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The big 2014 LSU football guide: Young, unstable, and fun as hell

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Les Miles' 10th LSU team might be his youngest and most athletic. That could make for a huge range of results and plenty of excitement and absurdity. And really, what else would we want from the Mad Hatter and the Bayou Bengals?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Train keeps a-rolling

LSU football has become almost automated. Blue-chip athletes overwhelm shaky opponents. The LSU defense controls opposing spread offenses better than most. The Tigers run the ball a lot. Les Miles says strange things to the press. And at the end of the season, LSU has won 10+ games and finished in the AP top 15.

It's just the way things go.

  • Athletes: According to the 247Sports Composite, LSU signed the No. 2 recruiting class in the country in 2014; it was the fifth time in six years that Miles signed a top-10 class and the ninth consecutive year he's signed a top-15 class.
  • Dominating the spread: Auburn averaged 6.9 yards per play in 2013 and 5.1 against LSU. Texas A&M averaged 7.3 in 2013 and 5.1 against LSU. Ole Miss did pull off a 6.3 yard average, and for all the speed on display, the Tigers had some issues against slower, more powerful offenses, but while certain other SEC powers have struggled at times to rein in high-octane systems, LSU has not.
  • Rushing: Even with two of the best receivers in its history -- Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. -- combining for 136 catches and 2,345 receiving yards, LSU was still a run-first team, rushing six percent more frequently than the national average on standard downs and two percent more on passing downs. With a new quarterback, a fresh receiving corps, and a loaded stable of running backs, those percentages will probably go up in 2014.
  • MilesTake it away, Seth Emerson.
  • Consistency: LSU has won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons and seven of nine. The Tigers have finished 14th or better in the AP poll for four straight years and seven of nine. Their F/+ ranking slipped a bit overall thanks to the aforementioned defensive shakiness against the run, but they still ranked 17th overall and have ranked in the F/+ top 20 for, you guessed it, seven of nine years.

Since a two-year mini-drought of sorts following the 2007 national title -- LSU still went 17-9 in 2008-09 and ranked in the F/+ top 30 -- the Tigers have been a rock, recruiting and playing at an elite or near-elite level. But one gets the impression that the disappointment of 2011, when the Tigers were the most dominant team in the country until taking a whipping at the hands of Alabama in the BCS title game, lingers. LSU went 20-6 in 2012-13 and lost to Alabama both years, and each year the Tigers don't get revenge for 2011 feels like a lost year.

The good news is that there's little reason to think LSU won't again be a top-15 or -20 team, win another 10 games, and continue what has been its best stretch since the 1950s.

The bad news is, the Tigers probably won't scratch that 2011 itch this time around either. The overall experience level probably isn't where it needs to be, the passing game is as green as can be, and the defense has some questions to answer against the run. If that No. 2 class comes to fruition, LSU could be back among the best of the best by 2015.

But 2014 is probably a transition year, at least as that term is defined by LSU's high standard.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 12-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 17
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug vs. TCU 44 37-27 W 37.8 - 26.5 W
7-Sep UAB 115 56-17 W 33.2 - 16.3 W
14-Sep Kent State 106 45-13 W 56.8 - 23.0 W
21-Sep Auburn 4 35-21 W 33.5 - 19.6 W
28-Sep at Georgia 22 41-44 L 36.6 - 31.7 W 16.2
5-Oct at Mississippi State 33 59-26 W 52.3 - 33.2 W 17.7
12-Oct Florida 48 17-6 W 35.3 - 24.2 W 16.6
19-Oct at Ole Miss 28 24-27 L 35.1 - 30.4 W 10.8
26-Oct Furman N/A 48-16 W 49.0 - 18.5 W 14.1
9-Nov at Alabama 2 17-38 L 37.4 - 24.6 W 15.6
23-Nov Texas A&M 23 34-10 W 31.4 - 9.0 W 16.3
29-Nov Arkansas 87 31-27 W 33.0 - 34.0 L 13.9
1-Jan vs. Iowa 29 21-14 W 23.9 - 10.0 W 15.7
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +18.0% 9 +5.6% 36 +2.9% 10
Points Per Game 35.8 23 22.0 21
Adj. Points Per Game 38.1 11 23.2 21

2. A minor funk

LSU spent a good portion of the 2013 season looking like LSU, albeit a more efficiently aerial version. In the first four games, the Bayou Bengals handled TCU, whipped UAB and Kent State, and handed Auburn its only regular season loss, going up 28-7 on AU and holding on for a mostly easy win. And in the last four games, they fought Alabama to a draw for 40 minutes (only two lost fumbles prevented them from holding a seven- to 10-point lead at that point), destroyed Texas A&M (the Aggies lost to Alabama, Auburn, and Missouri by a combined 18 points and lost to LSU by 24), and survived sketchy run defense and a quarterback injury to fend off Arkansas.

The Tigers were 7-1 in these games and played like a clear top-10 team. But the four games in the middle -- losses to Georgia and Ole Miss and a no-defense win over Mississippi State -- tamped down season accomplishments a bit.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): LSU 40.3, Opponent 21.4 (plus-18.9)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): LSU 39.8, Opponent 29.9 (plus-9.9)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): LSU 37.7, Opponent 21.5 (plus-16.2)

Against Georgia, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss, LSU allowed 496 yards per game, 32 points per game, and 6.7 yards per play, iffy numbers for any defense and egregious numbers for LSU. (The other 10 games: 294 yards per game, 19 points per game, 4.5 yards per play.) A lack of depth in the front seven (a strange thing to say about LSU) backfired here, as did some injuries in the secondary. It was but a temporary blip, but it cost the Tigers. And with quite a bit of turnover on the defensive line, that blip raised some depth questions that LSU might still be struggling to answer in 2014.

At the same time, with negative turnovers luck and all the supposed issues listed above, LSU lost only one game by more than three points. It's a tough life.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.33 8 IsoPPP+ 115.9 9
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.8% 22 Succ. Rt. + 115.2 20
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.5 42 Def. FP+ 100.4 55
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 7 Redzone S&P+ 109.2 31
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.1 ACTUAL 19 -0.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 35 10 20 13
RUSHING 29 18 40 14
PASSING 45 8 6 29
Standard Downs 20 31 15
Passing Downs 6 5 14
Q1 Rk 4 1st Down Rk 24
Q2 Rk 19 2nd Down Rk 11
Q3 Rk 17 3rd Down Rk 1
Q4 Rk 15

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Zach Mettenberger 192 296 3082 22 8 64.9% 21 6.6% 9.2
Anthony Jennings 6'2, 211 So. 4 stars (5.9) 13 29 181 1 1 44.8% 4 12.1% 4.5
Brandon Bergeron 6'2, 187 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Brandon Harris 6'2, 184 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

3. Young quarterback or younger quarterback?

After putting together a beautiful overall product in 2011 (LSU ranked eighth in Off. F/+, second in Def. F/+, and sixth in Special Teams F/+), LSU has been trading one breakdown for another over the last couple of years. In 2012, the offense struggled through a bit of a rebuild and fell to 41st in Off. F/+ while the defense remained mostly dominant. In 2013, the defense found a pothole (36th in Def. F/+) while the offense surged back to ninth.

Last fall, the Tigers benefited from a high level of experience, with senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger throwing to juniors Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr., and handing to juniors Jeremy Hill, Terrence Magee, and Kenny Hilliard and senior Alfred Blue. This time around, the upside is still obvious, but the level of experience has dropped dramatically.

The dropoff in experience is most evident at the most important position on the offense. It appears sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris will be splitting snaps early in 2014; they have combined for 29 career passes. Zach Mettenberger threw at least that many passes in a game four times last year.

Jennings had a chance to seize control of the 2014 starting job when Mettenberger was lost to injury against Arkansas. But after putting together a nearly perfect, game-winning drive against Arkansas (he finished the game 4-for-7 for 76 yards and a touchdown and three rushes for 26 yards), he struggled mightily against a strong Iowa defense in the bowl game. He completed just seven of 19 passes for 82 yards and an interception; thanks to sacks, his combined rushing and passing total was just 31 yards in 24 attempts.

So yeah, he still has to win the job. And incoming freshman Brandon Harris showed an intriguing (if inefficient) skill set in the spring. This battle will continue into the season, but you're choosing between a sophomore with almost no experience and a true freshman with none. There will be maddening inconsistency at times.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Jeremy Hill RB 203 1401 16 6.9 6.8 45.3%
Terrence Magee RB 5'9, 214 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 86 626 8 7.3 8.7 45.3%
Alfred Blue RB 71 343 1 4.8 2.5 50.7%
Kenny Hilliard RB 6'0, 233 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 68 310 7 4.6 3.2 36.8%
Anthony Jennings QB 6'2, 211 So. 4 stars (5.9) 15 51 2 3.4 13.0 13.3%
J.C. Copeland FB 13 25 3 1.9 3.4 7.7%
Zach Mettenberger QB 13 30 0 2.3 1.7 23.1%
Odell Beckham Jr. WR 5 58 0 11.6 7.5 80.0%
Leonard Fournette RB 6'1, 224 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Darrel Williams RB 5'11, 209 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jarvis Landry WR-Z 104 77 1193 74.0% 33.1% 44.6% 11.5 322 11.1 228.0
Odell Beckham Jr. WR-X 90 59 1152 65.6% 28.7% 57.5% 12.8 444 12.4 220.1
Jeremy Hill RB 22 18 181 81.8% 7.0% 52.4% 8.2 -14 7.7 34.6
Kadron Boone WR-Z 20 7 129 35.0% 6.4% 57.9% 6.5 8 7.1 24.7
Travin Dural WR-Z 6'2, 182 So. 4 stars (5.8) 15 7 145 46.7% 4.8% 0.0% 9.7 44 5.4 27.7
Travis Dickson TE 6'3, 230 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 5 109 38.5% 4.1% 53.8% 8.4 28 8.4 20.8
Dillon Gordon TE 6'5, 286 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 11 6 88 54.5% 3.5% 63.6% 8.0 9 7.7 16.8
Terrence Magee RB 5'9, 214 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 10 6 49 60.0% 3.2% 44.4% 4.9 -26 3.2 9.4
Connor Neighbors FB 5'11, 239 Sr. NR 9 7 92 77.8% 2.9% 100.0% 10.2 15 5.7 17.6
DeSean Smith TE 6'4, 241 So. 4 stars (6.0) 4 1 14 25.0% 1.3% 100.0% 3.5 -8 3.9 2.7
Quantavius Leslie WR-X 6'4, 175 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 1 1 11 100.0% 0.3% N/A 11.0 1 0.0 2.1
John Diarse WR-Z 6'1, 207 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Kevin Spears WR-Z 6'3, 189 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Avery Peterson WR-X 6'2, 189 RSFr. NR
Colin Jeter TE 6'6, 240 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Malachi Dupre WR-X 6'3, 188 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Trey Quinn WR-Z 5'11, 192 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Jacory Washington TE 6'5, 215 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
D.J. Clark WR-Z 6'1, 176 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Tony Upchurch WR-X 6'2, 228 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

4. So many big plays to replace

Travin Dural is all sorts of enticing. Travis Dickson has been around the block. Freshman Malchi Dupre was one of the most highly  rated recruits in the country, and Trey Quinn wasn't far behind. Redshirt freshmen John Diarse and Kevin Spears were highly rated in their own right. There are plenty of reasons to talk yourself into the LSU receiving corps as a whole.

But as with the quarterback position, there's just so much youth now, and these new, exciting pieces have so many big plays to replace. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr., combined for 103 catches of at least 10 yards (Landry was fifth in the country with 58) and 45 catches of at least 20 (Beckham was tied for third with 25). The duo combined for 62 percent of LSU's targets last year.

It's great that Dural had a couple of big plays and all (a 36-yard catch against Kent State, the game-winning 49-yard touchdown against Arkansas), but he never caught more than one pass in a game, and now he's the wise old sage of the unit.

There is at least experience in the running game. The line could be great, and seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard have each had their sets of moments in an LSU uniform. If all-world recruit Leonard Fournette cracks the starting lineup this year, we'll know he at least had to beat out a pair of steady backs to do it. Players like Dupre have almost no choice; they're going to see major targets in the passing game, ready or not.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 108.7 3.14 3.27 42.6% 76.2% 17.3% 85.9 6.9% 6.2%
Rank 34 34 63 27 18 38 83 108 55
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
La'el Collins LT 6'5, 315 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 25 2nd All-SEC
Vadal Alexander LG 6'6, 342 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 22
Trai Turner RG 20
Elliott Porter C 6'4, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13
Jerald Hawkins RT 6'6, 301 So. 3 stars (5.7) 13
Ethan Pocic C 6'7, 301 So. 4 stars (6.0) 1
Josh Boutte RT 6'4, 333 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0
Jonah Austin LT 6'6, 324 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Fehoko Fanaika RG 6'6, 348 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Evan Washington RG 6'6, 334 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0
Andy Dodd C 6'4, 322 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
K.J. Malone LG 6'3, 290 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Jevonte Domond OT 6'6, 305 So. 4 stars (5.8)
Garrett Brumfield LG 6'3, 285 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
William Clapp RG 6'4, 275 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

5. The line won't be a concern

Mettenberger took a few too many sacks in 2013, and Jennings managed to get sacked four times in just 33 pass attempts. At least some of that can be pinned on the line. But the line was pretty good at run blocking and should be very good at it this year.

Five players with starting experience return (74 career starts), including four 2013 full-timers and two two-year starters. Only one member of the two-deep is gone, and with the latest batch of high-upside youngsters (including four-star JUCO transfer Jevonte Domond), there's as much depth as LSU will probably need. You can't lean on the run all season (just ask Florida), but this is going to be a hell of a run game.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.04 15 IsoPPP+ 111.0 17
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.1% 56 Succ. Rt. + 104.5 42
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.5 38 Off. FP+ 104.5 17
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.1 58 Redzone S&P+ 120.0 13
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.2 ACTUAL 19.0 -7.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 15 27 42 15
RUSHING 36 40 53 20
PASSING 13 20 33 24
Standard Downs 28 41 31
Passing Downs 19 47 7
Q1 Rk 5 1st Down Rk 23
Q2 Rk 47 2nd Down Rk 16
Q3 Rk 38 3rd Down Rk 42
Q4 Rk 12

6. Bend-don't-break(ish)

LSU's defense was still among the nation's best at preventing big plays and closing things down in the red zone. But the Tigers were a bit more movable up front than we've grown accustomed to seeing.

The result was a bend-don't-break effort of sorts; LSU's speed and the aforementioned big-play prevention made the Tigers hell against offenses based on speed and timing. But if you could pound away on the ground, you were able to get somewhere, at least until the end zone came within view.

Combine a lack of play-making up front with an unlucky lack of turnovers, and you had an LSU defense that frequently failed to look like an LSU defense. We'll see if that gets rectified in a single offseason.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 107 3.02 3.27 40.9% 64.4% 18.6% 120.4 5.6% 6.9%
Rank 39 73 61 83 46 73 27 40 61
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jermauria Rasco DE 6'3, 262 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 39.0 5.7% 6.5 4.0 0 5 1 0
Danielle Hunter DE 6'6, 241 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 38.0 5.5% 8.0 3.0 0 2 1 0
Ego Ferguson DT 12 38.0 5.5% 3.5 1.0 0 3 0 0
Anthony Johnson DT 13 25.0 3.6% 9.0 3.0 1 1 0 0
Jordan Allen DE 13 11.0 1.6% 2.0 2.0 0 2 0 0
Christian LaCouture DT 6'5, 298 So. 3 stars (5.7) 13 7.0 1.0% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Quentin Thomas DT 6'3, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 11 6.0 0.9% 0.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
Lewis Neal DE 6'1, 238 So. 3 stars (5.7) 10 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Tashawn Bower DE 6'5, 243 So. 4 stars (5.8) 6 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mickey Johnson DT 6'1, 307 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 4 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Frank Herron DT 6'5, 285 RSFr. 5 stars (6.1)
Greg Gilmore DT 6'4, 311 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Maquedius Bain DT 6'4, 308 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Travonte Valentine DT 6'3, 325 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Deondre Clark DE 6'2, 238 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Davon Godchaux DT 6'4, 271 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Sione Teuhema DE 6'4, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)







7. Rebuilding an overrated (?) line

39th in Adj. Line Yards. 27th in Adj. Sack Rate. 42nd in Success Rate+. 40th in Rushing S&P+. For most programs, these rankings are tolerable or even admirable. For LSU, they are pretty clear signs as to why the Tigers' defense went from elite to merely fine in 2013. And the fact that the Tigers produced these numbers with two highly regarded tackles (Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson), both of whom went pro after their junior seasons, is a bit confusing.

In 2014, we've got two different things at work here. First, the tackle position is getting rebuild without Johnson and Ferguson, and with junior Quentin Thomas probably missing part of the year (at least) with injury. There's still plenty of talent, with sophomore Christian LaCouture, five-star redshirt freshman Frank Herron (who is at the moment either a light tackle or a heavy end), a couple of huge redshirt freshmen (Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain) and the latest batch of blue-chippers. But it's going to be difficult to match last year's production at the tackle position.

At the same time that the tackle position retools, the ends and linebackers have to prove they weren't the problem. Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter combined for an adequate but not fantastic 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, but Hunter is light for the position, as are sophomore backups Lewis Neal and Tashawn Bower and freshman Deondre Clark. If you're light enough to get pushed around against the run, you better be logging a lot more sacks if you want an elite defense. And at linebacker, Kwon Alexander is a keeper and a potentially elite play-maker, but he needs a little bit of help.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Lamin Barrow WILL 13 57.0 8.3% 5.5 1.5 0 2 0 0
D.J. Welter MIKE 6'1, 226 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 52.5 7.7% 4.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Kwon Alexander WILL 6'2, 218 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 47.5 6.9% 6.5 0.0 0 4 0 0
Lamar Louis SAM 6'0, 216 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 18.0 2.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Deion Jones WILL 6'2, 208 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 10.5 1.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tahj Jones SAM 8 8.0 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Kendell Beckwith MIKE 6'3, 246 So. 4 stars (5.9) 12 8.0 1.2% 1.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Duke Riley SAM 6'1, 208 So. 3 stars (5.6) 13 4.0 0.6% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ronnie Feist WILL 6'2, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Clifton Garrett MIKE 6'3, 220 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Donnie Alexander SAM 6'1, 201 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jalen Mills CB 6'1, 189 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 56.0 8.2% 4 3 3 3 0 0
Tre'Davious White CB 5'11, 177 So. 5 stars (6.1) 13 47.0 6.9% 2.5 0 2 7 1 0
Craig Loston S 10 46.0 6.7% 4 1 3 3 0 0
Ronald Martin S 6'1, 218 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 8 29.0 4.2% 0 0 1 4 1 0
Corey Thompson S 6'2, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 10 28.5 4.2% 0.5 0 0 3 0 0
Micah Eugene S 10 26.0 3.8% 3 1 0 2 0 0
Jalen Collins CB 6'2, 195 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 18.5 2.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Rashard Robinson CB 6'1, 163 So. 4 stars (5.8) 12 14.0 2.0% 0.5 0 1 3 0 0
Dwayne Thomas S 6'0, 181 So. 4 stars (5.8) 11 8.0 1.2% 4 3 0 5 2 0
Rickey Jefferson S 5'11, 199 So. 4 stars (5.8) 7 4.5 0.7% 0.5 0 0 2 0 0
Ed Paris CB 6'0, 189 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Jamal Adams S 6'0, 207 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
John Battle CB 6'0, 179 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Davin Voorhies S 6'1, 197 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Russell Gage CB 6'0, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)








8. No concerns in the back

Of the eight defensive backs who averaged at least one tackle per game in 2013, only three played in all 13 games: corners Jalen Mills and Tre'Davious White and backup Jalen Collins. The safety position was constantly in flux, but for the most part LSU was still steady in the back, and last year's injuries mean this year's heavy experience.

Safeties Craig Loston and Micah Eugene are gone, but Ronald Martin and Corey Thompson both saw plenty of the field, and ... holy smokes, when sophomore Dwayne Thomas finds a bit more consistency, he's going to be an animal. He made only eight tackles last year, but somehow four were behind the line of scrimmage; he also broke up five passes and forced two fumbles in minimal opportunity.

Between this cast of characters and (stop me if you've heard this before) the latest batch of blue-chippers, this secondary should be great. If it gets help from the front seven, it will dominate.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jamie Keehn 6'4, 218 Jr. 43 41.0 4 8 18 60.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
James Hairston 86 63.2 45 1 52.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Colby Delahoussaye 5'10, 169 So. 56-57 10-11 90.9% 3-3 100.0%
James Hairston 4-4 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Odell Beckham Jr. KR 32 26.4 0
Terrence Magee KR 5'9, 214 Sr. 2 22.5 0
Odell Beckham Jr. PR 18 8.9 0
Travin Dural PR 6'2, 182 So. 4 3.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 10
Field Goal Efficiency 4
Punt Return Efficiency 108
Kick Return Efficiency 39
Punt Efficiency 8
Kickoff Efficiency 47
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 70

9. Milesball needs a return man

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

Thanks to the combination of a less efficient defense creating fewer return opportunities and opponents knowing to kick away from him, Odell Beckham Jr. didn't get many opportunities to return punts last year and didn't take advantage of many of the opportunities he had. He was an all-or-nothing guy in the return game, but he was still dangerous.

That he's gone isn't a good thing, but let's just say it's difficult to worry too much about either the return game or the LSU special teams unit overall. Colby Delahoussaye was a hell of a freshman kicker last year, and punts and coverage should be fine. LSU has ranked in the Special Teams top 10 for six straight years, and it'll probably be a seventh.

(By the way, on an entirely unrelated note, every time I see Colby Delahoussaye's name, I say "De-la-HOOOO-SAAAY" out loud, to nobody in particular. I may be ready for football season.)

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug vs. Wisconsin 15
6-Sep Sam Houston State NR
13-Sep UL-Monroe 106
20-Sep Mississippi State 26
27-Sep New Mexico State 127
4-Oct at Auburn 8
11-Oct at Florida 29
18-Oct Kentucky 75
25-Oct Ole Miss 24
8-Nov Alabama 2
15-Nov at Arkansas 53
27-Nov at Texas A&M 11
Five-Year F/+ Rk 26.8% (5)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 3
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 0 / 7.1
TO Luck/Game -2.7
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (5, 7)

10. All depends on the QB

There are so many conflicting impressions you can take from LSU heading into the season.

The Tigers are almost certainly too young to pull off a top-10 ranking, but if they stay healthy, they're too talented to be worse than 20th or so. Their primary staples -- rush offense, pass defense -- should be excellent, but the run defense has questions to answer, and the pass offense has some serious rebuilding to do.

The schedule features seven top-30 teams, four away from home, but one of those four is a virtual home game (Wisconsin in Houston), and another takes place against an A&M team that is probably over-projected at 11th. (Plus, Florida at 29th is just a place-holder -- the Gators could either be better than 15th or worse than 50th.)

It's conceivable that the top quarterback, running back, and receiver by the end of the year are all true freshmen. That could mean amazing things for 2016, but it's hard to say this will be the year the Tigers take back what they lost in 2011. The order of the schedule should help; after the Wisconsin game, LSU gets four straight home games, three against teams that are somewhere between iffy and bad. A shaky LSU team (by LSU standards) could still theoretically be 8-1 heading into November, and a good one could be ... well, probably 8-1.

But that's enough projection. Forget for a moment how difficult it may be to predict LSU's fate this year. This team is going to be fun as hell and young enough to turn strange Les Miles moments into outright crazy ones. LSU could be really entertaining in 2014 and absurdly good in 2015-16. No complaints there.