Pretenders or Contenders: LSU Among 4 Teams Hoping September Joys Don't End
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Every season, September brings a handful of surprise teams that start quickly only to fade in the October stretch.
Four teams are flying high right now threatening to disrupt the poll favorites. Can they sustain their momentum and bring chaos to the final BCS season?
LSU (4-0) is never far from the top, but expectations were slightly tempered this season due to the massive defensive losses to the NFL. With early victories over TCU and Auburn, the Tigers appear poised to compete for the SEC West title.
The primary reason for optimism down on the Bayou is based on the much improved play coming from quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Cam Cameron’s coaching is having a positive effect on Mettenberger. His accuracy is better and he has passed for 1,026 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception which is a relief to Tigers’ fans who suffered through his up and down junior season.
The competition stiffens moving forward, but he’ll jump into the mix for the Heisman Trophy if he can continue this pace.
As usual, head coach Les Miles has the power running game hitting on all cylinders. Jeremy Hill and Terrence Magee are reaping the benefit playing behind the Tigers’ big and athletic offensive line. They are dominating in the trenches.
Against Auburn, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Hill put on a clinic finishing with 184 yards and three touchdowns. He is showing why his reinstatement to the team in August will be vital to the offense’s success this year.
The primary area of concern is the defense. They have looked solid so far, but they have not faced any offensive juggernauts yet. To win in the SEC, LSU’s defense will need to hold strong to withstand the weekly grind.
The Tigers still have away games at No. 9 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama and home games against No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 20 Florida. At best, the Tigers lose one of these games. Realistically, they lose two or three. LSU is a pretender.
The No. 13 Bruins (4-0) showed some mettle two weeks ago when they stormed back from an 18-point deficit to thump Nebraska 41-21 in Lincoln. This was a significant win for UCLA because it confirmed that the team can overcome adversity on the road and slow down a high powered offense. These are two ingredients that will be needed in Pac-12 play.
Quarterback Brett Hundley is showing no signs of a sophomore slump. He already has 848 yards passing with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
The loss of Johnathan Franklin to the NFL was supposed to hurt the Bruins rushing attack, but junior Jordon James is showing that he is more than capable of handling the load. He has rushed for 424 yards and has four touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, the unquestioned leader is Anthony Barr. With 18 tackles, one sack and three forced fumbles so far, the senior linebacker is well on his way to becoming the best defensive player in the Pac-12. He is a beast.
The huge unknown right now is the whether or not the secondary can hold up against the prolific Pac-12 offenses. With four new starters, they will get tested weekly against some of the best in the country. The Bruins’ need this unit to over-perform to have any success this season.
The Bruins are a good team, but the Pac-12 is too deep for them to make a serious title run. With back to back games at No. 5 Stanford and No. 2 Oregon in late October, UCLA will fall out of contention. They are pretenders.
Move over Oregon because you have company for the most explosive offense in the country. No. 19 Baylor (3-0) has come out of the gates on a rampage averaging 70 points and 750 yards per game. Granted, the Bears’ opponents have been woefully weak, but that type of production per game is impressive despite the schedule.
Oddly enough, most expected head coach Art Briles to lean on lightning-quick running back Lache Seastrunk while quarterback Bryce Petty got comfortable in the system. While Seastrunk has been fantastic, rushing for 417 yards with six touchdowns, it is Petty that has proven to be the most valuable player. He has thrown for 1,001 yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. It has been plug and play for Art Briles’ system once again.
Questions still loom about the defense, but it should not matter considering the Bears next four opponents are West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas who are all inept offensively.
Baylor will be 7-0 and easily ranked in the Top 12 heading into its November 7 showdown against No. 14 Oklahoma. If they win, the only legitimate test standing between them and an undefeated regular season is the game at Oklahoma State on November 23.
The Big 12 is down this year, and the Bears have enough firepower to make the run through the conference. Baylor is a contender.
The Seminoles (3-0) have been slowly inching back into the national limelight over the last few years. Hard to believe that last year’s 12 wins were the most for Florida State since the 2000 season and it was only the fourth time since their 1999 BCS Championship that the program has won 10 or more games.
Credit head coach Jimbo Fisher for getting the recruiting back up to the level needed to be among the elite teams.
One of the concerns heading into the season was replacing E.J. Manuel. Jameis Winston won the job, and is playing like a four-year starter instead of a rookie redshirt freshman. He’s completing 78 percent of his passes, has 718 yards passing with eight touchdowns and one interception.
Winston’s progression is being aided by an exceptional group of running backs. Devonta Freeman is leading the way with 273 yards and three touchdowns. Backing him up are James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams who have added 352 yards and five touchdowns. Fisher has the luxury of knowing that if any of them go down, the rest can carry the load.
Like LSU, the defections to the NFL on the defensive side of the ball were substantial. Despite the inexperience, the defense has held up well to this point yielding just 8.7 points per game. The heart is definitely the secondary led by seniors Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks who are both explosive playmakers. Their leadership will be needed as conference play heats up.
Unlike previous years, the ACC is deeper and will provide a lot of challenges. The game at No. 3 Clemson on October 19 and at home against No. 15 Miami on November 2 will provide the toughest tests, but don’t be shocked if Maryland or N.C. State gives them a scare. FSU is a legitimate Top 10 team this year, but they won’t go through the year unscathed. They are pretenders.
LSU, UCLA and Florida State will win a lot of games this year, but Baylor is the only team with realistic shot of staying undefeated and making some noise in the BCS rankings.
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