IN REVIEW: 10 Burning Questions for 2008

LSU opened the 2007 season ranked No. 2 in the nation.

While one can expect the Tigers to open much lower in the preseason polls than a year ago, how Les Miles and his 2008 LSU team answer the following questions will go a long way in determining their success next fall.

Here we do our best to outline the 10 hottest topics surrounding the LSU program of the upcoming year.

1. How will LSU handle the national championship hangover?

Looking back at the 2004 season after the Tigers claimed their first crystal ball, LSU faced many of the same problems they will be facing in '08. The departure of valuable grizzled veterans such as Jacob Hester, Matt Flynn, Glen Dorsey and Chevis Jackson, just to name a few, will make a successful title defense hard to fathom. Not to mention the brutal schedule facing the Tigers. As if hosting the '08 media darling Georgia Bulldogs, Houston Nutt-guided Ole Miss Rebels, and Nick Saban's Crimson Tide isn't tough enough, the Tigers will have to travel to unfriendly combines of Auburn, Gainesville, Little Rock and Columbia. Sure, LSU will be oozing with talent, but a repeat just doesn't add up.

2. Will LSU fans finally accept Les Miles as the Tigers' head coach and no longer question his coaching abilities?

What more does the man with the high hat have to prove? His accomplishments and numbers are jaw-dropping, along with his unique coaching style that guarantees a thriller every time the Tigers take the field. With his cumulative record of 35-6 as coach and a flawless record in bowl appearances – including the illusive UNANIMOUS national championship – it's time the kool-aid drinkers still stuck in the Saban era wake up and smell the obvious. Les Miles is for real.

3. Who will Miles hire to replace defensive coordinator Bo Pelini?

Early rumors pointed to Georgia Tech zone-blitz guru Jon Tenuta taking over for the Nebraska-bound coach, but those speculations have been squashed. A likely scenario now seems to be an in-house promotion of defensive backs coach Doug Mallory or a possible co-defensive coordinator position with Mallory sharing the spot with linebacker and special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto.

4. Will Chad Jones continue to return punts for LSU next season?

As amazing of a freakishly talented athlete that Jones is, he didn't exactly look natural returning punts for the Tigers this season. On his good returns, he plowed over defenders and picked up decent gains. On the other hand, Jones seemed to not understand the concept of fair catching the ball, which led to scary collisions and even a couple of fumbles. He is the kind of guy you want on the field at all times, but maybe the LSU coaching staff should dig into the promising '07 redshirt crop and keep Jones doing what he does best – giving defensive coordinators nightmares.

5. Can Ryan Perrilloux get the job done replacing Matt Flynn?

Named the national high school offensive player of the year in 2004 by USA Today, Perrilloux looked to have the potential to be a brilliant star in the talent-rich LSU galaxy of players. After sitting behind number one draft pick JaMarcus Russell and the savvy Matt Flynn, the former Mr. Football of the state of Louisiana finally has a chance to show what he is capable of when given the reins. The LSU faithful saw glimpses of his ability throughout the season with Crowton using the mobile quarterback to bring a change of pace from Flynn. The college football nation saw that the sophomore was capable of winning the important game when he filled in for an injured Matt Flynn and led the Tigers past Tennessee in this year's SEC Championship game in only his second career start. With Gary "The Wizard" Crowton working his magic with him, there is a good chance the young quarterback could live up to the hype that he set for himself after that brilliant prep career and an impressive start in Baton Rouge.

6. Will Ricky Jean-Francois be LSU's next star defensive tackle and fill the void left by Glenn Dorsey?

It would be hard to imagine that anyone could ever fill the role of a player who snatched up virtually every defensive award possible in '07. To put it in perspective, Dorsey was the first player in college football history to win Nagurski, Outland, Lott and Lombardi trophies. Throw in the fact that the defensive lineman finished ninth on the Heisman ballot – higher than any other defensive player – and it seems like Jean-Francois has no chance to be what Dorsey was to the Tigers. Despite those staggering facts, LSU's BCS Championship Game hero without a doubt has the upside to become another dominant force on the Tigers defensive front. An amazing freshman season in '06 for Jean-Francois had Tiger fans excited about the defensive line for 07'. But due to a hefty academic suspension, the Miami native was forced to miss all 12 regular season games this past season. Jean-Francois picked up where he left off when he was reinstated for the SEC title game and showed everyone what LSU's D was missing when he dished out a Most Outstanding Defensive Player performance in the BCS national title game. With his confidence up in the classroom as well as on the gridiron, look for the big fella to have a monster year in '08.

7. Who will step into the leadership role for the 2008 Tigers?

At first glance, all the Tigers that one might classify as a leader seemed to be on their way out after bringing home the hardware this year. That's easily understood because LSU was simply flooded with seniors who were battle-tested SEC veterans. But the Tigers bring back a true commander on the defensive side of the ball in linebacker Darry Beckwith, who will bring quality senior leadership to a fairly young squad next season. Returning on offense is versatile lineman Brett Helms, who has found his home at the center position. The big question is if quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, despite past transgressions, can become a leader on the field and off.

8. Which young players will step into the vacancies left by LSU's three departing senior defensive backs?

With game breakers such as Craig Steltz, Chevis Jackson and Jonathon Zenon moving on to further their careers in the NFL, it would be completely understandable for LSU fans to have doubt concerning next year's defensive secondary. Good news is that the Tigers are drenched with young prospects to fill the roles of the exiting greats. Jai Eugene – the No. 1-rated defensive prospect coming out of Louisiana in 2005 – saw minimal action this season but will most likely be filling one of the open spots at cornerback. But to get that nod, there is a ton of talent Eugene will have to compete with. Super recruits of the '07 class such as Stefoin Francois, Ron Brooks, Shomari Clemons and Phelon Jones – who all redshirted this season – will be in the mix for spots in the secondary. Throw in Chad Jones, Curtis Taylor and Danny McCray and the future doesn't look quite as bleak. Also, the landing of the No. 1 cornerback recruit in the country, Patrick Johnson from Pompano Beach, Fla., helps the Tigers' chances in revamping those slots. The interesting question is which one of the redshirt freshmen will emerge to be a solid contributor in 2008.

9. Like Chad Jones and Terrance Toliver, which newcomer will contribute in 2008?

Patrick Johnson terrorized offenses and defenses in high school, but his college career will consist of giving quarterbacks grief. The 6-1, 200-pound physical beast of a cornerback should step in and contribute as a true freshman. His closing speed is scary, and when he arrives he is usually in a terrible mood. Chancey Aghayere of Garland, Texas, was an enormous land for this year's Tiger recruiting class as well. The 6-3, 240-pound defensive end is rangy and loves to dish out punishment. His speed and athleticism will have him on the field as a true freshman. Both Aghayere and Johnson are five-star recruits and are ranked among the top 25 prep players in the country.

10. LSU still has plenty of firepower to compete in the SEC West, but can the Tigers make it back to Atlanta?

The West will be extremely competitive once again. Mississippi State, coming off their best season in eight years, will most likely not be the pushover they have been in the past. With Houston Nutt taking over at Ole Miss, the Rebels will continue to improve, but don't expect a one-year turnaround. Nick Saban and Alabama will not lose six games in '08. Arkansas will be rejuvenated with Bobby Petrino coming into Fayetteville, and the Hawgs always give LSU fits. And lastly, there are the Auburn Tigers to think about. And LSU has to travel to the horribly unfriendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. But the biggest factor is that LSU has that enormous bull's-eye on its back after finishing a magical season as unanimous national champions. The road to Atlanta is rocky, but the Les Miles era at LSU thus far has been anything but predictable.

Tiger Blitz Top Stories