Can Derrius Guice and the Tigers contend for an SEC West title in Ed Orgeron's first full season as head coach?
Miracles are not expected by the LSU faithful in Ed Orgeron’s first full season on the sidelines but a record better than last year’s 8-4 finish is a must, and widely expected to be accomplished. A marque non-conference, season-opening, neutral-site game against BYU could set the tone for Orgeron’s tenure in Baton Rouge while giving a solid outlook for the 2017 campaign. A miscue in Houston against the Cougars could force a repeat of last season’s fallen hope when the Tigers opened things with a 16-14 loss to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field.
If heavy preseason pressure is felt on the Tigers’ practice field during fall camp, it is coming from new offensive coordinator Matt Canada and returning senior starting quarterback Danny Etling. Etling has been serviceable in the pocket for LSU since transferring from Purdue, but Canada was the big offseason change made by Orgeron. Canada must show marked improvement in LSU’s passing attack while navigating a very tough SEC schedule for the first time. Worth noting, Etling is coming off of back surgery and has two true freshmen behind him – Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse.
The Tigers were one of the top defensive teams in the nation under coordinator Dave Aranda last year and have the talent to remain among the elite. LSU returns five starters, including 2015 defensive line standout Christian LaCouture. He, outside linebacker Arden Key, corner Donte Jackson and fellow end Rashard Lawrence are expected to be the anchors on defense. The biggest question marks for this side of the ball entering the season are overall depth and the inside linebacker position.
So how does LSU stack up against Alabama, Auburn and the rest of the SEC West? Athlon Sports polled a few writers for their take on the Tigers’ realistic win/loss projection for 2017.
LSU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Ryan Wright (@RyanWrightRNG)
The 2017 schedule gets serious during the first week of October with a trip to The Swamp to take on Florida. A visit to Oxford could be a trap game for LSU with Alabama looming following a bye. The final four games of the season offer no gimmes with Bama, home for Arkansas, at Tennessee, and back to Death Valley to face Texas A&M. The Razorbacks could be another stumbling block for the Tigers if there is a letdown after the Crimson Tide showdown. Auburn could play spoiler in the SEC West in 2017.
Much of LSU’s 2017 season, to no surprise, will rely on the run game. Junior running back Derrius Guice has All-American potential capable of carrying the team in tough games. Left tackle K.J. Malone, center Will Clapp, and right guard Maea Teuhema are the driving forces to LSU’s potential.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Tigers are a few paces behind Alabama in the SEC West, but coach Ed Orgeron’s team has a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl and double-digit win season. However, in order to contend for a College Football Playoff spot or a finish among the top five in 2017, Orgeron needs more out of his offense. New coordinator Matt Canada should help this unit take a step forward, but question marks surround a passing game that lacks proven receivers and consistency from quarterback Danny Etling. Even if the passing game doesn’t take a step forward, look for a big season from running back Derrius Guice. Even though each level of the defense suffered some personnel losses, coordinator Dave Aranda will keep this unit among the best in the nation. The schedule does feature its share of challenges on the road. LSU plays only three home games in league play and takes on Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee away from Baton Rouge. With the question marks about the offense and the tough schedule, I think LSU finishes just shy of the 10-win mark in the regular season.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Say what you want about Ed Orgeron taking over full-time at LSU but it’s hard to find a team with a better one-two coordinator punch than what the Tigers have in OC Matt Canada and DC Dave Aranda. LSU always has one of the more talented teams in the SEC and now the Tigers may finally have the staff to get the most out it (especially on offense). Derrius Guice will be in the running for the Heisman if all goes well and issues on the offensive line can get ironed outl while the defense should once again be able to reload in the front seven. Not sure if one can trust them to be quite as good as either of the Alabama teams but LSU should still be firmly in the mix in SEC West until late in the season.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
Ed Orgeron begins his first full season as LSU’s head coach and the schedule is tough but manageable. The Tigers open their season against BYU in a neutral-site game at NRG Stadium in Houston. SEC road games have LSU playing at Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Alabama. Running back Derrius Guice will be tasked with carrying the Tigers’ offense. Defensively, the Tigers bring back enough talent to keep them among the best units in the SEC. LSU could win as many as 11 games in the regular season, but I have the Tigers going 10-2.
Rob McVey (@Rob_UTVOLS)
Aside from a difficult schedule that features just three SEC home games, the biggest obstacle facing LSU in 2017 will be the implementation of a brand-new offense. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada brings a stellar track record with him to Baton Rouge, but Canada’s schemes can be rather complex, particularly in comparison to the traditional Power-I under Les Miles. This could create some early-season issues as the new-look offense struggles to come together.
The good news is that the Tigers can lean heavily on elite running back Derrius Guice. And while Danny Etling may not be the most polished of quarterbacks, his experience should be an asset in directing the new scheme. LSU also will be challenged to fill some pretty big shoes on defense. Fortunately, the roster is once again loaded with promising talent to help fill those voids. Proven playmakers Arden Key and Donte Jackson will lead the way for what should be another solid group under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Despite some potential stumbling blocks in place that could keep the Tigers from reaching their full potential in 2017, LSU should take a small step forward in Ed Orgeron’s first full season as head coach.