2014 Record: 8-5
Returning starters: (7 offense, 7 defense) OL Vadal Alexander, OL Jerald Hawkins, OL Ethan Pocic, RB Leonard Fournette, TE Dillon Gordon, WR Travin Dural, WR Malachi Dupre; DT Davon Godchaux, DT Christian Lacouture, MLB Kendell Beckwith, SLB Lamar Louis, CB Tre’Davious White, FS Jalen Mills, SS Jamal Adams
Most important offensive player: QB Brandon Harris: The sophomore signal caller is in line to start the season for LSU, and he’ll have to show marked improvement in some of the non-physical aspects of the game to keep the job and advance the Tigers’ anemic passing offense, something he definitely has the physical tools and skill set to accomplish.
Most important defensive player: MLB Kendell Beckwith: From the instant Beckwith became a starter in midseason 2014, LSU’s run defense improved dramatically. He’ll be counted on in the same capacity this fall under first-year coordinator Kevin Steele, but Beckwith is also vital because the depth behind him is paper-thin.
Emerging offensive player: RB Derrius Guice: The true freshman enters a stable that already has lead back Leonard Fournette and punishing sophomore Darrel Williams. But Guice has shown in a few weeks of Fall Camp he can’t be left off the field. As a pass-catcher and change-of-pace back, Guice will factor in plenty on third downs and make a difference in year one.
Emerging defensive player: DE Arden Key: Another true freshman primed to make an impact, this time on the defensive side of the ball. Key arrived late to LSU after a transcript snafu and has shown up on the bayou with bad intentions. It wouldn’t surprise if he took the field as a pass-rushing end on the first third down of the season.
How they matchup with Syracuse: LSU doesn’t have its trademark depth along the defensive line, something that almost always wears out opposing offenses from other conferences. Still the Tigers’ talent on both sides of the ball figures to be too much for Syracuse, even in the Carrier Dome. The quarterback position could still be in flux in late September, but it’s hard to imagine the ‘Cuse can consistently stop LSU’s power running game. Les Miles hasn’t lost a regular-season non-conference game in 10 years. Don’t imagine that will change in upstate New York.
Season outlook: The Bayou Bengals have taken a step back in the SEC for each of the last three seasons following the 13-0 regular season of 2011. Many inside and outside of the program are expecting a bounce-back season in 2015 considering LSU managed to keep most of its talented underclassmen, a rarity of late with hordes of juniors and redshirt sophomores flocking to the NFL Draft. Getting to double-digit wins in the regular season would be considered a success. Anything less will likely put Les Miles on the hottest seat he’s encountered to date in Baton Rouge. To get to 10-2 the Tigers will have to navigate a tricky September stretch – Week Two at Mississippi State, Week Three versus Auburn – and solve the quarterback dilemma sooner than later.