Today at No. 8: LSU Tigers
Coach: Les Miles (95-24 entering 10th season; 123-45 overall).
2013 results: 10-3 (5-3 in SEC, third place in West Division)
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Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, WR Odell Beckham, WR Jarvis Landry
Top returnees: RB Terrence Magee, QB Anthony Jennings, OT La’el Collins, G Vadal Alexander, C Elliott Porter, OT Jerald Hawkins, CB Rashard Robinson, CB Tre’Davious White, LB Lamar Louis, LB Kwon Alexander, LB Kendell Beckwith
Look back: LSU had another 10-win season under Les Miles, but the Tigers ultimately underachieved with an offense as good as any the program has ever fielded.
In Cam Cameron’s first season as offensive coordinator, LSU averaged its most yards per game (453 yards) and scored its most rushing touchdowns (37) in school history. The Tigers became the first SEC team with a 3,000-yard passer (Zach Mettenberger), 1,000-yard rusher (Jeremy Hill) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry).
All four players are gone after what could have been a special season if not for close losses at Georgia (44-41) and Ole Miss (27-24). A 38-17 loss at rival Alabama was the only game in which the Tigers were outclassed.
Strengths: The player losses were big for LSU’s offense, but the blow should be softened a bit by the arrival of running back Leonard Fournette, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit. Fournette has never played a college game, yet is drawing Adrian Peterson comparisons. Fournette and talented senior Terrence Magee will operate behind one of the SEC’s best offensive lines. Left tackle La’el Collins came back for his senior season to anchor a unit that boats four returning starters.
Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White could be the best pair of sophomore cornerbacks in the country. LSU is also strong at linebacker with Lamar Louis, Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith.
Weaknesses: Anthony Jennings, a sophomore who started one game in 2013, and first-year freshman Brandon Harris will try to replace Mettenberger, who threw for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Jennings looked great in leading LSU to victory late against Arkansas when Mettenberger got hurt, but he looked years away in both the Outback Bowl and in the spring game, where Harris shined. LSU’s leading returning receiver is sophomore Travin Dural, who caught seven passes last year while Beckham and Landry combined for 136, including 18 for touchdowns.
Outlook: No program has been gutted more in recent seasons by the NFL Draft than LSU, which has lost 16 players to early entry during the past two seasons. The Tigers long have recruited as well as any school in the country, but the losses on defense were evident last season when LSU allowed 22 points a game. During SEC Media Days, Miles said he expects to field a dominant defense again in 2014. SEC media picked the Tigers to finish third in the exacting SEC West Division. But if strong-armed Harris emerges as hoped, the Tigers could challenge Auburn and Alabama for the chance to play in the SEC title game.
Aug. 30 vs. Wisconsin in Houston
Sept. 6 Sam Houston State
Sept. 13 Louisiana-Monroe
Sept. 20 Mississippi State
Sept. 27 New Mexico State
Oct. 4 at Auburn
Oct. 11 at Florida
Oct. 18 Kentucky
Oct. 25 Mississippi
Nov. 8 Alabama
Nov. 15 at Arkansas
Nov. 27 at Texas A&M
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