season which led to wins over Florida and Ole Miss, but also utter collapse against Auburn and Arkansas. The team didn't find its offensive identity until late in the season, when the coaches finally just gave Fournette the start (he only started 6 games, believe it or not) and reduced the number of pass attempts to as close to zero as possible.

The payoff for such a strategy comes in the next season. After riding out the talented underclassmen last season, they come back this year as experienced veterans, and their talent is no longer untested. Check out the anticipated depth chart by class:

Class

Offense

Defense

So.

4

3

Jr.

4

5

Sr.

2

3

Sixteen of the anticipated twenty-two starters are the underclassmen last year forced into early playing time. Seven of the team's probable opening day starters were freshmen last season (actually, eight, if we count expected starting center redshirt freshman Will Clapp).

Many of last year's biggest producers were underclassmen. The leading rusher was a freshman (Fournette). The leading passer was a sophomore (Jennings), and every QB snap was taken by an underclassman. The leading receiver was a sophomore (Dural), and the other three receivers in the top four were all freshmen.

The defense had more veteran presence, but the underclassmen still played a large role in the SEC's leader in total defense. The second leading tackler was a sophomore (Beckwith). The second and third ranked players in solo tackles were underclassmen (Beckwith and Adams). Beckwith was second in tackles for a loss. Three of the top four players in sacks were underclassmen. Two sophomores tied for the team lead in interceptions (Jefferson and White).

Young players tend to improve, and the biggest improvement according to the prevailing wisdom is between the freshmen and sophomore years. If this is true, the rest of the SEC better watch out.