Its week zero. There’s college football this Saturday, and we’re going to start to get some questions answered about this big, dumb, wonderful sport.
There’s still another week before we start to learn more about LSU, but before we hit game week, what are the big five questions everyone is asking?
1. Who is your most important player on offense this season?
We all know that LSU returns a ton of overall production at all the skill positions and a senior quarterback in Joe Burrow. And we all know that Burrow erupted down the stretch last season, and looks poised to build on that with a host of experienced receivers and an infusion of talent at the running back position.
But LSU’s offense will go as far as the offensive line takes them. Health is the first ingredient — LSU started six different lineups in the first seven games of 2018. Lloyd Cushenberry is a rock in the middle at center, but the unit needs more consistency from veterans like Saahdiq Charles, Austin Deculus and Damien Lewis. Yes, an increased emphasis on the quick game and high-percentage passing will help with protection, but LSU needs to get back to having a powerful, consistent running game to help diversify the attack and create play-action opportunities.
2. Who is your most important player on defense this season?
The best player on this unit, and probably the best defensive player in the country is safety Grant Delpit. He’s LSU’s most versatile defensive back since Tyrann Mathieu — a ball-hawking safety that thrives near the line of scrimmage and has a real talent for blitzing.
However, even as he picked off five passes and grabbed five sacks last season to lead the defense in both categories, LSU’s defense struggled to make big plays consistently and was limited by its pass-rush. That is why the defense’s most important player will be outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson. The former star recruit out of Texas looked poised to break in year two, with five tackles and a sack against Miami before blowing out his knee. If he can stay healthy for 12 games, he can be a force multiplier for the defensive front seven; a threat offensive lines will have to account for on every passing down, which will trickle down to better match-ups and sack opportunities for other players.
3. What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
Look, the jury may be out on how effective it all will work, but there’s no question we’re going to see LSU run an up-tempo, spread offense in 2019. We saw it on display in the spring game, in which the offense spent every single snap in the shotgun, and multiple reports from fall practices and scrimmages have indicated that we’ll see more of the same.
Will it work? The program has certainly earned the skepticism of the college football world. But there’s been too much ink spilled from within the program for this offense to line up in the I-formation and run power on the first snap against Georgia Southern. But as I’ve been saying for years — LSU has never needed to run any specific type of offense. They’ve always needed to run whatever it is they want to do well.
4. What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?
The big top-10 match-up with Texas in week two is going to be dripping with narrative, as Ed Orgeron faces off against the coach LSU tried to hire ahead of him, and Tom Herman faces the school he turned down to coach the Longhorns. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we get a rehash of how that big ol’ meanie Coach O was able to outmaneuver Herman to box him out of Louisiana satellite camps a few years ago.
But the reality is that LSU can lose the Texas game and still win the SEC. The Tigers’ big goals are going to be determined largely by the October portion of this schedule with three big SEC games. The first of those, the October 12 match-up with the Florida Gators, will be the tone-setter for that stretch. This rivalry has been ratcheted up several notches in recent years, and this game will mark Florida’s first trip to Baton Rouge since the hurricane rescheduling kerfuffle in 2016. The Gators held serve at home last year, and Dan Mullen is 2-0 against Orgeron in the last two years, including a dominant win over the Tigers at Mississippi State in 2017. There will be a lot of eyes on how the Tigers overcome this hurdle.
5. What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?
I hate making record predictions, because the how has always mattered to me much more than the what. For 95 percent of college football, even at the top, the margin in two or three games every year will be just a couple of plays. In 2017, a bad kicking game cost LSU an embarrassing home loss to Troy and an ugly bowl game against Notre Dame. In 2018, LSU won in Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time in years on a walk-off kick, and of course, lost a seven-overtime slog to A&M thanks to a host of referee-related failures.
And that’s going to be the difference in a couple of games this year as well. But it shouldn’t be too many. LSU still has work to do to catch Alabama, but they’ll likely be favored in nearly every other game on the season. The Orgeron Era has built on each year record-wise so far, and it’s a good bet that they’ll do it again this year with the program’s best shot at 10 or 11 years in some time. The schedule is manageable both in terms of home/road dates, but also in terms of rhythm, with a build up to Alabama and then a comedown against Ole Miss and Arkansas before Texas A&M comes to town.