LSU head coach Ed Orgeron gave the proverbial hot seat he was sitting on entering the 2018 season an ice cold Gatorade bath posting a 10-3 (5-3 SEC) mark with a season-ending No. 6 ranking in the AP Top 25. The Tigers picked up big regular-season wins over ranked teams in Auburn, Georgia, and Mississippi State and put an end to the mythical back-to-back national championship conversation in Orlando with a 40-32 win over UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. The goal for every SEC head coach is to win their division and the SEC Championship Game, which means usually means taking down Alabama somewhere along the line. Can LSU put together a run in 2019?
Whether it has been John Chavis (2009-14) or Dave Aranda (2016-present) lining up the Tigers’ defense over the last decade, as the defense goes, so goes LSU. Last season was no different as the Tigers finished 25th in the nation at 339 yards per game allowed. Manning the unit was Butkus Award-winning and All-American linebacker Devin White. The defense also produced All-Americans in safety Grant Delpit (first team) and corner Greedy Williams (second).
The offense got a boost from Ohio State graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow proved to be an ideal fit as a game manager passing for nearly 2,900 yards with 16 touchdowns and he wound up third on the team in rushing. LSU didn't have an explosive game-changer in the backfield but got a 1,000-yard, 14-touchdown season out of Nick Brossette.
With three starters on offense and three on defense off to test the NFL waters, the Tigers still have a lot to be optimistic about in 2019. LSU turns to offseason practices to find the next All-SEC and All-American performers to fill the vacated spots culminating in the spring game on April 6.
1. Continuity on offense
Several forces were at play going against LSU's offense in 2018 but the squad still pulled together for a highly productive season. To start with, both offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow were new to their roles on the team and there was no experienced, go-to playmaker on the roster to lean entering the season. Then injuries made an impact on this side of the ball throughout the season. Eight different starting combinations were used along the offensive line alone. But there's a silver lining to this. Not only is the line expected to return four of five starters (Garrett Brumfield has graduated), but Ensminger and Burrow are both now in their second season, and there's plenty of talent at the skill positions to rely on. This unit could be a well-grizzled balanced attack capable of stuffing the ball down the opposition’s throat throughout the regular season.
2. Talented youth movement
Sophomore wide receiver Justin Jefferson had a breakout 2018, leading the team in receptions (54), receiving yards (875), and touchdowns (6). Be prepared for Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. to shed off the true freshman inexperience as they evolve into big-time playmakers to complement Jefferson in the aerial attack. Another receiver who could make a splash once he arrives on campus is incoming freshman Trey Palmer, a four-star prospect.
The backfield is getting a significant boost as well in the one-two punch of five-star John Emery Jr. and four-star Tyrion Davis. Emery (5-11, 206) is a hard-running speed burner who posted a blistering 4.42 at the Nike Opening Finals this past July. Davis (6-1, 235) is the big back who can keep drives alive and move the pile in short-yardage situations. The team also welcomes five-star cornerback Derek Stingley, an early enrollee, four-star defensive tackle Siaki Ika, also an early enrollee, and five-star outside linebacker Marcel Brooks. The depth along the offensive line will be bolstered by four-stars Kardell Thomas and Anthony Bradford. This team is reloading and adding depth on the two-deep.
While brutal, the schedule may still favor LSU to those who choose to view it with rose-colored glasses. The season starts off tough in Week 2 playing Texas in Austin (Sept. 7), followed by scrappy teams Vanderbilt (Sept. 21) and Utah State (Oct. 5) before welcoming Florida to Death Valley (Oct. 12). This could be the stretch that defines LSU's 2019 campaign. The home showdown with the Gators kicks off a grueling, four-game stretch that includes facing Mississippi State on the road (Oct. 19), at home vs. Auburn (Oct. 26), and then off to Tuscaloosa (Nov. 9) to face the defending SEC champions. The big “what if” every year is getting to the Alabama game undefeated. Playing what could be one of the toughest schedules in the nation, a one-loss LSU team at the end of November could be in the mix for a College Football Playoff berth. This seems highly possible barring significant injuries.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.