2010 NCAA Football Preview: LSU Tigers

2009 Record: 9-4 (5-3 in SEC)
2009 Bowl: Capital One Bowl (lost to Penn State 19-17)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #27
Head Coach: Les Miles (51-15 at LSU, 79-35 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: North Carolina (9/4), West Virginia (9/25), McNeese State (10/16), Louisiana-Monroe (11/13)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 24.8 points per game (10th in SEC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 122 (11th in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 181 (9th in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 304 (last in SEC)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 16.2 points per game (3rd in SEC, 11th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 133 (4th in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 213 (9th in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 327 (6th in SEC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.31 per game (4th in SEC)
Penalties: 48 yards per game (6th in SEC)

Returning Starters
Offense: 6
Defense: 4
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Jordan Jefferson, Jr (182 of 296 for 2166 yds, 17 TD, 7 INT)
Rushing: WR/QB Russell Shepard, Soph (45 carries for 277 yds, 2 TD, 6.1 ypc)
Receiving: WR Terrance Toliver, Sr (53 rec, 735 yds, 3 TD, 4.1 rec/game, 13.8 ypc)
Tackles: LB Kelvin Sheppard, Sr (110)
Sacks: DT Drake Nevis, Sr (4)
Interceptions: CB Patrick Peterson, Jr (2); SS Brandon Taylor, Jr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #24
Mark Schlabach: #18
Phil Steele- #26
Rivals: #16
Scout- #10
Sports Illustrated: #23
Sporting News: #20

2010 Pre-Season SEC West Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #4
Phil Steele: #3 (tied with Arkansas)

2010 Bowl Prediction
Athlon Sports: Gator Bowl (vs. Michigan State)
Phil Steele: Gator Bowl (vs. Michigan)

LSU is only 3 years removed from beating Ohio State 38-24 and winning a National Championship. LSU has also been to a bowl every year since 1999. In 2008 they finished unranked in the AP and last year they finished 17th in the AP. Despite a lackluster offense LSU won 8 of their first 10 with the only two losses being to Alabama and Florida. Unfortunately, LSU lost 2 of their last 3 (including one to Ole Miss) which has left a bit of a bitter taster in the fans of the Tigers. We caught up with LSU Tiger fan Chris Ballay to get his take on the 2010 LSU Tigers.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

LSU does have the talent to be successful. Despite having had back-to-back disappointing seasons LSU still does possess the athletic talent to get back on track. Add in the fact a lot of players are returning from a disappointing end to the season and you have to think there is a lot of motivation to turn things around.

The biggest weakness for LSU is leadership and that includes the players and coaches. When LSU won the national championship in 2007 there were leaders on the field and leaders on the sideline. Far too common in recent years has the team lost in a game because Player A was not able to step up on a big play (incomplete pass, dropped ball) or Coach X seemed too rattled to make the right call and bring home a victory.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

October 9th at Florida is the first big test for LSU. Up to that point LSU will have played North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, West Virginia, and Tennessee, but all of those games LSU should win. The game at Florida is the first real test to find out what kind of team LSU is. For starters if LSU loses this game it will be three straight losses for the Tigers against the Gators, which does not bode well for the security of Les Miles’s job. If LSU can somehow get a victory here than LSU fans can start to believe that maybe Miles can turn things around.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Alabama. The Crimson Tide are unfortunately coming off a national championship, also add in the fact that they have LSU’s former coach and you will see why much of Baton Rouge is not happy about the recent success in Tuscaloosa. In recent years Miles has stopped being the riverboat gambler we all loved. As that gambler style of his has gone away, Alabama has gotten better. Alabama (so it seems) looks like the team on the rise, while LSU is stuck in the mud.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Outside of Louisiana not many people know about wide receiver Reuben Randle. Last year as a freshman Randle at times was the guy LSU had to count on to make the big catch, and more times than not he came through. In one year Randle has already shown tremendous growth. LSU has a reputation for having strong, tall receivers that cause nightmares for cornerbacks. Hopefully Randle can continue this pattern.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

One year ago Russell Shepard was the highly touted quarterback recruit. After playing sparingly his freshman year LSU has decided to put Shepard at wide receiver for the upcoming 2010 season. This past offseason LSU hired Billy Gonzales as the new wide receivers coach, prior to LSU Gonzales worked with Percy Harvin at Florida. LSU fans are optimistic that with Gonzales’s teachings Shepard can evolve into an extremely dangerous offensive threat. Shepard is a game changer. At the wide receiver position he has the ability to do what he does best.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Cornerback Patrick Peterson really started to reach his potential last year. While on the field Peterson continuously displayed the shutdown capability we all desire in our team’s cornerbacks. As the season progressed he only got better. Against Florida he helped the defense hold Tim Tebow and Co. to a mere 13 points and against Alabama he shut down Julio Jones. (Jones’s touchdown took place one play after Peterson had to go to the sidelines after a minor injury.) The 2010 season for Patrick Peterson should be another chance for people to get a glimpse of this future NFL starter in action. Peterson is an All-American cornerback who will be a force to reckon with.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

LSU’s success this year comes down to Jordan Jefferson at quarterback. The 2009 season for LSU did not start off that bad at all, but over time it escalated into a season that finished with LSU holding onto four losses. With more consistent play from Jefferson LSU can avoid another slide. Jefferson shows great potential, but he also shows a general lacking of understanding in key moments of the game. For one, Jefferson struggles in realizing how long he should hold on to a football before throwing it away or scrambling up field. Far too often Jefferson got sacked because of this problem and in turn a scoring drive is halted. With an improvement in passing accuracy and better decision-making in the pocket LSU can sneak up on the rest of the SEC. Despite some of his shortcomings Jefferson did have two road SEC wins, which should never be overlooked. As much as he is attacked for his problems in the pocket he did throw 16 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. What Jefferson learns from the 2009 season will be directly proportionate to the outcome of the 2010 season.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Michael Ford was big running back recruit for LSU a year ago. This past season Ford did not play, but regardless his name and strength have spread through Louisiana. For starters Ford has been one of the kings in the weight room and that in turn has helped him bulk up for the upcoming season. In the spring game Ford showed LSU fans for the first time his potential. Not only does he have the ability to burst past defenders, he also has the strength to punish those who attempt to get in his way.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

LSU has a reputation as always having good defensive ends. 2009 was a slow year for LSU in that category, but Sam Montgomery is the leading candidate in turning that around. Montgomery is a redshirt freshman defensive end who remained a force throughout high school and in LSU practices last year. At 6’4” 240 pounds Montgomery will be a great addition to an LSU defense in need of a consistent defensive end. I think defensive coordinator John Chavis found his match in Montgomery who will only get better with time.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

In Les Miles first three years at LSU his teams had a swagger to them, in particular Miles. Each Saturday LSU showed up and at the end of the year they were either in the national championship or in the hunt. Regardless they remained a good football team year in and year out. Over the last couple years that image has melted away. No longer do Miles teams elude the swagger we all liked about LSU football. Far too often this past season LSU ran a simple, bland offense that was predictable to say the least. Worse Miles seemed to be getting outsmarted against his competition in the biggest moments of games. I want Miles to turn it around in Baton Rouge, but with the question mark above the quarterback situation and uncertainty I still feel with John Chavis’s defense I cannot be over optimistic. Last season LSU would play mediocre football for three quarters, then in the fourth the team would make a run. Sometimes they would win, sometimes they would lose. The biggest problem is a devote fanbase has lost faith in Les Miles and the direction he has LSU football headed. Fans no longer believe in Les Miles. They hope he turns it around, but after the debacle against Ole Miss in which Miles failed to call a timeout many of his most diehard fans have stopped believing Miles can win in Baton Rouge. I think, much like last year, LSU starts off 5-0. The Tigers will get outclassed by Florida, Auburn, and Alabama and finish the season 9-3 with another Capital One Bowl invite.

A successful season in my mind would be to go 10-2 or 9-3. 9-3 remains okay with me as long as LSU beats Florida or Alabama. To lose to those two programs three straight years is beyond painful for an LSU fan. If LSU finishes 9-3 while losing to both Alabama and Florida the season will again be a disappointment. Things are on edge in Baton Rouge because after an uneventful spring game many fans are cautious to be optimistic about this season. LSU has the ability to go 10-2, but they also have the ability to go 7-5.

Les Miles has his back against the wall. We will see how he responds.

Check out Chris Ballay's blog My Haven of Thought to get his views on the LSU Tigers and more.

Previous SEC Previews
Auburn Tigers
Kentucky Wildcats
Mississippi Rebels
South Carolina Gamecocks
Vanderbilt Commodores

Next Preview: Georgia Bulldogs

Previous Pre-Season Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Tech Hokies
Big 12- Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma SoonersTexas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, USF Bulls, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Purdue Boilermakers
C-USA- Houston Cougars,  SMU Mustangs, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Tulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
Independent- Navy Midshipmen
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
Sun Belt- North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies

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