Saying LSU's roster is young is like calling Breaking Bad intense or Kanye West outspoken. The Tigers have relied on freshmen and sophomores in each of the past few seasons, and the pattern will continue since seven underclassmen entered the 2014 draft.
The latest recruiting class features dual-threat passer Brandon Harris, rangy wideout Malachi Dupre and, most notably, running back Leonard Fournette, whom coach Les Miles, at SEC media days, compared with Michael Jordan. LSU needs more than just strong performances from its newest arrivals, though. The defensive players who started to break out in 2013 have to emerge as stars. Linebacker Kwon Alexander (65 tackles) will be asked to switch from the Sam to the Will spot. Cornerback Tre'Davious White (55 tackles, two interceptions) will look to follow in the footsteps of NFL standouts and former Tigers Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne. Coordinator John Chavis's unit can contain spread offenses better than any other program in the nation; that's crucial in a division with Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
LSU is in a familiar position: heavy on potential, light on experience. To get a berth in the College Football Playoff, it has to grow up fast.
Will Leonard Fournette, a 6'1", 225-pound running back from New Orleans, become the first true freshman to hoist the Heisman Trophy? He'll split carries with seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard at first, but expect Fournette's talent to shine. He rushed for 7,619 yards at St. Augustine High, and LSU assistant Frank Wilson says, "The only [player] you could even put in the same conversation with him would be Marshall [Faulk]."
LSU's playoff hopes could be dashed as early as Week 1, in a neutral-site opener (in Houston) against star tailback Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin. And if October trips to Auburn and Florida don't expose the youthful Tigers, they still have to survive this brutal four-game stretch to close out the season: Ole Miss, Alabama, at Arkansas and at Texas A&M.
SI POWER RANKINGS / By Rotowire.com
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SPECIAL TEAMS 89%
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
I know they lost a bunch of guys, but in my mind they're still LSU. They're gonna be made to stop the run. We've got to figure out a way to stop Kwon Alexander. That isn't easy, especially with those big guys they got up front. I won't say we're gonna block him all the time, but we have to at least try to get in his way and give our backs a chance to make something happen. Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson are superaggressive, but it got them in trouble sometimes. They are long corners who can run and be physical. This year I expect them to be a tough tandem to go against. Most of those kids they got can come in and play now. They won't have a big drop-off in talent. They might be younger, and the lack of experience will come into play. But as the season goes on, I'm sure they'll get better and better. They'll be the same old LSU team that hits you in the mouth and gets after you pretty good.
ICON SMI (ALEXANDER)
CLIFF WELCH/ICON SMI (FOURNETTE)