LT La’el Collins (No. 70)He’s unequivocally LSU’s best player. The Associated Press and SEC coaches see it that way, recently tabbing him as the Tigers’ only first-team all-conference performer. Even the coaching staff believes it as Collins, a Baton Rouge native, was honored as the team’s MVP at an award banquet Sunday evening. The 6-foot-5, 321-pound senior has started the last two seasons at left tackle and this year led the way for a ground game, one that runs left an absurd percentage of the time, averaging 219 yards per contest.
Collins was also named the recipient of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, presented to the top offensive lineman in the SEC. He led all LSU big uglies in 2014 in snaps played (792) and knockdowns (84.5). Big La’el will easily be the first Tiger drafted this spring, and, along with left guard Vadal Alexander, he’s been a huge part of re-shaping an offense that was falling off the rails midseason. The Tigers, while making no real attempt to be balanced, were still able to compete in their biggest games of the year because off an ability to run left behind two maulers at any given time.
RB Leonard Fournette (No. 7)If you followed recruiting last year – or have watched much SEC ball this fall – you know who this guy is. The numbers in season one for the former all-world prospect weren’t astronomical, but they paint an accurate picture of a campaign that started out on somewhat uneasy footing and ended with a bang, as Fournette (6-1, 230) has clearly been LSU’s lead back down the stretch.
In the regular season Fournette amassed 891 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns on the ground. He averaged 74.2 yards a game, but lately the freshman’s been even hotter. Take out the mysterious five-carry, nine-yard total in the debacle at Arkansas, and Fournette has averaged 103.6 yards rushing over his last five contests. His dump-trucking of Texas A&M safety Howard Matthews reminded just how Herschel Walker-like Fournette can be. Strong, physical and elusive, there’s a reason Fournette was arguably the biggest recruit landed in program history. Expect him to receive no less than 55-60% of the backfield carries on Dec. 30.
3. WR Travin Dural (No. 83)Dural is LSU’s leading and most experienced receiver as well as the offense’s best vertical threat. He’s also the wide-out starting quarterback Anthony Jennings has the most confidence in, dating back to the two hooking up in the final minute to beat Arkansas a season ago. That trust carried over into this season, when Dural finished with 37 receptions for 758 yards and seven touchdowns, all team highs. (To illustrate how little LSU throws, consider that Notre Dame’s leading receiver – Will Fuller – registered 71 catches for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns.)
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound redshirt sophomore had 20 more grabs than the next closest Tiger (freshman receiver Trey Quinn) and 440 yards more than number two on that list (Malachi Dupre, another freshman receiver). He has the potential to be dangerous, averaging 20.5 yards per reception, but the quarterback position has to cooperate. Given Jennings completes less than 50% of his passes, that’s been a struggle. LSU did find an additional way to get Dural involved at Texas A&M in the regular-season finale, sending him in motion and handing off to him on jet sweeps. It’ll be interesting to see if that stays in the game plan in Nashville.
RB Terrence Magee (No. 18)Every Batman needs a Robin. Magee, a senior, has now played that supporting role to a tee, and for two different Batmans no less. A season ago he was the change-of-pace back to Jeremy Hill and now Magee is operating behind Fournette. But he’s still a very relevant part of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s designs. Magee (5-9, 217) has averaged 11.4 carries in LSU’s last five games, toting the rock 17 times for 74 yards at Texas A&M Thanksgiving night, and is also averaging more than two receptions in that same span.
Magee is LSU’s best pass-protector and probably pass-catcher out of the backfield as well, making him a third-down favorite for Cameron. For the season he’s been the team’s second-leading rusher (105 carries, 545 yards, 3 TD) and finished third in receptions with 16 catches. The one-time receiver also lines up deep, along with Fournette ironically, to return kickoffs for the Tigers.
C Ethan Pocic (No. 77)With senior Elliott Porter almost certainly out with an ankle injury, Pocic (6-7, 301) should be in line to make his second straight start at center and fourth start there this season. For every other game the sophomore has lined up at right guard. Pocic has been an extremely valuable and versatile player for LSU, and early whispers have him as the leader in the clubhouse to replace Collins at left tackle next season.
For the bowl game, look for him to play exclusively at center. That’s a positive thing for LSU in terms of communication, but it takes away one of the Tigers’ biggest weapons – the ability to pull him from right guard to lead out in front of Collins and Alexander, one of LSU’s go-to plays this season. By extension here you’ll also want to watch redshirt senior Evan Washington, who will make his second straight start at right guard, backfilling for Pocic. The musical chairs worked at Texas A&M, and the staff feels confident in the adjusted front five with three weeks to prep for their next go together.
On the Spot: QB Anthony JenningsIn LSU’s bowl game last holiday season, the Outback Bowl versus Iowa, the Tigers (now admittedly) didn’t prepare Jennings for success. The coaches opted to hide their overall offense and pound away with Jeremy Hill on a rainy day. Many in Tiger Country wonder if the temptation is there for Les Miles & Co. to do the same thing with Fournette, Magee and freshman runner Darrel Williams in the Music City Bowl given the way they’ve been playing on top of how noticeably Notre Dame has struggled to stop the run.
But if LSU’s going to expand its horizons some and start to evolve heading into the offseason on offense, Jennings is on the spot. For the season he’s completed only 48.8% of his passes and hasn’t gone over 150 yards passing in a single game since Sept. 20. Jennings’ 119 rushing yards in the Tigers’ last game in College Station were a revelation, but it also came against an extremely porous run defense. Bottom line: Too often this season the LSU passing game has been punchless. If Jennings can’t take a step forward versus Notre Dame, it’ll be a whole offseason of poor quarterback talk in Baton Rouge.