Recently, And The Valley Shook, the LSU SBNation blog, posted a story entitled "Why I Don't Believe in Ole Miss." I found it only fitting to combat that by arguing why I don't believe in LSU. I'll counter their arguments by using most of their logic, reasoning, and overall post structure, while applying my obvious Ole Miss bias. Read theirs first, then read mine. Don't worry, we'll be right here when you get back....
Ready? Alright, here goes:
LSU fans are jubilant about their team's chances this season. And why shouldn't they be? LSU is being picked in the top ten by many media outlets, and only the crazies in the media (see: Paul Finebaum) are putting them outside of the top 15.
But, honestly, how come? Their starting quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, has played in two SEC games, having lost both. As a runner, he averaged 2.7 yards per carry last season. The only game that he actually quarterbacked to a win was against Georgia Tech in a bowl. Since when is throwing for 142 yards against an ACC defense something to celebrate?
LSU went 8-5 (3-5) last year. That's a good year on paper, but losing an out of conference game to Appalachian State, North Texas, Tulane or Troy is a tough thing for an SEC team to do. Their three worthwhile regular season wins came against the powerhouses of Auburn, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. They regressed as the year went on, losing four of their final six regular season games. But they did beat Troy and Tulane! They weren't a top ten team last season. Hell, they weren't a top 25 team last season. They lost five games in a down year for the SEC which is terrible. People have written songs about that.
Let's also not forget that in 2007, LSU went 6-2 in the SEC. Six and two. That 3-5 conference record was a massive weakening as the team suffered through poor coaching decisions on the sideline. Now, it is time to introduce all of you to Juco All-American's "Teams on the Decline" principle. It's a fancy way of saying that teams who are living off of other coaches' recruits and made poor coaching hires excel in years 1-3 (11-2, 11-2, 12-2) but slowly get worse in year four (8-5) before succumbing to mis-evaluations across the board (Keiland Williams).
I believe that LSU in years one through three under Les Miles achieved what everyone expected, so a fall was difficult to expect last season. But how much of this radical decrease was related to the team achieving its true potential and how much was just the poor coaching of the same staff? Now that the new coach smell has worn off, does LSU continue to play at the same level it did in 2005, 2006 and 2007, which is a quite elite level?
Graduation hurts more than you think.
LSU lost their two best defensive linemen to the draft last season along with their best guard. That is not a loss a team easily recovers from. Tyson Jackson is gone, so their most important player departs. LSU is relying on reliable production from Al Woods (11 tackles in 2008) and Rahim Allen (who didn't start a game last year) on defense, and while both are supremely talented, the talented underproducer can be a terrible thing to pin your hopes on. (If you cite Rahim Allen's eight sacks, be prepared to hear about Hardy's 8.5 from last year)
But the real loss is Herman Johnson. Johnson helped open hole after hole for Charles "I rushed for one yard per carry against Ole Miss" Scott last year. It's not like there is no talent or experience there (certainly Ciron Black is excellent), but it's hard to think the line will actually be better without Johnson.
I should mention the offense does return the truly electric Trindon Holliday, who rushed for 114 yards last year while receiving for 33. If I'm an LSU fan, he's the guy, outside of Black, I am most excited about returning (and being used incorrectly by my boneheaded coach). The guy is an explosive player and a threat to score almost every time he touches the ball (which was 23 times on offense last year). He's also 165 pounds (soaking wet) and it seems like it was a minor miracle he stayed healthy for a full season.
Everyone is better
Something is being made of LSU's schedule. And it is pretty average for an SEC school. They play both Florida and Georgia, the two best teams out East. They go to Alabama, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State (the latter of the three isn't so much a "game" as it is a "turkey shoot"). That's about as much of a murderer's row as a team can hope for in the 2009 version of the SEC.
LSU deserves absolutely no credit for failing to take advantage of a down year, because, let's be frank, it was a down year. The previously bowl-eligible Western Division Bulldogs were back to their old tricks, Arkansas was awful at times, and Auburn was a soap opera. All three teams should be better this year. Auburn and Arkansas, in particular, should see some improvement in their offensive outputs on the simple ground that it couldn't be worse--and by that I mean that Arkansas was fourth and Auburn eigth among SEC teams in total offense last season, respectively.
There just won't be any "easy" SEC wins on the schedule whatsoever (aside from Mississippi State). Yep, they have to play Florida, and they have to play improved teams--such as Ole Miss and Arkansas--throughout the year. I absolutely guarantee that Auburn's offense will be greatly improved this year and they will give everyone a much tougher game. Maybe not a return to the top 25, but Auburn certainly will not be the speed bump on the schedule they were last season.
There's just a lot of factors working against LSU this year. 2008 was a near diarrhea fountain for the Tigers, and it's difficult to believe all of the stars will align for them this time. Will they be good? Of course. Miles isn't a good coach, but they have some playmakers on defense, and the best quarterback in the SEC whose name can easily be mistaken for the main character in a 1970's sitcom involving a once-poor black couple moving to New York's Upper East Side.
This is a team that has to improve in order to win the division, and I don't see that improvement. I don't believe that it will be a major challenge to merely sustain the massive slump the program experienced last season. I actually believe Miles may be up for that challenge, but him meeting it seems a tad unrealistic. The jury is still out on whether last season was a one-year aberration or a new level for LSU. The most likely answer is that the truth lies somewhere in between.
Before we anoint LSU is a top ten team, let's see it on the field first. It's not like it can't happen, but LSU's Heisman Trophy winner is a damn felon (yes, there was the obligatory cheap shot). I'm taking a wait and see approach to this Tigers squad, so color me skeptical.
OK, I promise not to talk about LSU again for at least a week. I swear I'm not obsessed.