It took LSU head coach Ed Orgeron one full season of tinkering and one season of install to align the Tigers the way he wanted with results that speak for themselves. After a solid 9-4 season in 2017 running an offense Orgeron realized he was uncomfortable with, the reins were turned over to coordinator Steve Ensminger.
That change helped fuel a 10-3 (5-3 SEC) showing last season that included a Fiesta Bowl victory over previously undefeated UCF and an end-of-season No. 6 ranking in the AP poll. The scoring offense improved from 76th nationally to 38th, as the Tigers put 32 points per game. With a defense that is always nasty under coordinator Dave Aranda, can LSU get back to familiar territory in 2019, which means challenging Alabama for an SEC West title?
As talented as LSU was in 2018, this year's squad promises to be more talented across the board. The Tigers have seven back on offense including second-year starting quarterback Joe Burrow. The offensive line is seasoned and deep, which should help a stable of talented backs led by Clyde Edwards-Helaire and incoming five-star true freshman John Emery Jr. return to an "LSU" style rushing attack. On defense, there's talent in the trenches and a ball-hawking secondary that is led by All-America candidate Grant Delpit at safety.
The schedule for LSU is tough, but manageable. Road games against Texas and Alabama will capture national attention and prove to be the measuring stick for this year's team. Home games against Florida, Auburn, and Texas A&M will be the difference in a great vs. average season. One could argue there is only one challenging two-game run facing LSU, home vs. Auburn and on the road against Alabama. As difficult as that may be, LSU has a bye before facing the Crimson Tide lessening the full-force impact.
So can LSU make a run to the SEC Championship Game with hopes of earning a College Football Playoff berth? Athlon asked a few editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for the Tigers in 2019.
LSU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
LSU has the talent and schedule to push for an 11-1 record. However, the guess here is this team slips once and finishes 10-2. The Tigers are once again loaded with defensive talent and should rank among the best in college football on this side of the ball. In order for coach Ed Orgeron's team to push Alabama for the SEC West or a playoff spot at 11-1, the offense has to (finally) take a step forward. There's reason for optimism on this side of the ball, especially as new assistant Joe Brady has been instrumental in bringing more tempo/spread looks to Baton Rouge. Senior quarterback Joe Burrow is poised for a standout year, and there's no shortage of talent at the skill positions. If the line stabilizes and LSU's offense improves overall, 11 wins and a top-five finish are within reach.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
LSU's Week 2 trip to Austin, Texas, is arguably the biggest non-conference game in college football in 2019. The fan base of the winner will start talking about the College Football Playoff. The fans of the losing team? Well, it's safe to say they won't handle it well. LSU's first big SEC game will come in mid-October when Florida visits Baton Rouge. I'm projecting a rare home loss for the Tigers in this one. After that, I believe they will take care of business against Mississippi State and Auburn before the epic clash in Tuscaloosa. Is this the year LSU breaks through and knocks of the Tide? Nope. But there's nothing wrong with a 10–2 regular season.
Ryan Wright (@RyanWrightRNG)
There is a challenge associated with LSU's schedule beyond facing Texas and Alabama on the road. And that's losing focus. The Tigers typically lose one game each year they should not; in 2018 it was to then-No. 22 Florida (27-19) only to beat No. 2 Georgia (36-16) the following week. Florida, Auburn, and Texas A&M could play spoiler to Ed Orgeron's plans in 2019 if focus is lost along the way. Of the two marquee games that will pull college football fans in on a national scale, if the Longhorns had not beaten an uninspired Georgia Bulldogs team 28-21 in the Sugar Bowl, it's doubtful they would be a top-20 team to start the season with only five starters back on offense and just two on defense. We all know Alabama reloads each season, but the Crimson Tide are very inexperienced in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Can LSU take advantage of this long-awaited opportunity?