LSU's attention shifts from a long offseason this week to its first game of the 2010 season against North Carolina on September 4. And the matchup is oh so tasty.
"UNC is a very good team, but our team will scrap you," Les Miles reassured on August 25. "We'll dig and claw and fight like hell."
Louisiana residents enjoyed quite the run last year with their NFL team, and they hope LSU can do the same.
When the Saints started off 3-0, the region's fans began to wonder―maybe, just maybe, this team has what it takes. There was a sense of quiet confidence in New Orleans about the Saints after those first three games, and rightly so.
But in their early run they faced a) Detroit; b) a Philadelphia team without Donovan McNabb; and c) Buffalo. Not exactly a true test of a team's potential. It took until week five or six―when they had to face up against formidable opponents―for everyone outside of Louisiana to notice the talent the Saints had on their roster.
How does LSU relate to all of this? They'll only need one week to figure out if their team has what it takes.
As everyone knows, you win in the SEC by running the football effectively. Defenses are simply too good in the conference to be a one-dimensional spread offense. (Ask Cincinnati or Texas after their final games of the 2009 season.)
"We will run the ball on our opponents," Miles insists. "Expect big plays and really physical play. Will Blackwell and Alex Hurst, our new right guard and right tackle are big and physical. Hurst is about 335 lbs., and really light on his feet."
LSU's rushing attack at the end of 2009 was ranked 90th in the nation (122.8 yards per game). That's not an SEC-friendly number. Neither is it a very Jordan Jefferson-friendly number.
This leads us to the consensual question of the 2010 season: Will LSU's running game finally get back on track? North Carolina's defense should help answer that question.
UNC will return seven defensive starters that are projected to be first-day NFL draft picks in 2010 and 2011. The most notable of which are: Marvin Austin (DT), Bruce Carter (OLB), Robert Quinn (DE), and Zach Brown (OLB).
Those four players will provide for what we'll call LSU's ultimate baseline test. If LSU can effectively run the ball against a front-seven like North Carolina's, they should be able to run against anyone.
It will be no easy task, but there is hope that LSU's offensive line will exhibit improvement thanks to some much-needed shuffling.
"Our veterans on the left side of the line are really well prepared―big, strong, and physical," Miles said.
The projected offensive line is as follows...
LT: Joseph Barksdale (Sr.), a 6-foot-6, 315 lb. mauler takes over for the left tackle position to provide some more push on the left side of the line.
LG: Josh Dworaczyk will remain a starter on LSU's offensive line, but will supplant Lyle Hitt as the left guard. Anyone else notice how mediocre Hitt was? Dworaczyk should fill in nicely.
C: The center position for LSU, as it looks right now, will belong to Patrick Lonergan (So.). Good competition means an overall increase in intensity in terms of preparation, so hopefully Lonergan's battle for the starting job with Bob Hebert (Jr.) will pay off in the long run for LSU's running game.
RG: Will Blackwell (Jr.) will finally get an opportunity to take over as the right guard, and expect him to be major force this year. If you haven't heard of Blackwell yet, I'd consult the tape.
RT: The 2010 right tackle will presumably be Alex Hurst (So.). At a beastly 6-6 and 335 lbs., LSU is hopeful Hurst can live up to the hype.
If these five win their games-within-the-game, expect a double digit victory for LSU. If both defenses are stout and both offenses struggle, you might as well flip a coin, because both teams feel like they can win this one.
Follow Chase on Twitter @chaseLSU
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