LSU’s 2019 team arguably produced the greatest college football season ever. A 15–0 record and a national championship. A record-shattering offense. And a Heisman Trophy for quarterback Joe Burrow.
But now that Burrow and a Mardi Gras float full of LSU stars have paraded off to the NFL, the question begs to be asked: What can the Tigers do for an encore?
For LSU coach Ed Orgeron, the first step is to step away from all the self-congratulations and get back to work.
“I do believe it would be a fault to keep talking about last year,” Orgeron says. “We’ve got to turn the page. This is a new team.
“The culture we’ve built is fantastic. But we’ve got to keep that standard up.”
Previewing LSU's Offense for 2020
Burrow threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns. Even if his successor at quarterback, fourth-year junior Myles Brennan, threw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, would it be enough for him not to be considered second-rate?
Complicating matters is the loss of passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who installed much of LSU’s scheme last year and is now offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers. NFL veteran Scott Linehan now takes the seat next to offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
All these changes have Orgeron unruffled and ultra-confident in Brennan (24-of-40 passing in 2019 for 353 yards). “I expect Myles to explode,” he says. “I expect him to do all the things that he needs to do to be a great quarterback.”
LSU will be looking for a running back to erupt like Clyde Edwards-Helaire did last season. Sophomore Chris Curry made himself a prime candidate after starting the Peach Bowl and rushing for 90 yards against Oklahoma. Sophomore Tyrion Davis-Price is the Tigers’ top-returning rusher, a bruising back who ran for 295 yards and six touchdowns on 64 carries.
Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (84 catches, 1,780 yards, 20 TDs) is back for his junior season, though one wonders how good he can be without Burrow. Junior Terrace Marshall Jr. (46 catches, 671 yards, 13 TDs in 12 games) is also back, though LSU must find a third starting receiver. Freshman Arik Gilbert, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, is a virtual lock at tight end.
LSU’s offensive hopes hinge on an offensive line that returns just one starter: senior right tackle Austin Deculus. Projected starting left tackle Dare Rosenthal left school in the spring for “personal reasons.” The Tigers will anxiously await his promised return this fall.
Previewing LSU's Defense for 2020
Like LSU’s offense last year, the Tigers’ defense is set for a major transition in 2020.
Former Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini, LSU’s defensive coordinator from 2005-07, is back, replacing Dave Aranda after the latter’s departure to become head coach at Baylor. Pelini is switching from Aranda’s multiple 3-4 back to a 4-3.
Fortunately for LSU, the Tigers possess a pair of solid cornerstones at tackle with former nose tackles Tyler Shelvin, a junior, and sophomore Siaki “Apu” Ika as projected starters and former starter Glen Logan, a senior, in support. Shelvin is one to watch as potentially a rising star in Pelini’s system, in the mold of a Glenn Dorsey or Kyle Williams. The ends are more unsettled, though Orgeron says to watch freshman BJ Ojulari, whom he calls “perfect” for the 4-3 scheme.
LSU was hit hard at linebacker as two of the Tigers’ top three tacklers, Jacob Phillips (113 stops) and Patrick Queen (85) left early for the NFL, along with pass-rush specialist K’Lavon Chaisson. But the arrival of graduate transfer Jabril Cox, an All-American outside linebacker for FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, could be a game changer. Junior Damone Clark was tabbed as a future star last season and now must be a productive starter, especially after Marcel Brooks decided to enter the transfer portal in late June.
Derek Stingley Jr. may be the best defensive back in America after picking off six passes, breaking up 15 more and recovering a fumble last season. With Kristian Fulton gone at the other corner, that position will go to sophomore Cordale Flott or five-star freshman Elias Ricks.
Jim Thorpe Award-winning safety Grant Delpit is in the NFL, but Orgeron did one of his best “recruiting” jobs in convincing safety JaCoby Stevens to return as a senior. Stevens is LSU’s top returning tackler with 92 stops.
Previewing LSU's Specialists for 2020
LSU returns kicker Cade York, who made 89-of-93 extra points and 21-of-27 field goals as a freshman. Also back is punter Zach Von Rosenberg (42.8 yards per punt), a former minor league baseball prospect who turns 30 on Sept. 24. The Tigers even bring back junior kickoff specialist Avery Atkins, who ranked third nationally in touchbacks in 2019. Stingley and Chase will return punts and kickoffs.
There is no way LSU can avoid a drop-off, but don’t expect a crash. There is still plenty of talent on hand. There are also big questions: Brennan, the offensive line and LSU’s defensive transition under Pelini. But if the Tigers can do a reasonably good job answering them, a 10-win season and New Year’s Six bowl are attainable goals.
National Ranking: 8
(Top photo by Gus Stark/LSU Athletics)