NCAA Football Preview - LSU Tigers

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Updated: 8/18 9:54 am

The Tigers' opened up red-hot with four straight victories, highlighted by a 35-21 win over eventual SEC-champion Auburn on Sept. 21, but after rising to No. 6 in the AP Poll, they slipped up at Georgia on Sept. 28, 44-41.

After back-to-back wins at Mississippi State (59-26) and Florida (17-6), LSU had another difficult time on the road on Oct. 19, falling to Ole Miss (27-24). Its hopes for an SEC Western Division crown were officially dashed on Nov. 9 when it lost to rival Alabama, 38-17.

The team rebounded at the end of the year by beating Texas A&M (34-10) and Arkansas (31-27) to earn a spot in the Outback Bowl, where it dismissed Iowa, 21-14 to finish up 10-3 (5-3 SEC).

The Tigers have qualified for a bowl in 14 straight seasons, including nine in a row under Miles, who is an outstanding 95-24 in his career at LSU with seven double-digit win campaigns. The squad comes into 2014 No. 13 in the Preseason Coaches Poll, behind Alabama (No. 2) and Auburn (No. 5) in the SEC West.

2014 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: LSU's pro-style offense was in top form last season, as the unit ranked sixth in the SEC in both scoring (35.8 ppg) and yardage (453.3 ypg), but it'll basically have to start from scratch in 2014 after losing quarterback Zach Mettenberger (3,082 yards, 22 TDs, eight INTs), running back Jeremy Hill (1,401 yards, 16 TDs) and receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (59 receptions, 1,152 yards, eight TDs) and Jarvis Landry (77 receptions, 1,193 yards, 10 TDs) to last spring's NFL Draft.

Replacing Mettenberger's production under center will be no easy task, and Miles will take all the time he needs to decide which signal caller he will turn to as his starter.

"(The) quarterback will be Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris," Miles said at the SEC Media Days. "It will be a very competitive event from the start to the finish. Cam Cameron, a guy who's made a career mentoring quarterbacks, is our offensive coordinator (and) will do exactly the right things with those guys."

No one left on the roster caught more than seven passes a season ago. Travin Dural and Quantavius Leslie are currently listed as the starting wide receivers.

The Tigers had the good fortune of landing the consensus top offensive recruit this offseason in Leonard Fournette, who is considered one of the best running back prospects since Adrian Peterson. Terrence Magee (626 yards, eight TDs) and Kenny Hilliard (310 yards, seven TDs) will also figure prominently in the backfield.

With the outstanding talent at running back, the questions at receiver and quarterback, and the return of four offensive line starters, expect the Tigers to attack mostly on the ground in 2014.

DEFENSE: Miles' teams are known for having top-notch defenses, and the 2013 version of the squad did not disappoint, ranking in the SEC's top five in both points allowed (22.0) and yards allowed (340.7 ypg). Just as it must on offense however, LSU will also need overcome a large turnover on the defensive side of the ball, as just five starters return.

Middle linebacker D.J. Welter is the senior leader of the group and is looking to improve upon a strong 2013 (80 tackles). Kwon Alexander (65 tackles) and Lamar Louis (25 tackles) round out the linebacking corps.

After a strong freshman season in a reserve role, Danielle Hunter (57 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) is poised for a breakout campaign with full-time snaps. Jermauria Rasco (6.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks) will line up at the other defensive end position.

Three sophomores will start in the secondary, including Tre'Davious White (55 tackles, two INTs).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Colby Delahoussaye had an outstanding freshman season as the kicker, making 13-of-14 field goal attempts with a long of 49. Jamie Keehn will return as the punter after placing 18 of his 43 kicks inside the 20-yard line.

Beckham handled the majority of the return duties in 2013. The jobs of both kickoff and punt returner will likely be left to Dural.

OUTLOOK: Few teams in the SEC, or in the nation for that matter, will need to replace as much production on offense as LSU. Even though it is used to turning over talent every year as an elite program, it'll basically be running out an entirely new team in 2014, meaning predicting its fate will be more difficult than usual. But Miles has been at this a long time, and he not only knows what it takes to win but has more confidence than just about anybody.

"I would be willing to bet that not many picked Auburn a year ago," Miles said. "I like us. I like us in every game."

With five teams ranked in the preseason poll, the SEC West appears even more loaded than usual, and LSU will have to be nearly perfect to make it to Atlanta for the conference championship game. The team undoubtedly has Oct. 4 (Auburn) and Nov. 8 (Alabama) circled on the calendar, and if it can capture one or both of those contests, a title run appears well within reach.

More than likely however, the Tigers will have to deal with too many growing pains to be a real threat to win the league. Still, the team should flirt with double-digit wins yet again.

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