August is here and that means college football season is starting soon. The first games of the 2017 season kick off Aug. 26. And as it quickly approaches, we have 25 days to preview each of the 25 teams in our updated Dr. Saturday 2017 preseason poll. Check here every day to find out who we think the 25 best teams in the country will be. Fair warning, however. We’re probably going to be wrong.
Previous entries: No. 12 Michigan, No. 13 Stanford, No. 14 Louisville, No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 16 Georgia, No. 17 Florida, No. 18 South Florida, No. 19 Kansas State, No. 20 Texas, No. 21 Miami, No. 22 Notre Dame, No. 23 Northwestern, No. 24 Washington State, No. 25 North Carolina
No. 11 LSU
2016 record: 8-4
Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
Biggest non-conference game: Sept. 2 vs. BYU
Biggest conference game: Nov. 4 at Alabama
Key returning player: RB Derrius Guice
Key departed player: RB Leonard Fournette
Three things to know about LSU
• Oh Canada, we pin your top 10 and conference title hopes on thee.
After Ed Orgeron got the permanent head coaching gig for the Tigers, he replaced the retired Cam Cameron with Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Based off Canada’s recent college football history, there are some high hopes for the Tiger offense in Baton Rouge.
The Pitt offense averaged 41 points and 447 yards a game in 2016. Quarterback Nathan Peterman, a transfer from Tennessee after he lost the starting gig to Josh Dobbs, completed over 60 percent of his passes and running back and cancer survivor James Conner ran for over 1,000 yards.
There are probably some LSU fans who are looking at the parallels in LSU’s offense and hoping for a repeat performance. QB Danny Etling is a transfer — he came from Purdue — and running back Derrius Guice is more dynamic than Conner was. And that’s no slight to Conner, who was one of the best running backs in college football.
Guice ran for 1,387 yards and 15 scores in 2016 while filling in for Leonard Fournette, who never seemed to be truly healthy. A similar statline is entirely possible in 2017.
“Everything that we do is going to be based around our best player, Derrius Guice,” Orgeron said at SEC media days. “We feel we have one of the best running back and one of the best offensive players in the country coming back. Derrius is a great player. He runs the ball like Warren Sapp played the defensive line for me at Miami. He runs with an attitude.”
The pressure is on Etling to take some steps forward. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes in 2016 for 2,123 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He needs to add about 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns to that total before we can start using the word “dynamic” in association with LSU’s offense.
• As is typical, the LSU defense has a ton of talent and is replacing a ton of starters. Just five starters return from last year’s unit, though three of the five are in the defensive secondary. LSU should be able to cover well and hold opponents under 200 yards passing per game for the fourth time in five seasons.
But for the secondary to do its job well, it needs help from the pass rush. And the return and health of defensive end Arden Key is paramount. Key had 12 of LSU’s 36 sacks in 2016 but took a leave of absence in the spring. He’s back with the team and rehabbing from a shoulder injury. Yeah, it would be nice to have Key available for a few games in September, but he needs to be healthy late in the season for LSU to have a chance in the SEC West.
In addition to replacing Jamal Adams at safety, LSU also needs to replace all three starting linebackers from 2016. In all, the top five tacklers from the Tiger defense are gone.
“[Linebacker] Devin White has to step up into that leadership role,” Orgeron said of a player who had 30 tackles a year ago. “He’s an outstanding player. He’s matured. In fact, he called me about a month ago and said, Coach, will you help me be a leader on this football team and let me know what to do.
“We’re expecting those guys to do it. [Linebacker] Donnie Alexander will be a senior. I think he’s going to take a leadership role and do a great job for us.”
• LSU’s schedule is a bit tougher than it would be otherwise because of last year’s hurricane game with Florida.
Since the game with the Gators was moved to Baton Rouge, LSU travels to Florida in 2017. That means the Tigers play at Florida and at Alabama this season, along with road games vs. both Mississippi schools and Tennessee. With a neutral-site game vs. BYU, LSU has just six home games.
When asked about the schedule in July, Orgeron responded with an “it is what it is.” That may not be a popular refrain if LSU loses the Florida game and falls out of the race for the SEC West as a result. The Tigers should be very good; but the schedule is too.
“Here’s what we do at LSU, we take one day at a time, one game at a time. We know we have a very tough schedule, but we don’t look at it that way. We look at it as a chance to compete. We look at it as a chance. When we take our team on the road, to go into a hostile environment, and we accept that challenge. And we want to compete at the highest level, and that’s part of being in the SEC.”
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