When we last left LSU at the end of the 2017 season, the Tigers had perplexed college football with a 9-4 (6-2 in the SEC) record that included head scratching losses to Troy and Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl.
As the dawn of the 2018 season approaches, the Bayou Bengal faithful are pushing for a double-digit win season that includes a SEC West title, a run to the College Football Playoff, and a win over bitter rival Alabama. But, do the Tigers have the players and enough experience to make a run through a challenging regular-season schedule?
The quagmire that has been LSU’s situation in the pocket for a decade appears to be falling into head coach Ed Orgeron’s lap in 2018. With two-year starter Danny Etling graduated, the Tigers will have a new quarterback and while they don't lack for options with Joe Burrow, Justin McMillan, Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse battling for the job, all of the candidates have one thing in common -- little to no collegiate experience.
To make matters more complicated, LSU does not have a proven All-SEC-caliber tailback with the early departure of Derrius Guice to the NFL. What the Tigers do have is an offensive line that can control games and a wealth of talent at receiver that can win games if the other two unknowns can be mitigated.
LSU's defense was about as good as it gets in 2017, finishing 12th in the nation at 316 yards allowed per game. Stud middle linebacker Devin White (above, right) is back after racking up a team-high 133 stops during his sophomore campaign. The secondary should be strong again led by corner Greedy Williams and returning starting safeties John Battle and Grant Delpit. Up front, the Tigers will surprise the SEC with new faces in transfers Tyler Shelvin and Breiden Fehoko.
LSU's schedule is as difficult as any other in the nation, as is life in the rugged SEC West. But besides facing the likes of Auburn, Florida and Arkansas on the road, the Tigers also open their season against Miami in Arlington, Texas. And as tough a home environment Tiger Stadium is, LSU better be clicking on all cylinders by mid-October when Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama come to Baton Rouge in consecutive fashion (with a bye in between the last two).
Expectations are always high when it comes to LSU but what does this season hold for the Bayou Bengals? Athlon asked a few editors and college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for LSU in 2018.
LSU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I went back and forth between 7-5 and 6-6 for LSU. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers lose to Mississippi State and beat Miami in the opener or drop both contests. Regardless, this LSU team enters 2018 in a unique spot. The Tigers aren’t projected to be a top 25 team by Athlon and most over/under totals hover around seven. As usual, LSU isn’t hurting for talent and should rank among the SEC’s best on defense. However, once again, major question marks remain on offense. New coordinator Steve Ensminger is tasked with improving the passing game, but uncertainty remains at quarterback and at receiver. Can the Tigers find more weapons on the outside other than Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles? Will Ohio State graduate transfer Joe Burrow emerge as the clear No. 1 quarterback? Also, there’s no established go-to running back with Derrius Guice off to the NFL. LSU enters 2018 flying under the radar. The talent is there to exceed expectations, but the offense is filled with question marks. This season is likely to be a transition campaign for coach Ed Orgeron.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
It's crazy to think that a 7-5 projection is optimistic for LSU, but it's possible that this team struggles to reach bowl eligibility. The three non-conference home games are gimmes (though Louisiana Tech could make the Tigers sweat). I'll give LSU two more sure wins: Ole Miss at home and at Arkansas. After that, this team will have to play really well to beat any of the other opponents on the schedule. Interesting times in Baton Rouge.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
The Tigers should sport one of the better defenses in the SEC thanks to guys like Greedy Williams and John Battle in the secondary and a pretty stout front seven with Devin White and company. But, as we've come to see the past few years, the amount of success LSU has will come down to the offense producing big plays. No matter who takes over at quarterback, I'm not convinced that these Tigers can be all that consistent in the passing game to produce a big jump. The nature of this team says they will play a bunch of close games but don't count on them winning the bulk of those coin flips.
Ryan Wright (@RyanWrightRNG)
If LSU wins nine games or better again in 2018, Orgeron deserves Coach of the Year considerations. If LSU fans stay supportive and new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger can lay down the foundation of his offense, this season should be the building block for title aspirations in 2019.