LSU head coach Les Miles has the talent to win the SEC in 2014.
Miles knows the journey back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship will not be an easy one. The Tigers were picked to finish third in the conference at SEC media days, with Alabama and Auburn ahead of them.
Can Miles lead his Tigers past the top of the SEC? That remains to be seen, but he has proven capable of doing so.
Miles has won the SEC twice, yet that should not be the only measure of his success. LSU is the only SEC team to finish in the Top 25 in each of the past nine seasons, all of which were under Miles. He has averaged over 10 wins a season in his illustrious career.
LSU finished an impressive 10-3 in 2013. However, Miles could—and should—have been even better.
LSU lacked focus in a road game against injury-plagued Ole Miss, which resulted in an embarrassing loss. The Tigers were outplayed at home by massive underdog Arkansas, yet miraculously won the game. Miles could not keep up with Alabama in a 38-17 loss in Tuscaloosa, his worst regular-season loss since 2008.
Miles and his staff will need to be on top of their game in 2013. The Tigers are ranked No. 13 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll. The goal is to finish in the top four in the minds of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Here is how the Tigers stack up in 2014.
|2014 LSU Coaching Staff|
|Title||Name||Year At LSU|
|Head Coach||Les Miles||10th|
|Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks||Cam Cameron||2nd|
|Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers||John Chavis||6th|
|Running Backs Coach||Frank Wilson||5th|
|Wide Receivers Coach||Adam Henry||3rd|
|Tight Ends Coach||Steve Ensminger||5th|
|Offensive Line Coach||Jeff Grimes||1st|
|Defensive Line Coach||Brick Haley||6th|
|Defensive Backs Coach||Corey Raymond||3rd|
|Special Teams Coach||Bradley Dale Peveto||5th|
|LSU Sports Information|
LSU has had a change in its coaching staff in each of the past three seasons. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will be going into his first year, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron into his second and wide receivers coach Adam Henry and defensive backs coach Corey Raymond are going into their third.
Special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto left LSU after a below-average season as a co-defensive coordinator in 2008 to become the head coach at Northwestern State.
Peveto is now back in Baton Rouge as the special teams coordinator after Thomas McGaughey left to take the same position for the New York Jets.
LSU's position coaches are coveted recruiters, led by running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson. With that said, the group must be on top of its game in practice. The youthful Tigers must be taught the proper technique to succeed in the SEC.
Cameron and defensive coordinator John Chavis could form the best coordinator combo in the country.
Last season, Cameron was given the keys to a BMW with experienced playmakers Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Now, he must rebuild the offense with young yet talented pieces.
Chavis has an experienced unit returning that should be among the country's best defenses.
What to Watch For on Offense
|LSU 2014 Offensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st Sring||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||Anthony Jennings||Brandon Harris||Brad Kragthorpe|
|RB||Terrence Magee||Leonard Fournette||Kenny Hilliard|
|FB||Connor Neighbors||Melvin Jones||Bennett Schiro|
|WR||Travin Dural||Quantavius Leslie||Avery Peterson|
|WR||John Diarse||Malachi Dupre||Trey Quinn|
|TE||Dillon Gordon||DeSean Smith||Logan Stokes|
|RT||Jerald Hawkins||Josh Boutte||Jevonte Domond|
|RG||Fehoko Fanaika||Evan Washington||William Clapp|
|C||Elliott Porter||Ethan Pocic||Andy Dodd|
|LG||Vadal Alexander||K.J. Malone||Garrett Brumfield|
|LT||La'el Collins||Jonah Austin||N/A|
|K||Colby Delahoussaye||Trent Domingue||N/A|
|PR/KR||Travin Dural||Terrence Magee||N/A|
|LSU Sports Information|
The Leonard Fournette Show will hit theaters on August 30.
Fournette, a 5-star running back from St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, is Miles' most highly touted recruit in his best recruiting class ever at LSU. He is expected to eventually become the workhorse running back in Baton Rouge.
Fournette will have help in experienced seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.
Magee was given the coveted No. 18 jersey this offseason and will likely start the season opener. Hilliard has yet to regain his amazing freshman form from 2011, but has still been viable option in the red zone with 21 career touchdowns.
Fullback Connor Neighbors and an offensive line that returns four of five starters should pave the way for a potent rushing attack.
Former Georgia All-American tackle and SEC Network analyst Matt Stinchomb said on SEC Now that the Tigers have the best offensive line in the conference.
Left tackle La'el Collins, left guard Vadal Alexander, center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins were all projected starters. In a somewhat shocking move, Ross Dellenger of The Advocate suggests Miles is leaning toward starting sophomore Ethan Pocic at center over Porter.
Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington are still battling to start at right guard. No matter who starts the opener, expect both to play.
And then there is the position of quarterback.
The Tigers have yet to name a starting signal-caller. The decision will be made between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. Miles said he will have a decision made before the day of the opener.
"We'll tell the starter probably that Thursday (Aug. 28) when we put together the final list of starters," Miles said, per Glenn Guilbeau of The Daily Advertiser.
Miles continued by saying he could play both Jennings and Harris. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee believes Miles is playing in dangerous waters if he goes that route.
"If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks," wrote Sallee. "LSU is on the verge of having no quarterbacks."
No matter who is the starter, LSU's inexperience at wide receiver is concerning. Replacing Beckham Jr. and Landry, both of whom eclipsed 1,000 yards last season, will not be easy.
Leading receiver returnee Travin Dural will start as the No. 1 option. The other spots are up for grabs.
John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie and Avery Peterson are all program returnees looking to make their mark. However, momentum is building in favor of highly touted freshmen Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, who are arguably the most talented pass-catchers on the team.
The Tigers will have a boost at tight end with DeSean Smith. LSU has accumulated an abysmal 28 catches and no touchdowns from the position over the past two seasons combined.
Smith is a gifted sophomore who can present mismatches to linebackers over the middle.
Dillon Gordon and Logan Stokes are LSU's best blocking tight ends in pass protection and the running game. Expect them to play a massive role in short-yardage situations.
What to Watch For on Defense
|LSU 2014 Defensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|DT||Quentin Thomas||Greg Gilmore||Frank Herron|
|DT||Christian LaCouture||Maquedius Bain||Davon Godchaux|
|DE||Danielle Hunter||Lewis Neal||M.J. Patterson|
|DE||Jermauria Rasco||Tashawn Bower||Deondre Clark|
|WLB||Kwon Alexander||Deion Jones||Ronnie Feist|
|MLB||D.J. Welter||Kendell Beckwith||Clifton Garrett|
|SLB||Lamar Louis||Duke Riley||Donnie Alexander|
|CB||Rashard Robinson||Ed Paris||Corey Thompson|
|CB||Tre'Davious White||Jalen Collins||Russell Gage|
|SS||Rickey Jefferson||Corey Thompson||Devin Voorhies|
|FS||Ronald Martin||Jalen Mills||Jamal Adams|
|P||Jamie Keehn||Trent Domingue||N/A|
|LSU Sports Information|
"Defensive Back University" will be back in session at LSU in 2014.
LSU has earned the reputation as "DBU" after its amazing run of defensive backs under Miles, which includes two Jim Thorpe Award and two Chuck Bednarik Award winners. The secondary was the foundation of LSU's 24 combined wins in 2010 and 2011.
The Tigers took a step back in 2013, allowing over 229 yards per game through the air in conference play. LSU only had 11 interceptions after tallying 18 in each of the two seasons prior.
LSU's secondary will improve drastically this season. The unit has multiple All-SEC candidates, led by sophomore cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White.
Robinson and White form the best cornerback duo in the SEC. They return after combining for 13 starts and three interceptions as true freshmen. Their ability to play man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage will open up the playbook for Chavis to call unpredictable defenses.
Talented backups Jalen Collins and Ed Paris can step in without a dramatic drop-off.
LSU is in good hands at safety as well.
Junior Jalen Mills was the only bona fide starter until he was arrested for second-degree battery this offseason. LSU suspended Mills indefinitely, but reinstated him the first day of fall camp once the charge was reduced to simple battery.
Mills has started all 26 games of his productive LSU career, which is now in jeopardy if Miles chooses to sit him against Wisconsin.
The junior is Chavis' most versatile defensive back. He is a dangerous blitzer when he moves inside on nickel and dime packages.
The Tigers will turn to returnees Corey Thompson, Rickey Jefferson and Ronald Martin to fill the void. Talented freshmen newcomers Jamal Adams and John Battle will see the field as well.
The LSU secondary will only be as good as the team's pass rush. The Tigers' defensive line was below average in that department last season. Danielle Hunter is expected to change that after a spectacular spring, but Hunter will need help from Jermauria Rasco, Lewis Neal and Tashawn Bower.
But the first objective for a defensive line is to stop the run.
LSU struggled at times holding the edge at defensive end against power-rushing teams. Rasco, LSU's best end at defending the run, will need help from his teammates.
The Tigers lost both starting defensive tackles in Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, which could be exposed against Wisconsin. LSU's defensive tackles are inexperienced yet talented. Christian LaCouture, Quentin Thomas, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain are all capable run-stoppers.
The unit must improve after allowing over 170 yards per game on the ground against conference opponents in 2013, which was good enough for eighth in the SEC.
If not, the Badgers will make the Tigers roadkill in Houston.
LSU's linebackers could eventually be the best position group on the team. LSU returns starters Kwon Alexander and D.J. Welter. Junior Lamar Louis is the likely candidate to fill the void left by leading tackler Lamin Barrow.
Backups Deion Jones, Ronnie Feist, Kendell Beckwith and true freshman Clifton Garrett will all see the field.
The injury bug has been kind to LSU this offseason.
The Tigers have only had one serious reported injury to defensive tackle Quentin Thomas. Dellenger initially reported Thomas would miss the season with torn biceps, but he has already returned to practice.
The Tigers have sat out Fournette and Dupre for some practices during fall camp. The injuries were minor and both have already returned to practice, per David Ching of ESPN.com.
Defensive back Dwayne Thomas' job on LSU's defense is to wreak havoc.
Thomas will serve as a nickel or dime back in Chavis' exotic defensive schemes. The "Mustang" package, which features three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs, is what has made Chavis' dominance at LSU remarkable.
Thomas will play a majority of snaps close to the line of scrimmage. His athleticism allows him to either blitz or drop back in coverage on every play.
This makes quarterbacks' pre-snap reads difficult, which ultimately leads to turnovers.
The brilliance of Thomas was on full display when he tallied the game-clinching strip-sack of Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen last season. His 10 total tackles in 2013 are misleading, as four of them went for loss and two for forced fumbles. Expect Thomas to surpass those numbers in 2014.
|LSU 2014 Schedule|
|Aug. 30||Wisconsin||Houston, TX|
|Sept. 6||Sam Houston St.||Baton Rouge, LA|
|Sept. 13||UL-Monroe||Baton Rouge, LA|
|Sept. 20||Mississippi St.||Baton Rouge, LA|
|Sept. 27||New Mexico St.||Baton Rouge, LA|
|Oct. 4||Auburn||Auburn, AL|
|Oct. 11||Florida||Gainesville, FL|
|Oct. 18||Kentucky||Baton Rouge, LA|
|Oct. 25||Ole Miss||Baton Rouge, LA|
|Nov. 8||Alabama||Baton Rouge, LA|
|Nov. 15||Arkansas||Fayetteville, AR|
|Nov. 27th||Texas A&M||College Station, TX|
|Dec. 6tg||SEC Championship (TBD)||Atlanta, GA|
|LSU Sports Information|
The Tigers' opener against Wisconsin will be a tough one. Miles has been dominant in games similar to these while at LSU, with a 4-0 career record against ranked nonconference opponents in season openers.
The defense will have its hands full defending Heisman hopeful running back Melvin Gordon.
LSU's toughest two-week stretch will be in early October with back-to-back road games against Auburn and Florida. The Tigers can only afford to lose one of them if they want to make a run at the SEC Championship.
The biggest home game on LSU's schedule will be against Alabama, which is the only team Miles does not have a winning record against (5-5).
The Crimson Tide are the most talented team in the conference. Both teams will have a bye week to prepare for what has become one of the premier matchups in college football.
Auburn, Florida and Alabama only make up three of LSU's eight SEC games. The Tigers get Mississippi State, Kentucky and Ole Miss at home. Their last two games will be road contests against Arkansas and Texas A&M.
LSU will keep the same uniforms as last season. With that said, the LSU Football Equipment Twitter page released the sweet kicks the Tigers will wear this season.
LSU will finish the regular season 10-2 and earn a berth to The Cotton Bowl. The Tigers' only losses will come against Auburn and Alabama.
Miles will miss out on the SEC Championship Game for the third consecutive season, but 10 wins is an impressive feat with the youth LSU will have to work with this season.
The Tigers are one year away from making a trip back to Atlanta. A young nucleus of Fournette, Dupre, Harris, Dural, Quinn and Pocic will return on offense, as will a multitude of talented playmakers on all levels of the defense.
LSU fans must have patience. Tigers fans can probably live with 10 wins and a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2014.
However, the pressure for Miles to win a SEC Championship during the Fournette era will only grow.