The Tigers rank No. 11 in Athlon's Top 25 for 2017.
After taking over for Les Miles early last season, Ed Orgeron has put his stamp on the LSU program, highlighted by the arrival of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The Tigers’ new $1.5 million man is promising to open up things up on offense, but to do so he’ll need to rely on a host of new starters. The defense once again was hit hard by NFL draft departures, but plenty of talent remains in Baton Rouge. How quickly this unit comes together will likely determine if the Tigers can be a threat to Alabama’s dominance in the SEC West.
Previewing LSU Football’s Offense for 2017
New LSU coach Ed Orgeron sensed that a change of culture was needed at LSU after 12 years of being wedded to old-school, Power-I principles under former coach Les Miles. Enter new offensive coordinator Matt Canada from Pittsburgh. He’s an avant-garde offensive mind who helped hand national champion Clemson its only loss (43–42) last season. Canada is expected to deliver more passing and a lot more misdirection. Think jet sweeps and multiple pre-snap shifts.
Senior quarterback Danny Etling is LSU’s only experienced signal caller after former starter Brandon Harris transferred to North Carolina. Etling threw for 2,123 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions last season.
The offense will still depend heavily on a quality running game. Despite losing Leonard Fournette, the Tigers have plenty of power in reserve with the return of junior Derrius Guice. He rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 TDs as Fournette battled an ankle injury last season and has positioned himself as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
The Tigers are retooling at wide receiver with the loss of their top two pass catchers, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, to the NFL. Canada talked senior D.J. Chark into returning, and he’s now poised to be Etling’s top target.
On the offensive line, K.J. Malone (son of basketball Hall of Famer Karl Malone) flirted with moving on to his dream job of being a U.S. Marshal protecting national monuments, but he will return to protect Etling’s blind side at left tackle instead.
Previewing LSU Football’s Defense for 2017
The linebacker corps is the Tigers’ biggest rebuilding job after losing inside linebackers Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith, who led LSU with 93 and 91 tackles, respectively. Senior Donnie Alexander, LSU’s No. 2 returning tackler with 45 stops plus an interception, takes over one inside spot. The other will be manned by sophomore Devin White, a promising talent.
In the secondary, junior Donte Jackson (two interceptions) takes over the shutdown corner role from Tre’Davious White. John Battle is a returning starter at safety, but look for true freshman JaCoby Stevens to push for playing time after arriving in January.
Previewing LSU Football’s Specialists for 2017
The Tigers will break in a new placekicker, redshirt freshman Connor Culp. Josh Growden, LSU’s third straight Australian punter, returns after averaging 41.4 yards per kick. Orgeron promises a more aggressive approach to returning and blocking kicks under special teams analyst Greg McMahon, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, who will “coach” five position coaches who will handle a variety of special teams tasks.
Orgeron retained defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (now the highest-paid college assistant coach at $1.8 million per year) and hired Canada to break LSU out of its predictable offensive patterns. Talent always abounds at LSU, although there’s still work to do to catch up with Alabama in the trenches.
A tough schedule awaits — the Tigers have only three SEC home games — so a 10–2 record would probably be the ceiling, which is not a bad goal in the Tigers’ first full year under Coach O.
NATIONAL RANKING: 11
SEC WEST PREDICTION: 3
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