The SEC kicks off its football season this next Saturday. How does LSU stack up with SEC West favorite Alabama?
To begin, thank you to all the people behind the scenes for what the rest of us will reap the benefits. All the security measures for COVID-19 needed to be in place before projecting the final team standings, top players by position, and of course any team(s) that will compete for the college football playoffs. Now, onto discussing LSU football.
Let’s not waste any time. Here are the predictions for how the SEC West will finish.
Texas A&M (7-3)
Mississippi State (4-6)
Ole Miss (3-7)
Alabama -- Much to prove after last year’s injury-plagued season. No more Tua Tagovailoa, long gone is 2018 Biletnikoff winner Jerry Jeudy and fellow first round pick Henry Ruggs III. Still, the Tide will return several key players on offense, and the defense will be deeper than last year. Quarterback still brings the most discussion.
Everyone wants to discuss the Crimson Tide signal callers. Who’s starting? The better question, who will start game No. 2 when Texas A&M comes to Bryant Denny Stadium?
No offense to Missouri, but Bama will splatter the Tigers. Time will tell, but for now it appears that Mac Jones will be the starter. At some point, do not be surprised if freshman stud Bryce Young makes a move into the starting lineup. Will it be before or after the LSU game? That’s really intriguing. Running back is more clear cut.
Look for a big year from Najee Harris, the top returning rusher for Bama, and there’s a good group behind him as well. The offensive line will return star tackle Alex Leatherwood, but the more intriguing move will be where Evan Neal plays. He started at left guard last season, but could be the right tackle for Alabama this fall. If Neal struggles in pass protection, it could be the achilles heel for Alabama.
Defensively, the return of Dylan Moses to middle linebacker is big news in Tuscaloosa. He’s coming off a knee injury. He’s a speedster with excellent strength and toughness. With cornerback Patrick Surtain II in deep secondary, the Crimson Tide’s pass defense will present plenty of challenges.
Along the trenches, Alabama has several players of note, but the health of defensive end Christian Barmore, a likely 1st round pick next spring, is most notable. He’s been banged up in fall camp but expected to play sooner than later. The defensive end on the other side, LaBryan Ray, could be a big factor as well. He’s experienced and knows the Alabama scheme well.
LSU -- The Tigers are the most difficult team to project because quite frankly LSU lost not only many players to graduation and the NFL draft, but also the daily unknown of COVID-19. It’s hit Baton Rouge and southern Louisiana hard. That’s why there’s only a 7-3 projected record. With guys continually in and out of the lineup during fall camp, that’s likely to cause issues during the regular season. We all know the LSU roster fairly well, but a quick look at LSU’s key players does merit discussion.
If the country does not know about Myles Brennan, it soon will. The redshirt junior is going to throw for over 3,000 yards this season. He may not be Joe Burrow, but he’s a fine quarterback that’s waited his turn to play quarterback for the LSU Tigers. He’s going to be really good, and will give the Tigers a chance in every game. At running back and wide receiver, LSU is still loaded.
There will be a bevy of backs for LSU and like Alabama, depth and talent abound. Chris Curry will likely be the primary ball carrier, and he’s earned it. He played well last season including a start versus Oklahoma in the playoffs. Look for Curry to lead the Tigers in rushing. With Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery as the second and third running backs, LSU is as talented as any team in the land at running back. It’s incredible. Wide receiver still holds promise, too.
Terrace Marshall will be as good as any wide receiver in the SEC or any other league. He’s a first round pick waiting to happen. The big-bodied receiver will be counted on with a younger group around him, but they can all run very well. How freshman Kayshon Boutte performs will be pivotal. The youngster’s speed and after the catch prowess will be vital for LSU to compete with other top SEC teams. Several other Tigers will compete at wide receiver for playing time, but there’s so much talent it can be difficult to project the lineup for an entire season. At tight end, the “Gilbert Era” begins.
Arik Gilbert is a once in a lifetime tight end talent. How he develops will be up to Gilbert himself. He could be the best tight end in the SEC right now. That’s unusual for a freshman at any position, let alone one that requires the physical nature of tight end. He’s special. Gilbert is different. A 50 catch freshman year is not out of the question. Up front is the biggest question mark for the offense.
It’s hard to lose four starters and keep on rolling. That’s what LSU will try to do. With senior Austin Deculus the lone returning starter, LSU possesses the talent to be really good, but what about the chemistry? It’s a lot to ask four new starters to play defensive lines from Auburn, Alabama, Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Florida. Look for Dare Rosenthal, now the starter at left tackle, to be the next big-time LSU offensive lineman. Defensively, it’s really interesting.
The star power of Derek Stingley, Jr. at one corner presents newly hired defensive coordinator Bo Pelini a great opportunity. He can place his cornerbacks on an island. That’s going to be fun to watch, because everything coming out of LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s mouth about the other cornerback, Cordale Flott, is glowing.
The front seven has been hit hard by COVID-19, but there’s plenty of talent. How the lineup works out is the big question. Glen Logan is the one mainstay that LSU fans should enjoy. The senior defensive tackle is a great anchor for the interior defensive line, and he can create havoc in the backfield.
How good of shape Neil Farrell is will also be key, but he’s 320-pounds and can stuff the run. Keeping everyone healthy (and away from COVID-19) will be a priority. While talented, it’s not as experienced as some other recent LSU defensive lines. Linebacker is a more positive situation.
Damone Clark, Micah Baskerville and Jabril Cox will lead the way. Time will tell which players will back up the starters. Look for a variety of blitzes, as well as a combination of zone and man coverages, due to the overall experience and athleticism of the starting linebacker group.
JaCoby Stevens is back for his senior season. He’s a thumper that will also be a big part of LSU’s ability to stop the run. Look for Stevens to also be a key component of the LSU dime and nickel packages. He’s very versatile.
Comparing LSU to Alabama -- The two areas that could be of concern are along the lines. Alabama and LSU are similar, but the loss of four starters along LSU’s offensive line, and also the issues with several key players opting out like Tyler Shelvin for the LSU defensive line, gives the Crimson Tide the edge.
This rivalry often comes down to the trenches. At least a couple of LSU’s younger players and/or transfers need to make immediate impacts. If they do, LSU could defeat Alabama when they come to Death Valley. At the skill positions, LSU is every bit as good as Alabama. Keep an eye on both lines for the Tigers. They will determine how LSU fares this season.