Andrew VU '04
It's called attrition, VandyTigerPhD. It's something that's not only acknowledged by Coach Les Miles, but spoken about in tones of complete resignation. When asked about this by SI's Andy Staples, Miles simply stated, "We do lead college football in three-and-outs."
That they do. And it's not particularly close. Over the past three years, LSU has lost 21 non-seniors to draft declarations (22 if you count Tyrann Mathieu, and I do). Over that same 3 year time frame, no school is even in LSU's early departure orbit, as the school with the second most is Alabama with 10 (Florida, Stanford, and USC are tied for 3rd with 9 each).
Of the "departin' 22," four went undrafted, which is odd when you think about it. When someone like Odell Beckham leaves early, after hearing from scouts and agents that he'd be a first round lock, you understand. When Anthony Johnson - a former 5 star recruit who never came close to living up to either his potential or his nickname (The Freak) - leaves, despite getting a late round grade, who then goes undrafted due to concerns over his work ethic, something is rotten in the state of Denmark... err... Louisiana.
Now I won't speculate here as to what's producing this mass junior exodus on the bayou, but it's happening, and it's happening at a rate here-to-for unseen in college football (if you see me in person, buy me a beer, and ask politely, I'll talk your ear off on the subject, though).
Exacerbating this upperclassmen migration is that LSU will be frighteningly young at key positions.
At QB, they're expected to go with true freshman Brandon Harris. Though freshman QBs have been experiencing unprecedented success of late, they've all been redshirt freshmen. See Marcus Mariotta of Oregon, Johnathan Foosball of aTm, and Jameis Winston of the Florida State Penal System (I'm predicting). All came on the scene like gangbusters, but every last one of them took a redshirt year. See also RGIII, Andrew Luck, and other QBs who recognized the need for seasoning/learning the system/maturing.
Word out of Baton Rouge is that Harris, while talented, is lacking on at least one of those words written at the end of the previous sentence (again, buy me a beer).
And who exactly will Harris be throwing to? With Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. departing for greener moneyed pastures, LSU's leading returning receiver is Travin Dural, he of the whopping 145 yards in twelve games in '13. Sure, there's star of the recruiting rankings, Malachi Dupre, but he is - drum roll please - yet another true freshman.
Of course, neither QB nor WR is their thinnest position. The less said about the usual strength of LSU's defense - their tackles - the better. They're losing both Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, and their projected starters (Christian LaCouture and ????) have all of 3 career solo tackles. The reason I named "????" as the presumptive starter alongside LaCouture is that Quentin Thomas, who was penciled in as the other starter, recently tore his bicep, and will likely be out for the season. This is made worse due to the fact that LSU was thin at DT before Thomas tore his bicep and true freshman Trey Lealaimatafao went and did this.
True freshman Leonard Fournette may just be as good as advertised, but he'll have to have the strength of Atlas to shoulder this load himself.
I legitimately hate you some times.
It is twilight on an early, yet unreasonably (however, not unseasonably) hot and humid September night. As the sun journeys past the horizon, Dan Bourne's echoing words are heard across the river, "It's Saturday night in Death Valley!" The response, while usually electric for this home opener, may be indeed somber. Not because it's a game against Sam Houston State, but because by this point, the reality of the LSU season may already have gripped the LSU faithful.
The reality for LSU is that so much of the tone of this season rests on the opening "neutral site" game against Wisconsin. A lot has been made of the huge amount of players that left LSU in the offseason. "Talent drain" has been thrown around, but perhaps it's not as bad as it's being made out to be. Regardless of how much stock you put into the nay-saying, the fact remains that LSU is suffering from a pretty bad combination of untimely injuries on top of already thin/inexperienced depth. Wisconsin as of late has been a strong team that you can never sleep on, and it's easy to see that they'll relish the chance to beat a hobbled LSU on a nationally televised game.
Whether LSU wins or loses is not so much the problem as much as how. Most reasonable fans aren't expecting a national championship run. So a loss to start the season isn't going to send people running. However, what if Wisconsin smashes LSU? Confidences can be smashed especially with the two young QBs who will still be vying for the starting position. Even the usually trustworthy LSU defense has weaknesses with almost zero inside depth now. Things can unravel very quickly.
So it is easy to see how on that night on September 6, fans and players alike will be apprehensive about what is to come. Yes, they have front loaded the remainder of the OOC games, and that should give the team confidence. However, once they play the conference games, all bets are off, and who knows what to expect if the team's confidence is shattered by large Midwesterners.
So I'm hoping that LSU plays a strong game against Wisconsin. It doesn't have to be a win. If the game was a hard fought loss, something the coaches can build on, the season doesn't have to be as dismal as people are making it out to be. That said, I just can't see this team doing better than 3 Ls this year. I really think that's being generous, but I've learned long ago never to bet too hard against Les.
That's really the long of the short of it right there. Yes, LSU has a myriad of question marks, but youth doesn't necessarily mean bad. If LSU can start out strong in Houston against Wisconsin, it will likely be strong going forward. If not, bayou state residents will all feel like I did that time I stopped at that Plank road gas station at night - a sense of imminent doom.
Where the season takes a turn for the better:
VandyTigerPhD - By the time the A&M game rolls around, LSU may very well have 3 losses (Wisconsin, Auburn, and Bama) and possibly more. Beating Aggie for the third year in a row in front of the grode jar-having 12th Man is a pretty sweet treat, nonetheless.
Where the season takes a turn for the worst:
Andrew VU '04 - Game 1. It'll be a badgering.
VandyTigerPhD - It's easy to project Brandon Harris as the next Jarrett "Pick 6" Lee in the making. I know, it's boring to agree on something like this, but he's hands down the player most people are anxious over. Really, everything rides on Harris. I always felt like LSU fans were too hard on "Pick 6" Lee, who was in a completely unfair situation at the time. At least Harris (sort of) knows what is expected of him. Now watch Cam Cameron go with Anthony Jenninigs after this little love-in.
Andrew VU '04 - I appear to be swaying you to my side, VandyTigerPhD. Your rhetoric is weak! Weak, I say!!! You correctly predicted I would go with Brandon Harris, and I did not disappoint. Let's just go ahead and set the over/under on when he has a televised meltdown (with his receivers, his OC, or Les Miles) at 1.5 games. I'll take the under.
*Bonus Breakdown player:
VandyTigerPhD - You're a very difficult person to agree with, so I'm going to throw something extra in here so it doesn't look like I'm agreeing with you on Harris. I'm not really calling this a "meltdown", but I think that Leonard Fournette will be the biggest disappointment to the fans. ATVS' Billy Gomila covered the entirely too high expectations much better than I can in a simple paragraph. I think that he'll be a threat and a real contributor. Unfortunately, the unreasonable expectations, coupled with a season that could easily go bad, may make Fournette the unfortunate scapegoat. Again, I refer y'all to Jarrett Lee who was unfairly blamed for more than he should have been his Soph. year.
Best case scenario:
VandyTigerPhD - As much as I'd like to go full-on TIGAS homerism here - after all, I did go there for grad school - I just can't. If LSU manages a win over Wisconsin, it really could give these guys a ton of confidence, though. In this fantasy scenario, LSU gets the confidence to walk into Auburn where they get their first loss. They'll rebound with games in Gainesville and hosting Kentucky. From there, Bama is another L and Mississippi is a toss-up. As far as Aggie goes, it's hard to pick against LSU when we've easily handles the JFF led Aggies twice now. I'm going 10-2 in a fantasy best-case scenario.
Andrew VU '04 - VandyTigerPhD, you ignorant slut. The best, and I'm talking BEST case scenario is that LSU somewhat improbably makes it through the season without any more crippling injuries to their defensive tackles, has "Mr. Bribe" pay a visit to the office of SEC Officiating ("The SEC Office of Officiating could use an international airport..."), resulting in the SEC refs giving them far too many favorable calls, they manage a freakish win over one of the Mississippi schools, and dumb-luck Les their way into an 8-4 season. I... don't see it.
Worst case scenario:
Andrew VU '04 - Brandon Harris, Leonard Fournette, and Malachi Dupre occasionally wow us with their all-world talent, but consistently remind us that they're freshmen. Two more DTs suffer injuries as they're pressed to play before they're ready and/or they're attacked by rogue windows, and John Chavis is forced to switch to the 7 DB defense, which, I admit, will be extremely fun to watch. Corner blitzes on every play!
VandyTigerPhD - I don't want to feed your ego, but the following is pretty easy to envision. The QB situation blows up entirely, making LSU hobble its way through the season. The remaining DTs take up Landscape Architecture majors in lieu of taking the full brunt of the blame. In addition to losing the three "question marks" I've put forth, LSU also loses one (or both) of Mississippi and Aggie. The Les Miles Monday call-in show gets trolled endlessly in a way we haven't seen since the Jefferson QB controversy. I have to replace my 50" plasma after the Florida game, as the large Italian man in me makes "accidents" happen. I can see this season becoming a complete cluster-fuck, with a minimum of 6 wins: SH St., ULM, NM St., UK, Arky, and either A&M or MSU.
VandyTigerPhD - As I have written earlier, I can very much see a win over Wisconsin giving the team a ton of confidence. They could carry this through and really do damage. Realistically though, I think that's not going to happen. With LSU's depth on the inside gone, Wisconsin could stomp LSU American History X style. They then run the table at home, crushing Sam Houston St. and New Mexico St. The ULM game will scare them at halftime, and then the game will turn. Think I'm crazy? Remember the TROY game? Yeah, I nearly froze my ass off at that game - never should have happened. LSU then loses its first SEC game in Auburn. I see LSU rebounding again against Florida and Kentucky, only to have a toss-up against Mississippi and losing to Bama. LSU then beats Arky and has another toss-up of torn up teams against A&M. I'll split the A&M/Mississippi games, and call the season at a realistic 8-4.
Andrew VU '04 - Methinks your realism is clouded with optimism, whereas I know a Candide sequel when I see one. LSU opens by being absolutely housed by Wisconsin - as the burly Badger interior linemen plow through LSU's depleted D-line, paving the way for RB Melvin Gordon's 200+ yard and 3 TD deathblows - and it just gets worse from there. There will be a temporary reprieve, as Harris & Co. put up video game numbers against Sam Houston State and UL Monroe respectively, but they'll tailspin right around the start of SEC play. Look for the Tigers to lose to MSU, Auburn, Ole Miss, Alabama, and have to beat either Arkansas or aTm in the last two weeks of the season to salvage a bowl game out of this maelstrom of a season. I see them going 7-5, with 5-7 a real possibility if so much as a leaf blows onto one of their increasingly fragile defensive tackles. I'm not sure even Les can luck his way out of this one.
***ROGUE QUESTION OF THE DAY***
VandyTigerPhD - What's your favorite Rogue-brand beer? Mine is the Dead Guy Ale. At 6.5% it is a good strong beer, but not so much as to ruin it. I like the balance of the hops, and it's really a great dinner beer. I have it with my jambalaya all the time.
Andrew VU '04 - Are we being sponsored by Rogue? As Judge John Hodgeman says, "No buzz marketing!" However, as I have just buzz marketed his excellent podcast, why stop there? I'll go with Rogue's Morimoto Soba Ale. It's a Japanese style ale, is only available in 24 oz bottles, is damn near impossible to find, but it sure is tasty.
*Editor's Note: Bad Cop, Rogue Cop will be a weekly series once the football season starts (unless we get too busy or it's the weeks we're playing Charleston Southern and Old Dominion and neither of us can find any shits to give). This will get progressively crazier, I can only assume, as I will make it my personal goal to remove all of VandyTigerPhD's pie-eyed optimism.
*VandyTigerPhD's Note: Pie-eyed optimism?!?! I will punch you right in the face. Right. In. The. Face.