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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.
- Miles: Take 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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||4||1st Down Rk||24|
|Q2 Rk||19||2nd Down Rk||11|
|Q3 Rk||17||3rd Down Rk||1|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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.
|Terrence Magee||RB||5'9, 214||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||86||626||8||7.3||8.7||45.3%|
|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%|
|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)|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||WR-X||90||59||1152||65.6%||28.7%||57.5%||12.8||444||12.4||220.1|
|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.
|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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||5||1st Down Rk||23|
|Q2 Rk||47||2nd Down Rk||16|
|Q3 Rk||38||3rd Down Rk||42|
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.
|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|
|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
Xs and Os
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.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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)|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Jamie Keehn||6'4, 218||Jr.||43||41.0||4||8||18||60.5%|
|Colby Delahoussaye||5'10, 169||So.||56-57||10-11||90.9%||3-3||100.0%|
|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|
|Special Teams F/+||10|
|Field Goal Efficiency||4|
|Punt Return Efficiency||108|
|Kick Return Efficiency||39|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||70|
9. Milesball needs a return man
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
|6-Sep||Sam Houston State||NR|
|27-Sep||New Mexico State||127|
|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|
|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.