It has been more than six years since Les Miles and the LSU Tigers hoisted the glass football proclaiming them as National Champions following the 2007 season, and averaging better than 10 wins in the six campaigns that have since passed have done nothing to quell their fans' appetite for more gridiron glory.
Could their wait be over in 2014 when the new College Football Playoff begins a new era?
The answer to that would be no if current college football futures odds are correct. Current wagering options list Florida State a 7/2 choice to repeat on top, followed by Alabama (6/1), Oregon (8/1) and both Oklahoma and Ohio State at 12/1. Louisiana State sits outside that group as a 20/1 selection, placing the Tigers in the same bunch as Baylor, Michigan State and UCLA.
That certainly doesn't suggest the Tigers are long shots to make it into the pigskin version of the Final Four. But if LSU is going to push its way to the playoffs, Miles and his staff have to get a bunch of new faces ready to step in for key players who will be missing from last season's 10-3 squad.
Who Will Emerge In New Backfield & Receiver Corps?
Offense is where some of the biggest roster turnover is taking place, and a brand new backfield is going to take the field with the losses of QB Zach Mettenberger plus tailbacks Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue. The Tigers also bid adieu to top wide outs Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, that duo each topping 1,100 receiving yards in 2013 to account for nearly 72% of the yards LSU gained through the air.
Anthony Jennings is penciled in as Mettenberger's replacement under center, but the sophomore will get plenty of competition from Stephen Rivers and Hayden Rettig, who was one of the top 2013 QB recruits out of Los Angeles. There is experience coming back at the RB position with both Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard returning, but whether or not they can beat out freshman Leonard Fournette remains to be seen. More on next year's super frosh a bit later.
Travin Dural is the most experienced wide receiver coming back, plus tight end Travis Dickson will suit up again. And the best news might be four of the 2013's five starting offensive linemen once again up front for the Tigers, led by tackles La'el Collins and Vadal Alexander.
LSU also lost key members from a defense that ranked 15th in the country allowing 340 yards per game and 21st in scoring (22 ppg). Leading tackler Lamin Brown will be tough to replace, as tackle Ego Ferguson, but there are seven starters returning, that list led by ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. The secondary could be one of the best in the nation with Tre'Davious White, Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills playing deep in Baton Rouge.
Fournette Leads Huge Recruiting Haul For Tigers
The good news is LSU was a unanimous pick as having the No. 2 recruiting class following last week's National Signing Day. The bad news is the Tigers ranked second to rival Alabama, and five more Southeastern Conference schools are included in the top 9, so life isn't suddenly going to be any easier for Miles & Company.
Fournette was regarded as the top overall high school player in the 2014 class, and Miles has said he is open to the talented runner being on the field when the Tigers begin play Aug. 30. The 5-star recruit out of New Orleans amassed over 5,000 yards rushing on 512 carries during three high school seasons, and scored 72 times. Now you know why we listed Fournette on our early look at potential Heisman Trophy contenders for the upcoming season.
Two more top recruits to watch are QB Brandon Harris and DB Ed Paris, Jr. Harris was considered one of the top dual threat quarterbacks coming out of high school in Bossier City, LA, and Paris was rated as high as the No. 3 safety in the Class of '14.
Badgers Help Tigers Kick Off Schedule
Louisiana State won't be doing a lot of traveling in 2014; in fact, if they can make it to the SEC Championship, that trip to Atlanta would be the second-longest flight the Tigers have.
The Tigers get their season cranked up with a contest in Houston opposite the Wisconsin Badgers, then return to Baton Rouge for four games. Three of those are non-conference tilts vs. Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State, with the other LSU's SEC conference opener on Sept 20 against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Louisiana State's first true road test is Oct. 4 at Auburn, followed by another tough away clash at Florida. The Tigers then come back home to host Kentucky and Ole Miss before getting their first week off in advance of a visit from Alabama. The regular season concludes with trips to Arkansas and a Thanksgiving date at Texas A&M, a bye week sandwiched between those two.
A lot depends on how quickly the new faces on offense adapt, but the schedule is favorable and there's no reason to think another 10+ win campaign doesn't await LSU. Going all the way? Eh, that's another story.