LSU has a new offense, a new starting quarterback, unproven running backs and an unusually challenging schedule even by SEC standards.
The Tigers’ goal is to improve on last year’s 9-4 record and challenge Alabama, Auburn and perhaps Texas A&M in the SEC West.
But with so many challenges, a move in the other direction is possible. In fact, ESPN’s Football Power Index computer foresees just that happening and predicts the Tigers will finish 6-6, which would put Ed Orgeron’s future as LSU head coach in doubt.
ESPN Football Power Index
Projected Wins for 2018
Georgia – 10.9
Alabama – 10.8
Auburn – 9.1
Mississippi State – 8.4
Florida – 8.1
Texas A&M – 7.4
Mizzou – 7.3
South Carolina – 7.2
Ole Miss – 6.3
LSU – 6.2
Arkansas – 5.9
Tennessee – 5.8
Kentucky – 5.4
Vanderbilt – 3.9
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 5, 2018
Now, before we start firing up FireEdOrgeron.com and other such websites, let’s keep things perspective.
Yes, there are questions to be answered this fall:
1. Will Steve Ensminger’s West Coast offense be a better fit for the Tigers’ personnel — and Orgeron’s tastes — than Matt Canada’s multiple offense was?
2. Will the new starting quarterback — presumably but not automatically Myles Brennan — elevate the passing game?
3. Will the new featured running back, whoever he winds up being, be able to live up to the standard set and maintained by LSU runners for a long time?
4. Will the talented but somewhat youthful defense be able to play at a high level right out of the gate to mitigate the growing pains the offense figures to experience?
5. And what about that schedule? In addition to annual challenges against Alabama, Auburn and Florida, the Tigers open against Miami in Arlington, Texas, and Georgia pops onto the SEC schedule. Then throw in Jimbo Fisher’s ballyhooed arrival at Texas A&M.
A good team could lose to a bunch of those teams and we haven’t even mentioned Mississippi State, which blasted the Tigers last season.
So it’s reasonable to suspect LSU is more likely to flirt with bowl ineligibility than an SEC championship, but things are far from hopeless for the Tigers. In fact a 6-6 prediction is selling Orgeron and LSU short.
The Tigers went 9-3 last season before losing to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. Even though the schedule wasn’t as challenging as this one appears to be, LSU still won at Florida, beat Auburn and swept Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M by an average of three touchdowns.
In other words, the Tigers’ most recent track record ain’t bad.
Now back to those questions.
Ensminger isn’t exactly a wild card as offensive coordinator. It was just two seasons ago that Orgeron promoted him to offensive coordinator after Orgeron was named interim head coach. The result? Ensminger’s offense was far more productive in the final eight games than Cam Cameron’s was in the first four.
Brennan’s ability — as well as that of a youthful and very talented group of receivers — should allow the passing game to be bolder and more productive than it was under Canada with Danny Etling under center, and there is talent though not a proven leader among the running backs.
The defense has more returning experience than the offense. There’s plenty of young talent on hand and coordinator Dave Aranda’s record speaks for itself.
Now, Miami isn’t the ideal opening opponent for a team trying to figure so much stuff out and opening SEC play two games later at Auburn (with a home game against Southeastern Louisiana in between) isn’t great either.
But if the Tigers can beat Miami or Auburn — not an unreasonable expectation — they have a chance to build some confidence with home games against Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss before visiting a rebuilding Florida team.
A record of 5-1 isn’t out of question before a string of home games against Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama. Even if the Tigers lose to Georgia and Alabama, if they beat State they have a chance to be bowl eligible (at 6-3) before the stretch run in which visits to Arkansas and Texas A&M are sandwiched around the home finale against Rice and could yield at least two more wins.
So is a 6-6 record possible?
Sure, but an 8-4 mark seems more realistic.