In retrospect, LSU’s down season in 2014 is something we should have seen coming down the pipeline. The Tigers had 18 players chosen in the 2013 and 2014 NFL drafts combined, with many of those players entering the draft a year early. That left LSU thin on veteran talent heading into 2014, and it showed.

The Tigers lost three more early entrants to the NFL in the 2015 draft — linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Danielle Hunter and cornerback Jalen Mills. That’s still more than most schools lose in a given year, but for LSU it’s a reprieve.

The losses are also less of an issue thanks to last year’s team that was thinner on veterans. After losing so many early entrants to the NFL over the previous two years, LSU was forced to play young players en masse. More than 20 total freshmen saw the field last year, with many of them playing key roles. From Leonard Fournette to Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn on offense and Jamal Adams and Davon Godchaux on defense, LSU saw several of its youngest Tigers step up on the SEC stage.

While still underclassmen, those players are now veterans. Freshmen tallied up more than 30 starts for LSU last year, and more of that class will step up heading into this year.

On defense, players like cornerback Ed Paris, linebacker Clifton Garrett and defensive ends Sione Teuhema and Deondre Clark are all set to be consistent contributors after playing deep reserve roles or redshirting last year.

The other side of the ball was the real problem last year, and the inexperience at quarterback was crippling at times. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are still duking it out for the starting job, but the coaches have said that another year in the program has benefitted both of them. Barring major improvement from his sophomore to his junior year, we know what we’ll get out of Jennings.

Harris, who now has two full springs in the program, is the bigger wildcard. If he’s made the strides the coaching staff has talked about, LSU’s offense could surprise many. If that’s all just been lip service, well, we’ve already seen what the offense will look like.

The hope is that now that they’re veterans, one of either Harris or Jennings will give LSU a better chance to win. They certainly have the core around them, after Dupre, Quinn, John Diarse, Fournette and Darrel Williams all saw significant action last year. That should pay dividends in 2015.

Not having to replace nearly as many players as in previous years will be a benefit to LSU in another way: the Tigers won’t be forced to press freshmen into action. Instead, those players will have to work their tails off to beat out the incumbents for playing time.

We already saw that play out in spring practice, when five-star cornerback signee Kevin Toliver squared off with Paris for the cornerback job opposite of returning junior Tre’Davious White. Toliver will certainly see the field in 2015 — his talent is too great to keep him glued to the bench — but he won’t be counted on as an every-down player like many LSU freshmen were last year.

On top of all of that, LSU actually had several players turn down a chance at the draft. Safety Jalen Mills, offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, wide receiver Travin Dural and others all could have tested the draft waters, but decided to come back to pursue bigger things at LSU.

LSU will still be young in 2015. The difference, as Cameron told ESPN, is that the players are “ascending” instead of just getting their feet wet. The Tigers are on their way up, and while they could get hit by the draft again after 2015, they’ll have a more veteran group than usual this year to do battle in the SEC.