Previewing LSU: A great team, a great schedule…great success?
I opened this preview series with Alabama for no other reason than my own lack of creativity and my over-reliance on alphabetic order. But, if I had started with the best team in the SEC, I also would have started with the Tide. And, if that was the case and the window I was examining was the past four years, LSU would have been second on the list.
To understand how good LSU has been over the past four years, you have to understand how good Alabama has been. I think I established that last week, but for a quick recap:
- Alabama has won two consecutive National Championships.
- Alabama has won three of the last four National Championships.
- Alabama has lost just five games over the last four years.
Two of those losses came to LSU. In the past four years, Alabama has a .600 winning percentage against the Tigers and a .939 winning percentage against the rest of the world. LSU has won two of its last three regular season matchups with the Tide. With the exception of the National Championship Game in January of 2012 (a game that found LSU in the middle of a lockerroom power struggle), none of these matchups has been decided by more than nine points. The last four regular season battles have been split and Alabama holds an overall scoring edge of just 72-65.
LSU hasn’t just been successful against the Tide. This has been a great football program. Here’s how the team has fared outside of the rivalry games with Alabama:
- 2009: LSU lost to then top-ranked Florida at home, was upset on the road at Ole Miss and lost a bowl game to 11th ranked Penn State.
- 2010: LSU lost to eventual National Champion Auburn on the road (by 7 points) and 12th ranked Arkansas (by 8 points) on the road.
- 2011: LSU was undefeated until the National Championship loss to Alabama.
- 2012: LSU lost to 10th ranked Florida on the road and to 15th ranked Clemson in a Bowl game.
I don’t put much stock in Bowl Games (although the National Championship Game in 2011 is an obvious exception), but during the regular season (and SEC Championships) LSU has gone a combined 16-6 against top-25 teams over the past four seasons. Alabama is 16-5 within those same parameters.
LSU lost a lot on the defensive side of the ball. I talked at length about that here. But, unlike other schools (Georgia for instance), LSU reloads its defense. There is no rebuilding.
- In 2009, 6 LSU defenders were selected in the NFL Draft or signed to Free Agent contracts. LSU had the nation’s 12th best scoring defense the following season.
- In 2010, 9 LSU defenders were selected in the NFL Draft or signed to Free Agent contracts. LSU had the nation’s 11th best scoring defense the following season.
- In 2011, 5 LSU defenders were selected in the NFL Draft or signed to Free Agent contracts. LSU had the nation’s 2nd best scoring defense the following season.
- In 2012, 7 LSU defenders were selected in the NFL Draft or signed to Free Agent contracts and Tyrann Mathieu left the team. LSU had the nation’s 12th best scoring defense the following season.
I have no doubt that LSU’s defense will reload despite losing seven big contributors from a year ago.
The defense is Les Miles’ teams’ calling card. Here’s how LSU’s offense has shaped up over the past four seasons:
- 2009: 25.5 points per game, 76th in the nation.
- 2010: 28.9 points per game, 51st in the nation.
- 2011: 38.5 points per game, 12th in the nation.
- 2012: 30.3 points per game, 56th in the nation.
The obvious outlier in this data was the 2011 season. With defensive and special teams touchdowns removed, LSU’s per game scoring average declined to 31.4 points per game.
So, can LSU remain serviceable (30+ points per game) in 2013? Most of that rides on QB Zach Mettenberger. LSU lost two of its four best running backs (Spencer Ware – 367 yards, 1 TD and Kenny Hilliard – 464 yards, 6 TDs), but leading rusher Jeremy Hill was recently reinstated by his teammates after sucker punching a bro outside of a bar. (Dude’s note: Who would have thought his teammates would want him back? He’s only the team’s best offensive weapon!) But, at the end of the day, marked offensive improvement will ride on Mettenberger.
Mettsie certainly had his moments last year. He looked like a Heisman Candidate against Alabama (24/35 for 298 yards and 1 TD) and Mississippi State (19/30, 273 yards, 2 TDs). But at times, he struggled; he failed to complete for% of his passes against Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
I suspect Mettenberger will be good this year. He might even be great. If you consider Mettenberger’s timeline (below) and his improvement last year, this assumption makes a little more sense:
- 2009: Commits to Georgia as the nation’s 11th best pro style QB in his class (the same class as Aaron Murray, the nation’s 3rd rated pro style QB prospect).
- 2009: Redshirts at Georgia.
- 2010: Appears poised to compete with Murray for starting job at Georgia before being dismissed from the team (an allegedly drunken evening turned into guilty pleas on two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery in Remberton, Ga.).
- 2010: Enrolls at Butler Community College in Kansas, leads team to 11-1 record, number 2 national ranking while passing for 2700 yards, 32 TDs and throwing just 4 INTs.
- 2011: Enrolls at LSU. Plays in five games (0 starts) but only throws passes in one game (Northwestern State). Hits on 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.
- 2012: Starts 13 games as a junior.
So, in many ways his first year as a starter was split into two seasons. Here’s how he did in his first four SEC games (Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M):
49 of 106 for 572 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs and a passer rating of 89.01.
In his next four SEC games (Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas) he put up this combined stat line:
81 of 131 for 1,070 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs and a passer rating of 137.47.
The first four SEC schools he faced won 19 conference games. The second four won just 14. But improvement is hard to deny.
LSU once again faces a brutal schedule. The Tigers do as well as anybody when scheduling out-of-conference games, and this year they open with TCU in Dallas. They draw Florida and Georgia (two of the East’s three best teams) and have to travel to Alabama. According to the preseason Coaches Poll, LSU will play the following ranked teams:
- At #1 Alabama
- #5 Georgia
- #6 Texas A&M
- #10 Florida
- #20 TCU
That’s no easy group, but those games are spread out quite nicely. TCU comes on August 31st at Cowboy Stadium. Four weeks later the Tigers come to Athens, GA. Two weeks later, the Gators come to Baton Rouge. Four weeks later LSU plays at Alabama. Two weeks later Texas A&M comes to the Bayou.
I suspect that the Tigers will handle TCU and the rest of their opening stretch (UAB, Kent State and Auburn) with a degree of comfort. The Georgia game will have huge implications for both teams, and as I mentioned a few days ago, this game is deeply concerning as a Georgia fan. I think it’s a toss-up. The two Mississippi schools sandwich the Florida game in October, and I anticipate LSU will chow through the bread sufficiently and ultimately consume the Gator meat for a well-balanced meal. Furman is obviously a win. I have Alabama as a loss, but if LSU is undefeated at this juncture I reserve the right to change my mind. I think Texas A&M implodes (at the hands of Johnny Manziel or otherwise) and LSU can beat Arkansas.
Depending on the outcome of the Georgia game, LSU wins either 10 or 11 games.
That’s all I got/