Coming out of an offseason where they had nine players selected in the NFL Draft (six in the first three rounds), many prognosticators are counting on a down year of sorts from Les Miles and the Louisiana State Tigers.
Those certain that the LSU Tigers are in for a rough season use words like rebuilding, Purple and Gold fans counter with words like reload, and AndTheValleyShook.com, an LSU blog on SBNation, counters with a well-written column calling for a truce between the two cliche-addled factions.
Yes, the LSU Tigers lost a lot of talent to the NFL and they have a brutal schedule that kicks off in Cowboys Stadium against the TCU Horned Frogs. Yes, they still have a lot of talent on their roster, returning 12 starters and adding the sixth-best recruiting class in the country according to Rivals.com. Such is the nature of collegiate football.
Perhaps what skews our perception of LSU’s losses and seems to have us virtually assured the Tigers are in for struggles–besides a schedule that features four true road games that are all loseable games–is that seven of the nine draftees could have returned to Baton Rouge. Only Lavar Edwards, who was out of eligibility, and Tyrann Mathieu, who wasn’t a member of the LSU Tigers in 2012, wouldn’t have been back in 2013.
Needless to say, with the talent that is already on the roster added to what COULD have been, LSU likely would have been a serious challenger to Alabama’s supremacy in the SEC West. Without them, that task certainly gets more difficult.
However, that’s not to say the LSU Tigers are devoid of talent.
They’ve got Anthony Johnson, Lamin Barrow, Jalen Mills and Craig Loston returning as starters on their defense. Johnson is a three-technique who is certain to make Mike Mayock salivate next April, while Barrow is a tackling machine at Will linebacker. Meanwhile, Mills and Loston were the fourth and fifth leading tacklers on the team as defensive backs in 2012.
Offensively, they’ve got eight starters back and should be improved across the board. Big-armed quarterback Zach Mettenberger should see a significant increase in production in 2013 with his top four pass-catchers (Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone and James Wright) returning, and if the offensive line can avoid the injuries that plagued them in 2012, he should be able to stay upright.
Meanwhile, despite losing Spencer Ware to the NFL Draft–the junior had lost a lot of his carries towards the end of 2012–the LSU Tigers backfield will feature three bruising runners who combined for 1,489 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground last year in Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue. All three tip the scales at over 220 lbs. and figure to give LSU one of the most dynamic power running games in the country.
Of course, replacing all that speed on defense will be a primary concern for the LSU Tigers. Losing Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo off the edge along with Bennie Logan, Kevin Minter and Eric Reid from the middle will certainly mean growing pains for the Tigers’ defense, but with recruiting classes ranked 6th, 18th, 6th and 6th in the past four years, Les Miles will have plenty of talent waiting in the wings to fill the void.
Ultimately, how quickly these talented reserves adjust to their new roles will determine how the season goes for LSU. They’ll be challenged early against TCU and then they’ll draw the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs out of the SEC East to supplement an already brutal SEC West schedule.
The cyclical nature of college football means down years every once in awhile–even for big-time programs like LSU. However, how we define “down” years from one program to the next is largely relative.
If LSU goes 8-5 or 9-4 is it really a rebuilding year? Maybe to some, but on the heals of a 10-3 season and after losing 10 starters (seven underclassmen), it doesn’t seem like much of a drop-off to me.
We’ve become accustomed to seeing the LSU Tigers near the top of the polls, but one offseason is an awfully hasty time-frame to assume they’re trending towards obscurity.