The LSU Tigers have too much talent to be 7-3.
Defensive woes aside—surrendering 23.5 points per game is the most points the Tigers have given up since 2008—LSU has looked like a national title contender at various moments of the season.
Credit LSU's offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, whose offensive ingenuity resulted in this offense averaging 460 yards per game. That's 86 more yards per game than the 2012 team boasted. Makes sense that an NFL offensive coordinator would do a better job of calling plays than an offensive line coach. I'm not just talking about Greg Studrawa either (looking at you Les Miles).
Pat the players on the back, though, because Cameron has had plenty of tools to use.
Indeed, the Tigers may hand Johnny Manziel the Heisman next weekend with their poor defensive play, but they are good enough offensively to match pace with the AP Top 25 poll's No. 9 team, Texas A&M.
That same poll has the Tigers ranked No. 18. So I guess I'll go ahead and say it—the Tigers are better than their ranking.
"Tell me something every fanbase hasn't said," unapologetic SEC fans will utter.
Yeah, yeah, talk is cheap, so let's back this statement up with some facts, shall we?
Rather than examining a blowout win over Mississippi State, a dominant yet slightly sloppy outing against No. 6 Auburn, and offensive explosions against UAB and Kent State, let's study the Tigers' losses.
First things first—the Alabama loss was a result of the Crimson Tide being one of the greatest dynasties in college football. Alabama is the best, and the Tide proved it in the second half by pulling away, defeating the Tigers 38-17.
LSU has to regroup and wait until next season to challenge for the SEC West title. Deal with it.
However, the Tigers' first two losses came within the last few minutes of the game to Georgia and Ole Miss. The Georgia loss occurred back when the Bulldogs still had their first string available, while Ole Miss beat a sleepwalking LSU team that could not overcome Zach Mettenberger's three first-half interceptions.
"Don't forget to mention that was to a second-string Ole Miss defense," an Ole Miss fan will butt in.
It's true that the Tigers' worst loss of the season came against Ole Miss, but it's hard for a team to prevail on the road when the quarterback phones it in the first three quarters.
Come on, stubbornly throwing to a bracketed Odell Beckham is quite an uncharacteristic performance for a quarterback who's second in the SEC in passer rating (176.6).
So Alabama game aside, the Tigers were never bullied on the football field.
Four Future NFL Stars on Offense
The last-minute losses only mean so much, but still, it's worth pointing out that LSU could have won two of the three games.
And heck, if J.C. Copeland doesn't fumble before crossing the goal line and Elliot Porter doesn't get tapped by Vadal Alexander to create a fumbled snap in the first quarter against Alabama, LSU could have won the contest.
The biggest reason for this is the talent on offense.
Oh, how the Tigers will miss the arm of Mettenberger, the legs of Odell Beckham and Jeremy Hill, and the hands of Jarvis Landry.
Mettenberger, whose 2,733 yards and 20 touchdowns have caused him to skyrocket on mock draft boards, will likely go in the first or second round because of his strong arm and ability to adapt to pro-style offenses. Under Cameron's tutelage and with new offensive tweaks, Mettenberger shined at LSU. Scouts have taken notice.
As for Beckham, his playmaking ability flaunted his upside this season. He piled up 2,090 all-purpose yards. His roommate, Landry, was Mettenberger's main target on third down (five third down touchdown receptions), and his sure hands have him 28 yards away from 1,000 receiving yards.
Beckham has the higher ceiling because of his versatility, but both figure to be first- or second-round picks.
Don't forget about Hill, who is garnering attention in the NFL. Jim Kleinpeter of Nola.com writes that NFL draft guru Mel Kiper put Hill in the same ranks as Lache Seastrunk, Melvin Gordon and Ka'Deem Carey. Hill's mixture of speed and power will be coveted at the next level.
Put all four of these talents on the same unit in college, and it's no wonder LSU is scoring 37.9 points per game. Talent wins ballgames, and there's no reason LSU shouldn't win its last two regular-season games with these four superstars.
The Forgotten Phase
Lastly, the Tigers have one of the best special teams units in the SEC.
Led by Beckham's return ability, Colby Delahoussaye's accurate leg and solid kick coverage, the Tigers' special teams help the team.
|LSU's Special Teams Stats|
|Field Goals||90.1% Accuracy||2nd|
|Kickoff Returns||26.1 Average Return||1st|
|Punt Returns||8.0 Average Return||7th|
|Long Kickoff Return Plays||8 30+ Yard Plays||1st|
|Punts||38.75 Yards Per Kick||13th|
So many games hinge on special teams play, and with the Tigers' ability to tilt field position, kick field goals and set the offense up for scores (Beckham's 82-yard kickoff return against Alabama), everyone can agree that LSU has one of the best special teams units in the conference.
But as LSU failed to score a touchdown after Beckham's 82-yard return, the Tigers revealed their greatest struggle in 2013—the ability to put it all together.
That's what is preventing the Tigers from playing for a national championship.
Luckily for LSU, the Tigers will get their chance to right the rankings' wrongs in a matchup against Manziel's Aggies. Can LSU match score-for-score and win the game with superb special teams play?
If statistics are any indicator, the Tigers are more than capable.