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Prelude to a Season: #13

13.) Louisiana State Tigers

LSUWhat You Should Know
To call the 2008 version of the LSU Tigers a change from the recent past would be the understatement of the offseason. Miles and the Tigers, national title winners in 2007, saw a streak of 94 consecutive weeks of being ranked come to a close, their final record clock in at 8-5, and only won 3 SEC games last season. There was a lack of star power at the QB position after Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed, and Jarrett Lee struggled. Defensively, the Tigers had one of the worst seasons in recent memory, allowing two opponents to top 50 points. For a defense that in recent years was known for its dominance and power, they certainly struck fear in the hearts of no one, as 5 opponents in 2008 scored 30 or more points. Quite the change compared to the defenses of the last decade.

Miles now finds himself hopefully optimistic about the future, most notably because of sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson, who decimated Georgia Tech in last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl. Additionally, the defensive side of the football loses 5 starters, but fills those holes with exceptionally talented though inexperienced young players as well as new defensive coordinator John Chavis formerly of Tennessee.

Offensively, regardless of who lines up under center, the attack routes through standout running back Charles Scott. Scott’s junior campaign in 2008 saw him lead the conference in touchdowns and place 3rd in yardage. With 3 of 5 starters on the offensive line returning as well as an increased productivity in the passing game, Scott looks to surpass last year’s stellar numbers. The receiving corps will be led by senior Brandon LaFell, but look for them all to be productive and game breaking. 11 of the top 12 pass catchers return for LSU, along with Rueben Randle, one of the most highly touted recruits in the conference.

Defensively, Chavis is hoping for a return to Tigers past, and for the Tigers to have any chance at success beyond middle of the pack, they’ll need it. 7 starters return, and 8 of their top 9 tacklers last season are all back. The losses are felt most notably along the defensive line, where they must replace 3 starters, but the secondary returns in tact and with another year of experience save for the free safety position. Senior CB Chris Hawkins returns as the team’s leading interceptor from last season, with his 3 picks.

The Tigers’ out of conference schedule is far from challenging, as they play at Washington to open the season as well as home dates throughout with Louisiana, Tulane, and Louisiana Tech. In conference, like most every other SEC team, is where LSU finds their toughest challenges, as their East opponents this year are Vandy, Georgia, and Florida, with Georgia on the road. Their West opponents are 3 road games to 2 home games, and Bama, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State are all away from the friendly confines of Death Valley.

For Miles and the Tigers, improvement on 2008 is certainly expected and needed. With an increased production on the offensive side of the football as well as a staunch defensive unit, this is a team which will surprise many folks who are prematurely calling the SEC West a two-team race between Alabama and Ole Miss.

Who You Should Know & Their 08 Stats
RB Charles Scott: 217 att, 1174 yds, 18 TDs
QB Jarrett Lee: 143-269, 1873 yds, 14 TDs, 16 INTs
WR Brandon LaFell: 63 rec, 929 yds, 8 TDs

Game to Watch
The Tigers’ toughest contests will easily come in conference. Their three most challenging games encompass two from their own division against Ole Miss (11/21) and Alabama (11/7), both on the road. In terms of national attention, most point to the October 10th game against Florida at home. It is the Gators’ biggest chance for a loss this season, as well as the opportunity for the Tigers to shock the college football world.

They’ll Do Well If…
… Les Miles picks the right QB from moment one and the defensive line stops opponents from scoring at will. It seems intuitive to have a productive offense and a shut down defense, but for LSU to remain competitive in the SEC race, that is what has to happen.

Season Outlook
For Tiger fans who simply want an improvement on last season’s 8-5 record, they are in for a treat. That mission will be easily accomplished. For the Tiger fans wanting a shot at an SEC title, that will be a difficult task. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility for the Tigers to upset either Alabama or Ole Miss, but upsetting both is a tall order, and since both are on the road, nearly impossible. Instead the Tigers drop one of those games, lose a close contest against Florida, and go undefeated in their nonconference season, making their final 2009 record 10-2, with an outside shot at a West Division title pending the records of their divisional foes.

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