Head Coach: Ed Orgeron
2018 Record: 10-3, 5-3 Conference
Bowl: 40-32 Win over UCF at Fiesta Bowl
O/U 9 wins (O -150, U +120)
To Make Final 4: Yes +450, No -650
The LSU Tigers return 15 starters (8 offense, 7 defense) and brought in a top-5 recruiting class. It hired a new passing game coordinator in Joe Brady, who comes from the NFL’s top passing unit in the New Orleans Saints. Brady will use a lot of that NFL style offense at LSU, where he is expected to institute a lot of run-pass option plays, most of which he learned while working under Joe Moorhood at Penn State. LSU will be a less run-heavy team in the past, and it should only make them better offensively, and it is tough to fathom that the team regresses from last season’s 10 wins despite Vegas oddsmakers setting the Over/under at nine wins.
Joe Burrow enters his senior season at quarterback, and he should benefit from the new offense that Brady will install. The Ohio State transfer is a great running quarterback, and he had 399 rushing yards to go with seven TD runs last year. He also threw for 2,894 yards and 16 passing touchdowns. The loss of Nick Brossette at running back is a tough one to swallow, but LSU should be fine. Freshman John Emery Jr. was the No. 2 ranked running back of the national recruiting class, and junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the No. 1 back on the depth chart after rushing for 658 yards and seven touchdowns last year.
Justin Jeffries is the top receiver. He had 54 catches and 875 yards last year, to go with six touchdowns. The Tigers will hope that Stephen Sullivan, Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Derrick Dillion complement him well. All need to develop consistency. At tight end, the Tigers lost Foster Moreau, but junior Jamal Pettigrew and JUCO transfer TK McLendon should both be solid options as his replacement.
LSU also returns a strong OL. Lloyd Cushenberry III lines up at center, and right guard Damien Lewis started every game last season. Right tackle Saahdiq Charles started all but three games, and Austin Deculus started all but two. Badara Traore will be in the mix as a JUCO transfer who struggled to adapt in his junior NCAA season last year. Deculus also will have to hold off freshman Anthony Bradford who shined in the spring. Chasen Hines or Kardell Thomas will start at left guard.
Although Rashard Lawrence was not ready for spring due to his knee surgery, his presence will be a big difference-maker once he is healthy. Ed Alexander left for the NFL so nose tackle will have to be addressed. Tyler Shelvin is the likely choice. However, Siaki “Apu” Ika enrolled in January and will have a shot at the job, too. Breiden Fehoko is recovered from a bicep tear and he will be back in the rotation, too. Fehoko also can play the middle and nose guard, but he will start at the end positions.
Devin White will have to be replaced, and junior Jacob Phillips is the leading candidate. Phillips led LSU in stops with 87, and he will be lined up with Patrick Queen, Michael Divinity Jr (tied for first in sacks with 5.0 last year) with K’Lavon Chaisson lining up opposite. Chaisson ended last year with a tough knee injury, but he is a great edge rusher and will be needed for QB pressuring and blitzing. The secondary is a mix of experience and new blood, with Grant Delpit representing a lot of the former. He had five sacks and five interceptions in 2018, and he should make a bid for All-American honors this year. JaCoby Stevens is strong at free safety, and Kary Vincent Jr. will be the nickel back which leaves a true cornerback duty to Kristian Fullton and Derek Stingley Jr. Fulton is coming off ankle surgery, and Stingley practiced for Bowl games so he will not be starting from scratch either. All-American Greedy Williams will be missed, but the secondary should operate just fine.
Cole Tracy set or tied seven school records as the best kicker in NCAA history. Cade York will replace him this year, or possibly Avery Atkins. Atkins hit 71 of 79 kickoffs for touchbacks, and his 89.9 percent average at that led the NCAA. Zach Von Rosenberg will handle long punts, while Josh Growden will be used for shorter punts. The Tigers are hoping Stingley can be its return specialist, though Clyde Edwards-Helaire will handle plenty of the kickoff returns, too. Vincent will also see some kick returns.
Regression just does not seem on the slate for LSU. It is a true contender for the college playoff even. The road schedule is particularly tough, however, which may be the reason oddsmakers predict a one-game fall off from 2018. If LSU can manage its September trip to Texas and take care of business against Alabama, it will better than 9 win total. Flat out. That is the crucial point to look at in predicting its success in the regular schedule. Look for it to repeat last season’s win total.
Prediction: 10 wins (over)