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LSU’s 2020 Season Will Look Different, but It Won't Be for a Lack of Talent

Tigers return enough in 2020 to keep championship aspirations alive

It’s not hyperbole to say LSU’s 2019 season will never be duplicated.

After posting a perfect 15-0 record and winning the program’s fourth-ever national championship inside the friendly confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Ed Orgeron’s team, and coaching staff specifically, is going to look a lot different after last year’s historic run.

Despite nine early NFL draft entrants and multiple key coaching vacancies that have since been filled, the Tigers are still loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. The general consensus this offseason has been that LSU’s dominance is soon to be over, but it’s not far fetched to think the Tigers can stay in the College Football Playoff hunt in 2020.

The schedule is similar to last season, and it has a 5-0 start written all over it if LSU can survive Texas in their early-September meeting in Baton Rouge. The away games do get tougher, with road trips set for Florida [Oct. 10], Auburn [Nov. 21], and Texas A&M [Nov. 28] down the stretch.

Notable home games include Texas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama.

It seems cliché, but it will all most likely come down to the play of quarterback Myles Brennan, who we have only seen in late-game situations with the backups. First, it’s not fair to compare Brennan to Heisman-winner Joe Burrow. The Athens, Ohio native, and soon-to-be No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft is the greatest player in LSU history and will have a statue outside Tiger Stadium next to Billy Cannon some day. Brennan is here to set his own legacy, and fans should judge that as such. It’s also not fair to assess what we’ve seen from him since his reps were always limited, and never with the starters.

Brennan threw for 353 yards, a touchdown and an interception behind Burrow in 2019.

The offense returns a ton of key talent from last season, starting with Biletnikoff award winner Ja’Marr Chase and junior receiver Terrace Marshall. It is also gaining reinforcements from LSU’s No. 4 rated recruiting class, highlighted by five-star tight end Arik Gilbert and five-star wideout Kayshon Boutte out of Westgate. And even though Joe Brady is gone, many forget the offensive coordinator in 2019 was really Steve Ensminger, who will be back in the booth with new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan going forward.

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"We wanted to bring in someone who will expand our passing game and with Scott's experience as an NFL head coach and offensive coordinator we feel this is the best move for our offense,” Orgeron said on the hire of Linehan in an official release. “After talking to numerous people with NFL experience and interviewing Scott we knew he was the right fit for the LSU Tigers."

Can LSU remain one of the top offenses in college football under Ensminger and the NFL veteran Linehan? The post-Joe Brady era should be fascinating.

On the other side, the defense probably took the biggest hit in draft departures, but the returns of senior safety JaCoby Stevens and sophomore corner Derek Stingley Jr. ensure a secondary that will be one of the best in the country once again. In fact, the defensive line also returns Tyler Shelvin, Glen Logan, Neil Farrell and Apu Ika, which may be considered one of the top interior line units itself under Bo Pelini and his new 4-3 scheme.

“I thought it would be best to shift to the 4-3 with more of an attack-style defense,” Orgeron said at his Signing Day presser. “I think [Bo] is going to put us in the best position to attack.”

Contrary to popular belief, the sky isn’t falling. But there are some areas to be worried about.

The biggest area for concern stands at linebacker, where LSU lost both Jacob Phillips and Patrick Queen to the NFL after each had breakout seasons. Queen was named national championship game MVP after recording eight tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack against Clemson. The current expectation is that sophomores Damone Clark and Micah Baskerville will fill the void, but it’s normal to feel a little uncertain about it given their inexperience. Clark tallied 49 tackles (17 solo) and 3.5 sacks in a solid freshman campaign.

After winning the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s top offensive line in 2019, LSU will have to replace four of five players from that unit, returning right tackle Austin Deculus. Dare Rosenthal and Kardell Thomas will likely fill a few spots, but with a first-year starting QB, protection will be key.

There are many reasons to feel both excited and nervous about LSU’s upcoming season, but it’s clear the positives outweigh the negatives.

With spring practice around the corner on Thursday, March 7, LSU’s quest to defend its title soon begins. The Tigers will without question look a lot different in 2020, but expectations surrounding the program shouldn’t take a dive because of it.