As opt-outs mount, LSU must brace for tougher times in 2020
If LSU had kept all of its players with remaining eligibility and its entire coaching staff it would have been considered a strong contender to repeat as CFP champion.
But, of course, that didn’t happen – and any championship team would expect to lose more than just its seniors.
A host of key players who could have played another season with the Tigers chose instead to play in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda became the head coach at Baylor and passing game coordinator Joe Brady became the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers.
Still, LSU had adequate enough replacements to be considered a potential SEC and CFP contender if all those replacements were as good as hoped.
The Tigers were ranked No. 5 in the coaches preseason poll and No. 6 in the AP preseason poll.
Then wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin decided to opt out of this season, joining 2 other likely starters – defensive end Neil Farrell Jr. and defensive back Kary Vincent Jr. – on the sideline for the COVID-19 season.
So LSU has to adjust again.
Head coach Ed Orgeron already had to adjust his coaching staff. The roster and depth chart have been adjusted throughout the offseason.
And now it’s being adjusted again.
All of those personnel changes have necessitated adjusting the expectations for the defending national champions as well.
Updated LSU depth chart from the national championship game: pic.twitter.com/uOCDidufVl
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) August 31, 2020
Let’s start with the most critical recent developments. Shelvin is considered a possible first-round talent, but LSU has recruited well enough and rotates frequently enough along the defensive line to overcome it.
Chase, however, was at least the second-best player on the team, if not the first, depending on where you choose to rank cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
If you have to lose your best or second-best player you would prefer that it happen at one of the deepest positions on the team and fortunately for the Tigers, wide receiver is just that.
LSU already had lost its second-most productive receiver from last season when Justin Jefferson bypassed his senior season to enter the NFL Draft in April.
Still, the Tigers have Terrace Marshall Jr., who was as productive as Jefferson and Chase and led the team in touchdown catches during the first month of last season before breaking his foot against Vanderbilt.
He came back after surgery, but his modest statistics (46-671-13) aren’t indicative of how big of an impact he would have had if he had stayed healthy.
Racey McMath was the next most-productive receiver last season (17-285-3) and highly regarded sophomore Trey Palmer could have a significant impact after finding himself stuck behind all the aforementioned receivers last season.
Throw in a pair of 4-star recruits – Kayshon Boutte and Koy Moore – and the Tigers have plenty of talented targets for Myles Brennan, though much of it is inexperienced and no one is going to have the kind of impact that Chase figured to have.
So the post-Chase wide receiving corps is much like all of the other position groups on the team – trying to overcome significant losses from last season with talented but inexperienced players.
And that’s pretty much the 2020 Tigers in a nutshell – a group that won’t be able to match the success of last year’s team because of the loss of a majority of starters on both sides of the ball.
The absence of the Big Ten and the Pac-12 (as well as the Mountain West and the MAC) from competition this fall creates opportunities for teams that are playing to earn higher rankings that they otherwise would have.
But that doesn’t help teams in the SEC who still have to deal with their internal gauntlets.
Another CFP championship or an SEC championship would be an unrealistic expectation for this LSU team, as would be even an SEC West title after so much attrition.
Get ready for multiple losses, Tiger fans.
To be fair, though, the same would be true of any team that lost 14 players to the NFL Draft, including the runaway Heisman Trophy winner (Joe Burrow), and then the top receiver in the country.