Head Coach: Ed Orgeron
2016 record: 8-4 overall, 5-3 SEC West
2016 Postseason results: Beat Louisville 29-9 in the Citrus Bowl
2017 returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2018 College Football Championship game: 20/1
Odds to win 2017 SEC Championship Game: 8/1
Odds to Win 2017 SEC West Division: 5/1
Regular season wins: over 9 -115 / under -105
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Last year, LSU entered the season with sky high expectations of dethroning Alabama in the SEC. However, a sluggish 2-2 start that included close losses to Wisconsin and Auburn costing Les Miles his job. The Tigers would go 6-2 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, including a 29-9 thrashing of Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. That was good enough to earn Orgeron the permanent job as head coach.
With only eleven players returning total on both sides of the ball, expectations aren’t quite as high this year compared to last season. However, the Tigers are still very talented and can compete with Alabama and Auburn for the SEC title. Here is a look at LSU on offense, defense, special teams and a look at the schedule and prognosis for 2017.
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LSU averaged 423 yards per game on offense, and 28 points per game. Those weren’t terrible numbers, but the passing game was not very effective averaging just 190 yards per game. The Tigers averaged 233 yards per game in the rushing game. Orgeron brought in Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada to run the offense. He gets six starters back in 2017.
Amazingly, two former Purdue quarterbacks started games in the SEC last year, Danny Etling for LSU and Austin Appleby for Florida. Etling took over early in the season for a struggling Brandon Harris. Etling completed 59.5% of his passes for 2,123 yards with 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions and he added a rushing touchdown. Etling is back for his senior year but Harris has transferred to North Carolina. Justin McMillan, a redshirt sophomore is the back-up behind Etling.
Running back Leonard Fournette was a high first round draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although, he was very talented and will be missed he was often injured. Fournette rushed for 843 yards on 129 yards with 8 touchdowns, and had 15 catches for 146 yards. Even without Fournette, the running game shouldn’t miss a beat with junior Derrius Guice who had 183 carries for 1,387 yards with 15 touchdowns, plus 9 catches and a touchdown last year. Senior Darrel Williams will get most of the back-up carries after rushing for 233 yards and 3 touchdowns. Nick Brossette will also get some carries. John David Morre is the fullback.
Five of the top six receivers are gone. D.J. Chark is back though after making 26 catches for 466 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also had 22 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. Malachi Dupre had 41 catches for 593 yards and 3 touchdowns. Travin Dural had 28 catches for 280 yards and a touchdown. Drake Davis, Dee Anderson and Stephen Sullivan are the other receivers. Foster Moreau will start at tight end.
The line gets back three starters. K.J. Malone is the son of NBA Hall of Famer Karl and returns at left tackle. Junior Toby Weathersby is the right tackle. Center Will Clapp has star potential. Garrett Brumfield and Donavaughn Campbell will be the guards. The line gave up only 19 sacks and will be a key part of success on offense.
LSU was an elite defense last year allowing just 314 yards per game and 16 points per game. They were in the top 10 nationally in both categories. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda only gets five starters back, but the defense will remain the strength of the team. The Tigers lose their top six tacklers from a year ago.
After missing all of last year with an injury, defensive end Christian LaCouture returns. He had 35 tackles in 2015. He will be a force if he can stay healthy. Frank Herron will start at the other end after making 20 tackles in 2016. Greg Gilmore had 34 tackles last year at nose tackle.
Buck Arden Key had 56 tackles including 14.5 for loss and 12 sacks last year. He missed spring practice due to personal issues and is recovering from shoulder surgery as well. He is listed as questionable for the season opener. The linebackers do lose Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith who combined for over 180 tackles last year. Both are in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers respectively. Corey Thompson will start at the other outside linebacker. Donnie Alexander will start at inside linebacker after recording 45 tackles last year. Sophomore Devin White will also start at inside linebacker.
Cornerback Donte Jackson had 39 tackles and 2 interceptions last year. Kevin Tolliver will start at the other corner after making 21 tackles last year. John Battle had 39 tackles last year at safety. He will be joined by Ed Paris at the other safety.
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Redshirt Freshman Connor Culp is the new kicker. Punter Josh Growden averaged 41 yards per punt last year. Donte Jackson will return both kicks and punts. Derrius Guice was the primary kick returner last year and could return a few this year as well.
Schedule and Outlook
LSU opens the season in Houston against BYU. The Tigers then host Chattanooga before traveling to Mississippi State. LSU then hosts Syracuse and Troy. The Tigers travel to Florida and host Auburn. Then comes road games at Ole Miss and Alabama. LSU hosts Arkansas, travels to Tennessee and hosts Texas A&M to close out the season.
The last seven games are brutal, but there is rarely an easy game in the SEC , especially in the West. If the offense can improve somewhat, and they should under Canada’s innovative system, then this team could be a dark horse title contender. I just don’t think they are quite on the level of Alabama or maybe not even Auburn. I think they win nine games and will play in a January Bowl, just not one of the Big Six.
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