LSU’s win total in SEC play has declined for three straight seasons, and the Tigers are coming off an 8-5 campaign, which was the lowest overall victory total for the program since 2008. However, there’s no shortage of optimism for coach Les Miles’ team.
The Tigers are loaded with promising young talent, starting on offense with running back Leonard Fournette and receivers Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre. On defense, LSU is anchored by sophomore tackle Davon Godchaux, junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith and defensive backs Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams.
While the talent is there, LSU must adapt to a new defensive coordinator and generate more production from the passing attack.
The first season of the college football playoff was a huge success. With less than 50 days until kickoff, it’s time to evaluate some of the top contenders for the 2015 playoffs.
Here’s a look at three reasons why LSU will make the playoff, followed by its schedule and three reasons the Tigers won’t finish in the top four.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2015
Three Reasons Why LSU Will Make the CFB Playoff in 2015
1. Roster Talent
Recruiting rankings aren’t 100 percent accurate or the most effective way to evaluate a college football team. However, according to the final class rankings from the last five years, LSU ranks No. 4 in the nation in overall talent. The only teams ahead of the Tigers? Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State – the last three national champions. Assembling elite talent is only half of the battle for college coaches, as development and building successful schemes also come into play. LSU has the necessary talent in place to win a national title. Can the coaching staff squeeze big contributions out of the young players on this roster?
2. Best Secondary in College Football?
It’s a close call between Florida and LSU for the No. 1 spot as the best defensive backfield in college football in 2015. Even if the Gators edge the Tigers in most preseason ranks for best secondary, new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has an elite group. Two starters – cornerback Tre’Davious White and safety Jalen Mills – return from a unit that held opposing quarterbacks to just 10 touchdown passes last year. The two open spots in the secondary could go to elite recruits (safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Kevin Toliver II). And there’s no shortage of depth with Ed Paris, Donte Jackson, Rickey Jefferson and Dwayne Thomas competing for snaps.
3. Leonard Fournette
Fournette showed why he was arguably the best recruit in the 2014 signing class last season, rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 scores in 13 games. However, 187 carries simply isn’t enough work for the sophomore. Expect coordinator Cam Cameron to have Fournette more involved this year, and the New Orleans native will be running behind a line that returns three starters and should be among the best in the SEC. There’s no doubt Fournette has elite talent and will challenge for the Heisman if he has enough opportunities. Even with the question marks at quarterback, Fournette can carry LSU’s offense into SEC West title contention.
LSU's 2015 Schedule
Athlon Projected Rank
at Ole Miss
Three Reasons Why LSU Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. Quarterback Play
LSU’s quarterback position might be the biggest wild card in the SEC. In conference-only matchups last season, the Tigers averaged only 19.1 points per game. The passing attack ranked 13th in the SEC by averaging a paltry 140.6 yards a game in conference action. Additionally, LSU quarterbacks tossed only seven touchdowns in SEC games. While the Tigers don’t have to pass for 300 yards each week, improvement is a must here. Anthony Jennings had an off-field incident in the summer but is expected to be available for the opener. However, Jennings will be pushed by talented sophomore Brandon Harris. With a strong rushing attack and solid defense in place, the passing attack is the missing piece on a LSU roster built with enough talent to challenge for the SEC West title.
2. Discovering a Pass Rush
Athletic edge rushers with the ability to get to the quarterback seemed to be in abundance in Baton Rouge just a few years ago. The Tigers led the SEC with 38 sacks in 2011, but that number has declined significantly over the last few seasons. LSU recorded only 27 in 2013 and then dropped to 13th in the SEC by generating just 19 sacks in 2014. New coordinator Kevin Steele plans on utilizing more 3-4 looks this season, and this unit will be a work in progress with players adjusting to new positions and schemes. Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal are considered the favorites to start at end but combined for zero sacks in 2014. Could true freshman Arden Key push for snaps in the fall?
3. The November Schedule
Every schedule in the SEC is difficult. However, LSU’s slate in September and October is relatively manageable. Catching Mississippi State in Week 2 is ideal with the Bulldogs’ personnel losses, and Auburn has to visit Death Valley the following Saturday. However, take a look at the November stretch. LSU has to play at Alabama, followed by a physical affair against Arkansas the next Saturday, a road trip to Ole Miss on Nov. 21 and the regular season finale against Texas A&M (and former defensive coordinator John Chavis). That’s a tough four-game stretch for any team, especially without a bye week after physical affairs against Alabama and Arkansas.
On paper, it seems LSU has too much talent to finish 8-5 once again. However, it’s also fair to consider this team the biggest wild card in the SEC. The Tigers have the talent to win the SEC and earn a playoff spot. But there’s also enough question marks to finish 8-5. How high LSU climbs in the SEC West will depend on two factors: Quarterback play and the defensive line. In a brutal division, there’s little margin for error. Will those two areas emerge as a strength for Les Miles? Or will quarterback concerns hinder this offense once again?
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 15
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 8-4 (4-4 SEC)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 8.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 8