The hard part for LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is over, and that is winning over the fan base in Baton Rouge. Orgeron racked up key regular-season wins over ranked teams in Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, and closed out the 10-3 (5-3 SEC) campaign with a 40-32 Fiesta Bowl win over UCF, ingratiating himself with the fans and boosters.
Even though big wins were had, so were some big losses to Florida (27-19) and eventual national championship runner-up Alabama (29-0). The big question for LSU going into the 2019 season, can the squad make the turn to a championship-level team bringing home their first SEC title since the 2011 season while making their first College Football Playoff appearance along the way?
Three Reasons Why LSU Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Joe Burrow — quarterback
While Burrow may not be the flashiest quarterback in the SEC, he has grit and moxie. His leadership showed in the regular season-ending 74-71, seven overtime thriller against Texas A&M. The Tigers took the loss, but the momentum Burrow and the offense gained against the Aggies should translate to wins in tight games this season.
While Burrow looked the part during his junior season, fans must remember that was his first as a collegiate starting quarterback, first season with LSU, and the first time the entire unit was running coordinator Steve Ensminger's offense. The Ohio State transfer completed 58 percent of his passes on the way to a 2,894-yard campaign with 16 TD passes. With the thought of a growing comfort level between coordinator and quarterback and with four starters returning along the offensive line, this unit should be salty.
The Tigers' defense was good in 2018, but still statistically performed below typical coordinator Dave Aranda standards, albeit still good enough to finish in the top 25 nationally (339 ypg). One thing working against LSU in 2018 was that the defense only had five starters returning. That number has increased to eight for this season, increasing expectations for this unit despite the losses of a pair of All-Americans in linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams.
The secondary will be one of the best in the nation led by All-American candidate Grant Delpit at safety. Linebacker Jacob Phillips was tough against the run last season and Patrick Queen is in line to fill White's big shoes. The Tigers have three standouts at defensive end in Glen Logan, Breiden Fehoko, and Rashard Lawrence. If LSU can avoid the injury bug that plagued this unit, the Tigers could have a top-10 defense running around the field.
As college football schedules go, LSU's is laid out for success in 2019. There are hard games on the road to Texas and Alabama, and at home against Florida and Texas A&M, but everything is spread out nicely. One could argue that the only tough two-game stretch is a home game against Auburn followed by bitter rival Alabama. But the Tigers do get a bye week in between.
One of the knocks against LSU over the last decade or so has been the team's tendency to lose a game the Tigers should not lose. In 2018 it was falling 27-19 on the road to then-No. 22 Florida only to rally the following week beating No. 2 Georgia 36-16. Can the Bayou Bengals avoid a head-scratching loss that keeps them out of the SEC Championship Game and a possible playoff berth?
Three Reasons Why LSU Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
A series that was once owned by LSU in the early 2000s has taken a turn for the worse with rival Alabama winning eight straight meetings. In 2018, Alabama had their way with LSU rolling up 576 yards of total offense to the Tigers' 196, including a paltry 12 yards on the ground.
The good news, Alabama may not be as loaded with top experienced players as seen in recent years. The Crimson Tide return six starters on offense, but the vast majority are skill position players. The defensive front will be green as well. As is the case with every team going up against Alabama in the Nick Saban era, can the opposition take advantage of those weaknesses?
2. Loss of Devin White
LSU played fantastic defense before White joined the team, but losing an All-American at inside linebacker is tough for any team to overcome. Patrick Queen played in all 13 games a year ago, starting four. He was effective with his time getting 40 stops and registering 4.5 tackles for a loss. The hand wringing in the middle of the defense is replacing White's 123 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, and three sacks.
The hope is the defensive front will be improved enough to keep blocks off the linebackers so the unit can eliminate anything that may pass the line of scrimmage. Can Queen make enough of an impact on the field to help offset White's absence?
3. LSU's rushing attack
The Tigers' production on the ground fell way off last season, going from 208 rushing yards per game to 174. Many can point to the loss of Derrius Guice without another dynamic running back waiting in the wings, but more was at play than just the talent of Nick Brossette. The offensive line suffered through various injuries with only center Lloyd Cushenberry and right guard Damien Lewis starting all 13 games. Through the struggles of piecing it together up front in 2018, can this group find their footing and morph into the powerhouse that controls the game in the trenches?
Brossette used up the last of his eligibility leaving Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the top returning back. A lot of hope is placed upon two incoming true freshmen to be the difference-makers out of the backfield this season in five-star recruit John Emery Jr. and four-star back Tyrion Davis. Despite their recruiting rankings, is it too much to ask of true freshman to be the dynamic playmakers needed on offense that will help carry this team to a College Football Playoff berth?
After waiting for another run to a national title since the amazing 2011 campaign that finished with a 13-1 record and an appearance in the BCS Championship Game, LSU will make a run to the College Football Playoff in 2019. This squad is mixed with young and veteran talent and the schedule lines up for some potential top-10 victories to impress the selection committee.
The regular season has potential pitfalls with a road game to Texas, home games against Florida and Auburn, and the Nov. 9 visit to Tuscaloosa, but if the Tigers can clear the mental hurdle that has been Alabama, there is no stopping this team. The SEC Championship Game will not be a cakewalk, especially if it means having to face Florida again or getting a rematch against the Georgia Bulldogs from last season. The only thing that can stop LSU in 2019 is LSU.
Athlon's Projected Final Ranking: 7
Athlon's Projected Final Record: 10-2 (6-2 SEC)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9
5Dimes projected Over/Under Odds: 9
— 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.