Editor’s note: SDS’ annual Crystal Ball series continues in the SEC West with LSU. Coming Friday: Mississippi State.

Oh, what a difference a year makes.

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Is that a good preseason cliché to lead with? What about “how the tables have turned.” Or maybe “that’s why they play the games.”

At this time last year, I was on the optimistic side by predicting the Tigers would go 8-4 in the regular season and that Ed Orgeron would keep his job. Go figure that I actually wasn’t even optimistic enough. That defense was special, and the offense overcame massive turnover with Joe Burrow leading the show. It turned out to be LSU’s best season of the Playoff era.

So now what lies ahead for an encore? Are we to believe double-digit wins and a top 7 team is the new norm for the Tigers?

Let’s dig into that.

2018 record: 10-3 (5-3), 3rd in SEC West

Joe Brady’s impact

All the talk this offseason is about the addition of the former New Orleans Saints offensive assistant. Brady’s run-pass option offense is going to bring LSU into the 21st Century. I do believe that. Why? I believe Joe Burrow is the best fit to actually make that happen.

Burrow would have been able to do much more of that last year if not for the Tigers’ limited quarterback depth. But with Myles Brennan healthy and bulked up, I think we see more offensive diversity in Burrow’s final year. Having an entire offseason will be huge to get on the same page with Brady.

The talk about Brady’s impact will carry into the regular season, especially if LSU has a top 20 offense as I expect (the group of pass-catchers that Burrow has to work with is one of the SEC’s best). The looming question will obviously be how it translates against Alabama. The strange thing is that it feels like LSU could put up 50 points in every non-Alabama game and then lose 21-7 to the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, and the narrative would be “same old predictable LSU offense.”

Maybe, just maybe, with Brady on board, this is the year that narrative dies.

DBU

I feel like I don’t go more than a couple days without saying the following sentence — LSU has the best secondary in America in 2019.

I believe Grant Delpit is the best defensive player in the country. A do-it-all guy on the back end of that defense has sky-high potential with Dave Aranda. I won’t be surprised when Delpit takes over games and even puts himself into the fringe Heisman Trophy conversation this year.

Part of that is because I don’t think he’s going to have to spend a bunch of energy bailing out LSU’s cornerbacks. I’m not sure that people realized just how good Kristian Fulton was last year. His eligibility ruling turned out to be one of the low-key pivotal developments of the college football season. That’s because teams didn’t throw at Greedy Williams and Fulton was busy locking down receivers left and right.

Replacing Williams is the much-hyped Derek Stingley Jr., who has the makings of an All-American. Sure, he’ll have his moments as a true freshman learning how to play cornerback in this league, but there’s a reason that the 5-star recruit was named an LSU starter in July. He is ready to play immediately.

And while those 3 guys dominated the offseason discussion, JaCoby Stevens is sort of the forgotten guy of the bunch. But one would argue he was as good as anyone on the LSU secondary once he became a starter for the final 4 games.

In conclusion, the “DBU” nickname has never been more appropriate.

A different kind of challenge for Ed Orgeron

Last year, it was a fitting chain of events for Orgeron. The expectation was that his team wouldn’t even be a Top 25 team by season’s end, and all he did was help LSU navigate a tough schedule en route to the Fiesta Bowl win. He has been doubted throughout his coaching career, so that played into the whole “nobody believes in us” narrative that obviously carried some weight in that locker room.

This year? A lot of people believe in LSU. The expectation has been raised. When LSU came in at No. 6 in the preseason Coaches Poll, Orgeron called it “noise.” He’s right. How he handles a different kind of noise will be fascinating, especially as he enters his first season with athletic director Scott Woodward.

(No, that’s not my way of putting Orgeron back on the hot seat, but that dynamic is absolutely worth following.)

I think it’s tougher to be that team that’s picked to compete at a top-5 level. I’m sure a lot of coaches who have seen both sides of that would agree. Let’s see if Orgeron agrees at season’s end.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: vs. Georgia Southern (W)

I think this game isn’t as comfortable as LSU would like for a couple of reasons. With the new offense, there could be a learning curve. And with that new offense, who knows how diverse LSU wants to get a week ahead of the Texas showdown. It’s also a Georgia Southern team that won 10 games last year. Would it stun me if we had a 1-possession game at halftime? No, but I expect the Tigers to pull away late.

Week 2: at Texas (W)

For all the talk about Texas being “back,” there hasn’t been much national discussion about the Longhorns having the least amount of percentage of returning production of any Power 5 team. So yeah, I have questions about how they’ll handle what’ll be many of their first big-time games. LSU has more experience in that department, and in a battle of polarizing quarterbacks, the visiting one makes a big play to walk out of Austin with a massive victory.

Week 3: vs. Northwestern State (W)

Is Orgeron lining up for Northwestern State? Nah? Ok, give me the Tigers.

Week 4: at Vanderbilt (W)

LSU’s secondary handling Kalija Lipscomb and Jared Pinkney will be a fun matchup. That’s not sarcasm. The problem for Vandy is that against a unit that capitalizes on mistakes so well, it’ll be a major challenge to play a perfect offensive game, even though Ke’Shawn Vaughn can hit home runs on a moment’s notice.

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: vs. Utah State (W)

Jordan Love against the LSU defensive backs? Sign me up. The prolific quarterback will face a Tigers defense coming off a bye, and unlike last year, he won’t have Matt Wells in his ear. Instead, Gary Andersen is entering Year 1 for the Aggies. Utah State can absolutely put up some points and it’s worth noting that LSU embarks on a brutal 3-week stretch after this, but I’m not predicting a Troy repeat.

Week 7: vs. Florida (W)

I experienced my first LSU-Florida game last year, and my goodness, it was special. With that game finally back in Baton Rouge, I think there will be — dare I say — even more juice than usual. But coming off the loss in Gainesville, this game could have the feel of last year’s Georgia game. I’m not saying it’ll be a blowout, but I expect the Tigers to come out clicking on all cylinders. I don’t think LSU will be as limited offensively as it was last year. Florida makes a late push but comes up just short in Baton Rouge.

Week 8: at Mississippi State (L)

I understand it’s silly for me to even reference the 2017 beatdown the last time LSU visited Starkville. I don’t think this game follows that same flow or has anywhere near a 30-point margin of defeat, but I do think this is a tricky matchup. Coming off the emotional win against Florida, LSU’s RPO offense could struggle against a disciplined group of linebackers like MSU has. And in Year 2 of Joe Moorhead’s offense, I expect his team will have a better chance of stretching the field than it did last year with Nick Fitzgerald, who threw pick after pick. A thrilling game comes down to a last-minute LSU drive that’s ultimately unsuccessful, and MSU walks off with Moorhead’s most impressive win as a head coach.

Week 9: vs. Auburn (W)

No matter who wins, can we get a repeat of last year’s game? Please? The Tiger Bowl will get back to its home trend with Aranda successfully dialing up blitzes to confuse Auburn’s young quarterback. LSU comes out blazing, eager to get the bad taste of MSU out of its mouth with a 2-possession lead and it forces Auburn to do what it would like to avoid — obvious passing situations. That’s the recipe for an LSU victory.

Week 10: Bye

Week 11: at Alabama (L)

No, I don’t think the 8-game losing streak ends this year. I do expect a better offensive showing than last year, though. The matchup of the year in the SEC is LSU’s secondary against Alabama’s passing game. With perhaps more of a blueprint for how to fluster Tua Tagovailoa, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers had more success against him even though the game will be in Tuscaloosa. But ultimately, the streak continues when Alabama’s running game gets rolling in the second half.

Week 12: at Ole Miss (W)

It’s hard to envision a scenario in which Matt Corral leads the least-experienced offense in America to a solid day against that LSU secondary. Take away the major struggles Ole Miss has had at basic form tackling in recent memory — something that could change with Mike MacIntyre running the defense now — and it still feels like this is just too daunting of a matchup for a young Ole Miss team.

Week 13: vs. Arkansas (W)

As we sit here today, picking an Arkansas team that was -181 in SEC play to waltz into Tiger Stadium and beat a possible top 10 team seems, um, ambitious. Even though this was a grinder of a matchup last year, I still don’t see how LSU doesn’t dominate in the trenches and make this a one-sided game.

Week 14: vs. Texas A&M (W)

Hey! It’s finally a rivalry now that A&M won as an SEC team! Jokes aside, I do find myself super interested in this matchup not only because of the Jimbo Fisher/LSU stuff but because of what played out last year. We got a premature Gatorade bath, 7 overtimes, a postgame fight on the field, NCAA rule changes and about 6 hours of top-shelf entertainment. What more could you want? But this year in Baton Rouge, Burrow saves his best for last. He picks apart the A&M secondary with a huge game from Justin Jefferson, and the Tigers clinch double-digit wins in the regular season this time.

2019 projection: 10-2 (6-2, 2nd in SEC West)

#GeauxTigers

I believe LSU deserves to start in the top 5. I also believe LSU has a strong chance of finishing in the top 5, which is obviously more important.

I think this year sets up extremely well for the Tigers to establish an extremely high floor as we close out the 2010s.

“Beat Bama or bust” shouldn’t be the expectation, though I realize it’ll become that if LSU gets off to the 6-0 start that I predicted. But there’s nothing wrong with getting to another New Year’s 6 Bowl and being in the national conversation this entire season. There’s room for a fan base to acknowledge success even if it doesn’t yield a Playoff berth.

Trust me. There are worse places to be than Baton Rouge this fall.

And no, I’m not just saying that because beer will be served at Tiger Stadium for the first time.