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What Questions Will LSU Football Need to Answer to Be Championship Contenders?

Is Myles Brennan ready, can a more consistent pass rush under Pelini emerge just a few of the questions Tigers will need to answer

There’s no question LSU lost a significant amount of production from last year’s title run, but do they have enough to contend for a repeat in 2020? ESPN outlined that and more in their latest story “How each top 2020 college football team becomes a national title contender” on Tuesday.

While it’s true a historic 14 players were drafted and six signed as undrafted free agents in the NFL Draft, many forget that Ed Orgeron and the Tigers still return considerable talent on the roster, highlighted by the top corner in America, the top wide receiver in America, a veteran defensive line and a deep secondary.

Now, you can’t have arguably the greatest-single season in college football history and expect to get much better. There’s going to be a drop-off in 2020, but here’s the million dollar question: how big will that drop-off be?

“Brady left his post as passing-game coordinator to become an NFL play caller, but he leaves behind Biletnikoff winner Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr., not to mention his plays, which don't expire just because he left,” said Bill Connelly of ESPN.com.

Interestingly enough, Connelly laid out a couple of “if’s” that could determine the type of success the Tigers could have in 2020, possibly leading to a chance to repeat. He started with new starting quarterback Myles Brennan, who now has tremendous shoes to fill as the predecessor to Heisman winner Joe Burrow.

“If ... Myles Brennan is ready. The bar's even higher for the player who has to succeed Joe Burrow. I mean, hey, all you have to do is replicate the greatest passing season in the history of college football (5,671 yards, 60 TDs, six interceptions, 76% completion rate),” Connelly said. “Brennan was a blue-chip recruit and looked fine in garbage-time opportunities, but he's all but guaranteed to be less successful than his predecessor, and that's always a tricky thing to navigate.”

To expect Brennan to come close to what Burrow did in 2019 is unfair to expect, but with a veteran defense and a myriad of weapons at his disposal, he won't need to be Burrow 2.0. That's what Orgeron has said all along. 

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"He's been around us, he's paid his dues and I'm so proud of Myles," Orgeron said in an interview last week on WWL radio. "The days of transfer portal, you know Myles said 'hey coach, I'm a Tiger, I'm staying here' and not many quarterbacks do that. He's taking a leadership role, I feel comfortable with Myles right now that he's going to have an excellent year."

LSU will expect him to be more than a game manager, which is what past quarterbacks were viewed as before this explosive 2019 offense, including Burrow in 2018.

Connelly then went on to address the defense under Bo Pelini, saying if LSU’s offense takes an expected slip this season, the defense is going to need to carry more weight than it did in 2019.

“If ... a better pass rush emerges. LSU's defense came around late in the season after overcoming some injuries, but the pass rush was average with edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson, and now he's gone. If the offense regresses at all (and it probably will), the defense will have to pick up slack.”

Luckily for the Tigers, they return an elite front line of defense, headlined by Tyler Shelvin, Glen Logan and Neil Farrell while featuring a slew of incoming talent in BJ Ojulari, Jaquelin Roy, Jacobian Guillory.

Players like Siaki "Apu" Ika, Andre Anthony and Justin Thomas will be asked to step into more prominent roles as well. It's a unit that is likely the deepest on the team and with Bo Pelini's 4-3 defense, should be a linchpin in returning LSU to an elite defense.

“Dave Aranda and Joe Brady don't leave behind the toughest jobs in the world,” Connelly states. “Aranda, the now-former LSU defensive coordinator who left to take the Baylor head-coaching gig, left successor Bo Pelini with the best cornerback in college football (Derek Stingley Jr.), a seasoned defensive front and a high-upside linebacking corps with pieces like Micah Baskerville and Damone Clark. (LSU has added North Dakota State star Jabril Cox to the mix, too.) But Pelini hasn't been part of an elite FBS-level defense since 2010 at Nebraska.”

Whether LSU can answer a few of these questions in the projected six-week camp before the season remains to be seen. But the Tigers have the pieces to be true contenders and the next few months will be about placing them in the right spots to be successful.