Through the trials and tribulations of a very rocky 2020 season, the LSU Tigers have the opportunity to return to the top of the college football ranks in 2021. After a season-long poor performance on defense and up-and-down offensive outings, there has been a reshuffling of coaches on the LSU sidelines. A fresh approach across the board and a roster loaded with returning talent bring promise for a contending season in Baton Rouge.
Fan expectations were high and the talking heads were ready to pounce after LSU destroyed the competition during the 2019 campaign, claiming a national championship. A 5-5 effort in 2020 tells of the uneven effort but does not shed light on the mass exodus of talent on the roster going into last season, the changes in the coaching staff, or the in-season roster changes suffered due to injuries and opt-outs. A very green roster took lumps early, made do without starting quarterback Myles Brennan just three games into the schedule rebounding, and went 3-2 to end the year, which included games against No. 5 Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama.
With a fresh perspective and returning talent across the board on both sides of the ball, LSU stands to be one of the SEC's best if some unknowns in the coaching staff fits pan out.
1. Returning starters
SEC teams will not be happy knowing LSU is planning on returning 20 of 22 starters. Of all the spots to highlight where this means something significant is along the offensive line. Football games are won in the trenches, and LSU will be deadly. Both tackles Dare Rosenthal and Austin Deculus reclaim their jersey numbers along with guards Chasen Hines and Ed Ingram, with Liam Shanahan at center.
Adding to the strength in the trenches, all four LSU starting defensive linemen are back: tackles Neil Farrell Jr. and Glen Logan along with ends Ali Gaye and Andre Anthony. There is depth behind the starters in Jaquelin Roy and BJ Ojulari, with fans anxiously waiting to see 5-star defensive tackle Maason Smith taking the field.
2. Myles Brennan
Although one can point out that Brennan was 1-2 as a starter before suffering a season-ending abdominal injury, the win-loss record falls on the defense. Brennan's attack averaged 38.6 points over his three outings, covering 1,112 yards with 11 touchdowns while the defense allowed 44.5 on average in the two defeats.
Picking up for Joe Burrow, Brennan was finding his groove in his first season as a starter. The return of leading receiver Kayshon Boutte along with rising talents in Jaray Jenkins, Jontre Kirklin, and Koy Moore gives Brennan plenty of options on passing downs. Plus, this backfield is deep taking pressure off the aerial attack.
3. The schedule
An LSU optimist may quickly count six wins to start the season before the schedule gets dicey. The Tigers should have opening wins in the Rose Bowl against UCLA, at home against McNeese State and Central Michigan, on the road against Mississippi State and Kentucky, and at home against Auburn. The seventh win could come in Tiger Stadium against Florida, but that rivalry game is always crazy, and a potentially ranked Ole Miss team is waiting in Oxford.
After a bye coming out of Mississippi, LSU must travel to Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide's defense will be nasty in 2021, but question marks surround the offense. The final three are a homestand against Arkansas, ULM from the Sun Belt, and Texas A&M; chalk up three more wins.
— 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.
(Top photo by Chris Parent/LSU Athletics, courtesy of lsusports.net)