Close your eyes and imagine an apocalyptic, nightmarish scenario in which the LSU Tigers finish with a 6-6 record and a last-place finish in the highly-flammable SEC West Division, followed by a cherry-on-top trip to the Duck Commander Bowl to play Duke.
Now open them. Wait, you can still see the painfully realistic image? There’s a bloodcurdling chill that just ran down your spine?
Yeah, that’s probably because this might actually happen.
SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey put together a column that creates an argument for every West member to finish in last place, and LSU’s section looks to be the most rational as it holds so many questions heading into spring practice.
“[New defensive coordinator] Kevin Steele could turn out to be exactly the terrible hire we’ve spent the offseason trying to rationalize,” said And The Valley Shook’s Pod Katt. “[Offensive coordinator] Cam Cameron’s inability to develop a QB and a terrible injury or two leads to a losing record and an early ‘retirement’ for Les Miles.
“Then the true horror begins: watching AD Joe Alleva stumble through a head coaching hire. We’ll end up with Jack Del Rio. And for good measure, let’s say Ed Orgeron left to his own devices gets a little too creative on the recruiting trail.”
Holy crap. That’s… scary. And yet, it’s not out of the real of possibility.
It all starts with the quarterback position; this could be the difference of a six- or seven-win season and contention for the division/conference title. Unfortunately, at this point, it seems to be leaning toward the former, as LSU finds itself in the exact same situation as it was heading into the 2014 season: an underwhelming depth chart.
It looks like it will be between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris once again, who both combined to complete under 50 percent of their passes for 2,063 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. While the turnover ratio wasn’t all that detrimental, the ineffectiveness to move the ball in passing situations was; LSU finished No. 115 in the nation in first downs via the pass and No. 71 in third-down conversions (39.9 percent). Three-star dual-threat Justin McMillan has enrolled early as a member of the 2015 recruiting class but isn’t expected to have much of an impact on the starting job (but Geaux faithfuls are hoping that he pushes the competition).
And while rising sophomore running back Leonard Fournette is an absolute beast in every imaginable facet of the game, there’s only so much he can do when opposing defenses aren’t respecting the pass, forcing him to go up against eight-man fronts on a consistent basis. This makes the offense unbalanced and stagnant, i.e. the entire 2014 season in a nutshell.
Unless the Mad Hatter pulls out one of the biggest magic tricks we’ve ever seen by landing Braxton Miller as a potential graduate transfer this fall, that upcoming schedule looks to be extremely daunting – and that includes the non-conference slate that features McNeese State, Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, and Western Kentucky (though Brandon Doughty might have something to say about the latter contest).
LSU has road trips against Mississippi State, South Carolina, Alabama, and Ole Miss. And while it may have received a break by getting the Gamecocks for its cross-division road matchup – instead of Georgia or Tennessee – it certainly doesn’t get any favors with home games against Auburn or Arkansas, with Florida and Texas A&M being complete coin-flips.
Assuming that the Tigers are able to get through non-conference unscathed, where do they get the rest of their wins? Alabama? Ole Miss? Auburn? No, no, and no. South Carolina? Florida? I wouldn’t bet on it. Arkansas seems to be riding quite a bit of momentum, and Texas A&M looks to have a stellar offense with Kyle Allen that will be hard to keep up with.
What would a .500 record do for Les Miles? Since appearing in the 2011 BCS National Championship, his program has been on a slow downward trend. LSU is 41-11 since then, but 15-9 in SEC play with a second-, third-, and most recently, a fourth-place finish in the West. It is also 1-2 in bowl games, beating an unimpressive Iowa team by seven in the 2014 Outback Bowl. It also doesn’t help that Miles is 7-7 in Top 25 matchups during that time, and 0-3 to Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.
Would that be enough to terminate a contract that’s good through 2019? Probably not, but it would put him in a considerable amount of heat to succeed in a big way for the 2016 season. And even if it is, I’m not sure if Jack Del Rio would be available – but a man down the street by the name of Mark Hudspeth would be.
Nonetheless, LSU is predicted to be No. 11 in the preseason Top 25 rankings by NationalChamps.net, which would indicate that the Tigers are still poised for another run at a conference title.