LSU football: 5 ways the Tigers will measure success in 2020
LSU had the most dominant season in school history and one of the most dominant in NCAA history last season.
The 2019 Tigers will be the standard against which future Tigers teams and perhaps other college teams will be measured as they pursue national championships.
But for the 2020 LSU team, success will be judged differently from whether the Tigers can duplicate the ultimate success of their most immediate predecessors.
Judging success on how close they come to matching the history-making feats of last season’s team would be unrealistic and unfair to LSU – or any other college team for that matter.
Here are 5 ways that LSU will gauge success in 2020:
1. Sustained offensive success
The standard set by the passing game last season – 6,000 yards and 61 touchdowns – is not the new normal for LSU or anyone else.
The Tigers caught lightning in a bottle with the merging of first-year passing game coordinator and runaway Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. Now they’ve both gone to the NFL – Brady to Carolina, Burrow presumably to Cincinnati as the No. 1 pick in the draft next month.
Scott Linehan is coming from the NFL to replace Brady and Myles Brennan is emerging from Burrow’s shadow to presumably be the new starting quarterback.
We don’t know exactly how offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger will tweak the offense with Linehan replacing Brady, but he probably won’t deviate very far from what worked so well last season.
But no one is going to be exactly what Burrow was and no one is going to be precisely what Clyde Edwards-Helaire was.
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The offense will be judged by its ability to operate efficiently with 4- and 5-receiver sets, to run any play out of any formation, to utilize the big-play potential of multiple wide recovers and maintain balance with a dangerous running attack.
It doesn’t have to match the productivity of the 2019 offense, but it does have to show that the pre-2019 LSU offense remains a thing of the past.
2. Rebuilding the offensive line
All of those record-setting numbers from last season were made possible by an offensive line that was voted the best in the country and overcame a fluctuating lineup early in the season to play its best late in the season.
Now 4 of the 5 starters have moved on to the NFL. The new combination needs to be sorted out in the spring, develop cohesion in the summer and preseason camp and hit the ground running in September.
It will be difficult for the offense or the team as a whole to be successful if the offensive line isn’t successful at approaching the performance of last season’s unit.
3. Ability to replace early departures to the NFL
Head coach Ed Orgeron and his staff have consistently landed highly-rated recruiting classes, but sometimes those rankings don’t equate to the productivity that the recruits have over the course of their careers.
LSU lost 9 key players who decided to leave early for the NFL. When teams win SEC championships – and especially when they win national championships – the number of early departures tends to go up.
That means relatively inexperienced players have to be ready to thrive in greatly expanded roles and sometimes it means true freshmen have to have a significant impact right away.
The 2020 Tigers will be dependent on both. If LSU is going to have sustained success on a national level – like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma – it has to show that its recruiting can withstand significant early departures and keep on rolling.
4. Transition from Dave Aranda to Bo Pelini
Aranda was an outstanding defensive coordinator and helped LSU win last season’s national championship before leaving to become head coach at Baylor.
Pelini was an outstanding defensive coordinator for the Tigers and helped them win a national championship after the 2007 season before becoming head coach at Nebraska.
Now Pelini is back and that means LSU will base its defense out of a 4-man front more than out of a 3-man front and generally be aggressive in pressuring the quarterback.
That, along with the inevitable personnel changes, means there’s a lot of work to be done on defense.
The LSU passing game last season was a marvel and provided the team’s identity, but defense has always been a trademark for the Tigers.
Aranda’s last defense was exposed against Texas in the second game and struggled in a few games in the middle of the season before becoming championship-caliber in late November and beyond.
Pelini’s first defense in his second stint also will be challenged by Texas in the second game of the season. The challenge is to make the transition and show that the Tigers are ready to play championship-caliber defense from September through the end of the season.
5. Not being a 1-hit wonder
The success of the 2020 Tigers doesn’t hinge on winning another national championship, though repeating certainly would qualify as success.
But not repeating wouldn’t necessarily qualify as failure. What would qualify as failure is falling back to the pack and suggesting that LSU was a 1-hit wonder in 2019, that the departure of Brady, Burrow and others means the Tigers are back to being a very good program, not an elite one.
Get to double-digit wins (the more the better), contend for (and preferable capture) the SEC championship and another CFP berth, beat Alabama again (or at least demonstrate that the programs are on equal footing regardless of fluctuations in who wins the annual meetings) and 2020 will be a success.