Is this the year Les Miles and the Tigers reign supreme in the SEC West?
LSU’s 2016 season could come down to just one regular season game, as has been the case over the past five seasons, the Tigers’ Nov. 5 home date against preseason No. 1 and defending national champion Alabama.
The Tigers have tripped and stumbled over their own two feet in recent years but nothing has set back the fan base, boosters, and alumni like five consecutive losses to the Crimson Tide. LSU head coach Les Miles has to both literally and figuratively see red every time Nick Saban and company come across his radar. If there ever was a year to break the losing streak to ‘Bama, 2016 is Miles’ season to shine.
The Tigers are already down a starter with the loss of defensive lineman Christian LaCouture but still have enough returning starting talent to defend Death Valley against all visitors this year. Miles now has 17 starters back highlighted by the best running back in the country, Leonard Fournette.
Fournette was cheated out of 2,000 rushing yards in 2015 after the season opener against McNeese State was cancelled due to inclement weather. Fournette and his 1,953 rushing yards along with 22 touchdowns on the ground return for another season against a down SEC West bracket. Expect similar if not better numbers from the preseason All-American.
The 2016 schedule is favorable for LSU. If preseason rankings count as a measuring stick for the upcoming games, LSU has three games against ranked teams; No. 1 Alabama, No. 10 Ole Miss and No. 21 Florida (Athlon Sports’ rankings). The Tigers get Alabama and Ole Miss at home in 2016.
So how will the 2016 season play out for LSU? Athlon Sports polled some writers and contributors to offer their projections on the Tigers’ win/loss breakdown this fall.
LSU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Ryan Wright (HogManInLA)
LSU has a run of what could be three very tough games in a row in November. Doubtful that the Tigers will overlook Ole Miss in what could be considered a trap game after losing to the Rebels 38-17 in Oxford a year ago. If Les Miles wants to stay in Baton Rouge as LSU’s head coach in 2017, the Tigers have to beat Alabama, even if it is only by a point and on a fluke play. The real trap game will be the third game on the docket during that stretch. Arkansas has beaten LSU in consecutive seasons and welcome what could be a fatigued Tigers team to Fayetteville on Nov. 12.
If junior quarterback Brandon Harris can be a game manager for LSU this year by finding his receivers at key points during tough SEC games early in the season, a load may be taken off Leonard Fournette’s plate keeping him fresh through November. Arkansas and Alabama are down in some key spots on offense and defense setting LSU up for a potential clean sweep through the first 12 games on the schedule. Arkansas and Alabama also have four tough games before facing LSU, making preseason predictions a coin-flip advantage.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
LSU ended the 2015 campaign in bizarre fashion. After a 7-0 start, the Tigers lost three in a row in November, placing head coach Les Miles’ tenure in jeopardy. However, Miles somehow survived and returns a team capable of winning the national title in 2016. The Tigers are one of the biggest wild card teams in the nation for the upcoming season and their success will hinge largely on the offense and the development of the passing game. Can quarterback Brandon Harris elevate his game to the next level? If he can, LSU’s offense will have some much-needed balance to pair with running back Leonard Fournette. Led by new coordinator Dave Aranda and 10 returning starters, the defense should be one of the best in the nation. With Ole Miss and Alabama visiting Baton Rouge, LSU has a good opportunity to put last year’s disappointment aside and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, I think the Tigers fall just short but finish 10-2 and earn a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
It's hard to call LSU anything but a bona fide national championship contender when you look at what the Tigers have coming back from last year. Heisman Trophy favorite Leonard Fournette will continue to be the focus of the other teams but there's enough talent in Baton Rouge that the offense will be more well-rounded than people expect. The defense is loaded but the addition of Dave Aranda as the new coordinator is a true game-changer and elevates LSU's outlook for 2016 by making them one of the favorites to make it to the College Football Playoff.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
After opening the seasons with a win in Lambeau Field, there is not much standing in the way of Leonard Fournette and the Tigers through the first half of their season. Between the power running game and defense, LSU should be lining up a solid-looking 7-0 start before the two biggest games. At that point, I think LSU stubs its toe against either Ole Miss or Alabama. I'll give the nod to Ole Miss in a tight one, because I think LSU and Fournette will use the bye week to prepare for the home date with Alabama with revenge in mind after the way the Crimson Tide the Tigers off course last season. That is a big redemption game for Fournette after losing his Heisman Trophy to Derrick Henry against ‘Bama a year ago. Get through Ole Miss and Alabama with no worse than a split, and LSU could be rolling to an SEC title and possible Playoff spot.
Cody McClure (CodyMcClureCFB)
Since 2011, LSU has underperformed on the national stage. But there are no more excuses for Les Miles and company. This year's Tigers are as deep and talented as any team Miles has had. They have the nation's best running back in Leonard Fournette and have key depth on the offensive and defensive lines, which is what wins games in the SEC. The questionable quarterback play at LSU is a tired narrative — Brandon Harris has plenty of potential and plenty of options at receiver. This team gets Alabama and Ole Miss at home but has to travel to Arkansas during a tough stretch late in the season. It will be difficult for the Tigers to get through that slate unbeaten, but they are the SEC's best team, at least on paper.