Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 7 LSU.
LSU has everything you could want in a football team: An imposing offensive line, a deep receiving corps, a Heisman-hopeful at running back, and a defense that returns six starters from a unit that ranked fifth in points allowed per game and 18th in defensive FEI a year ago. The only thing missing is a quarterback, and that’s the rub.
The quarterback situation in Baton Rouge is bleak, at best. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris have both been slammed over the past year for being subpar quarterbacks, and it doesn’t take hours and hours of film study to figure out that neither of them are very good.
Jennings was the starting quarterback for the Tigers last season, and managed to throw up these dreadful stats: 48.9 completion percentage, 1,611 yards, 11 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. That makes me weep. What’s even sadder is that Harris couldn’t do enough to slide in and definitively claim the starting gig, even when Jennings was suspended after being arrested for burglary. I mean, hear it from Les Miles yourself:
“I think he (Harris) got more reps by far. I’m not certain how much ground he made up. It will be something we look at when we get him in camp, something we’ll evaluate early and late.”
That’s a sad-face emoji re-imagined as a press conference soundbite. Unless Harris or Jennings suddenly get their act together, the Tigers’ hopes at winning the West are slim. And that really is a shame, because the rest of the Tiger offense is very, very good.
LSU returns its top four receivers from a year ago, with Travin Dural being the ringleader after hauling in 37 catches for 758 yards and seven scores in 2014. Malachi Dupre is another wideout to keep an eye on, as he snagged five scores and compiled 318 yards in 2014 as a freshman.
The Tigers will trot out one of the better starting offensive lines in college football, led by returning starters Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins, and Ethan Pocic. La’el Collins going to the NFL leaves a hole at left tackle, but Hawkins will slide over and should be able to fill in just fine. With this many talented, seasoned players blocking for star running back Leonard Fournette, the Tigers should have a monster running attack.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers will face a bit of uncertainty for the first time in recent memory. Defensive coordinator John Chavis, who cranked out some of the best defenses the program’s had, bolted for all the money Texas A&M could throw at him, leaving LSU down five starters and a coordinator, and feeling a little uneasy.
Up front, the Tigers will have two new defensive ends in Tashawn Bower and Sione Teuhema. Defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture are back after combining for 52 tackles and 5.5 for loss last season. At linebacker, LSU will miss departed Kwon Alexander and D.J. Welter, but return Kendall Beckwith, who came off the bench last year and showed out when he was eventually made a starter.
The defensive backfield is easily the strongest group on defense, and though safety Jalen Mills will miss some time in the early going with injury, corner Tre’Davious White is back and fully healthy. White will lead a squad that boasts five upperclassmen in its top six, with starting sophomore safety Jamal Adams being the sole young’n.
Leonard Fournette is a man’s man, man.
Standing 6-foot-1, 230 pounds with a sub 4.5 40-yard dash and excellent downfield vision, Fournette is something out of an offensive coordinator’s wet dream. He came into college being hailed as the next Adrian Peterson, and his highlight reels quickly became some of the best things on the internet. And now, after a year of seeing what he can do, it’s safe to say he damn well may be the next AD.
Last year, Fournette racked up 1,034 yards and 1o touchdowns despite taking just 30 percent the Tigers’ rushing attempts. After proving that he can indeed live up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of high school, expect LSU to move away from the running-back-by-committee approach and lean on its proven star in 2015. If the Tigers just let Fournette loose behind their imposing line for an entire season, I doubt that anyone besides Nick Chubb or Ezekial Elliot will come close to matching his numbers. The dude is a beast, and this is the season in which the whole world will realize it.
I really want to say yes. I have my doubts regarding the defense—can they continue to hum under Kevin Steele and with a depleted front seven while trying to install a 3-4 package?—but that’s not even the biggest problem.
If LSU had anything close to a competent quarterback taking snaps, then yes, this team would absolutely have a shot at winning the SEC and claiming a playoff spot. Those quarterbacks are really bad, though, so the answer is no, they cannot make the playoff. And that’s sad, because they have everything else they need, but even a great running back like Fournette needs the passing game to relieve some pressure here and there. As of now, the Tigers can’t do that.
Les Miles is a very eccentric coach; he claps like a maniac, is boys with Snoop, possibly hooked some of his Oklahoma State players with sex, and has a weird thing about holidays. But when compared to the rest of the SEC coaches, I’ve got to say, Miles really just seems more crazy than dickish.
Barring Jennings or Harris having some sort of awakening and figuring out how to be somewhat efficient under center, the Tigers will not do it. But they have Fournette and an amazing offensive line, so they’ll be fun to watch at the very least. Just have a backup channel to flip to on passing downs.
Sept. 5: McNeese State
Sept. 12: @ Mississippi State
Sept. 19: Auburn
Sept. 26: @ Syracuse
Oct. 3: Eastern Michigan
Oct. 10: @ South Carolina
Oct. 17: Florida
Oct. 24: Western Kentucky
Nov. 7: @ Alabama
Nov. 14: Arkansas
Nov. 21: @ Ole Miss
Nov. 28: Texas A&M