OK, so it's taken me a while to get the second part of this done. C'est la vie.
Before I delve into the second part of the season, a quick explanation and then a brief review.
Hopefully it's clear I'm not trying to break down each of these games and make a detailed prediction. I'm simply trying to look at the season in it's entirety and set a realistic expectation of what the final outcome should look like.
To review - LSU should enter the Georgia game with a 4-0 (2-0) record and some much needed game experience at QB and defensive line. I think Georgia will be a very, very tough game and Florida even tougher. My prediction is LSU starts the second half of the season 5-1 (3-1). But just barely, and I'm not really all that confident of that.
OK - on to the second half of the season.
7. AUBURN - After a week off, LSU welcomes the other SEC Tigers to Death Valley under first year coach Gene Chizik, a strange hire from a losing program at Iowa State. I don't comment much on coaching stuff, but I just don't get this hire. We'll see. Anyway, Auburn's defense should once again be the team's strength if Antonio Coleman gets some help on the DL and the secondary stays healthy. Auburn hired Ted Roof from Minnesota to be the Def Coord, and he's apparently known for aggressive squads that generate turnovers. LSU will need solid play from a healthy offensive line to give Jordan Jefferson time to check down. If that happens, I don't see Auburn's defense being good enough this year to keep LSU below 28 points.
Auburn's big questions this year are QB and offensive line. Those two being questions together don't usually bode well. Kodi Burns returns from a lackluster 2008, but as a WR. Neil Caudle is making waves in practice, but Chris Todd will get the start. On the line, left tackle and future NFL lineman Lee Ziemba is the anchor of a talented group. The question, I'm reading, is whether they can be consistent. As for the rest of the offense, the talent is there for a huge improvement over last year's horrible squad. New Off Coord Gus Malzahn has talent like Ben Tate (RB), Mario Fannin and DeAngelo Benton (WR), and a freshman tight end named Lutzenkirchen. So the offense should be much improved. If Chris Todd can be a strong and reliable game manager, and the new offense can avoid killing itself with penalties, miscues and turnovers, Auburn should be a force again in the SEC West. The trouble is - LSU's defense is going to be seriously talented and on their game by this time.
While I give Auburn a much stronger chance at a solid season than many pundits, I think this one goes in the W column for LSU (6-1, 4-1)
8. Tulane. With LA Tech coming up, the Tulane game only serves to offer up more ammo for non-SEC fan bases to assault LSU's pansy-ass non-conference scheduling. And they would be correct. Tulane is not a good football team. True, their best offensive producers (RB Andre Anderson and WR Jeremy Williams) were injured last year. However, two players shouldn't send a decent football program into a 2-10 tailspin season. As you can imagine, Tulane finds it very difficult to recruit top talent. So the quality depth and top-shelf athleticism isn't there across the board. Look for Tulane to have a decent running game if Anderson remains healthy this year. Outside of that, this isn't even a football game. Lots of time for the backups in this one. LSU wins easily (7-1, 4-1).
9. @Alabama. By this time in the season, it gets very difficult to imagine what these two teams will look like in relation to each other. But, making some necessary assumptions like neither team will lose a critical skill position player, and neither team will suffer multiple casualties on the starting offensive lines, then I'll step out and say Bama will be very tough to beat in this game.
On offense, I think Bama will struggle against LSU's defense. First of all, while I give McElroy far more credit than many LSU fans are giving him, I think Bama was lucky to win against a struggling LSU last season. Bama won't be better this year, but LSU will be MUCH better. So, even if McElroy is an even swap for John Parker Wilson (who by the way was an outstanding two-sport star for Alabama), I see Bama falling short here. Yes, Julio Jones is a monster. Yes, Bama has some good RBs and has recruiting ridiculously well. Yes, Bama's defense will be great in all likelihood. But the same things can be said of LSU. I think where Bama falls short in this game will be the offensive line. There's some talent there, especially the youngsters. But against SEC defensive powerhouses (like LSU will be at this time of the season), the Bama OL will be a weak link.
However....on defense, Bama is going to be smokin' good. Behemoth Terrance Cody, super LBs McClain and Hightower, and DB Javier Arenas are names non-Alabama SEC fans are going to get sick of hearing this year. Not much else to say, really. LSU better be healthy and clicking on all cylinders because I get the feeling Bama's defense won't be giving up more than an average of 14 points a game. Although I think Bama's offense will struggle, I think their defense will shine and win it for them in a close one.
This one's another toss up, similar to the Georgia game. I see it being a defensive struggle with special teams and turnovers being a huge factor. Since I gave the first toss-up to LSU, I'll give this one to Bama in full-up brawl. When you account for the home field advantage and also the fact that Bama has a BYE the week before LSU, it just makes sense anyway. LSU down to 7-2, 4-2.
10. LA Tech. The Bulldogs enjoyed a bowl victory against Northern Illinois last year and return enough starters in key positions to be in the conversation for challenging Boise State for the WAC championship. But Tech won't beat LSU. Look for them to have a very respectable running game and a fairly tough defensive line against the run. LSU will coast in this one and play lots of reserves in preparation for the Bowl game. (8-2, 4-2)
11. @Ole Miss. For awhile, the word on the internet was that Ole Miss was a great team and might win the SEC West this year. Meh. I think that virus has run its course. No doubt, Ole Miss is a much improved football team from the dismal 2004-2007 seasons. Jevan Snead is a great QB. Houston Nutt is a crazy but, I think, very good football coach. And Ole Miss will have possibly the best all-around defensive line in the SEC, maybe one of the 5 best in the nation. But while all of that is eye-popping for Ole Miss, none of it is unusual in the SEC, where talented athletes, great coaches and tough defenses are the hallmarks of the conference.
Offensively, LSU will need to find a way to abuse Ole Miss' offensive line, which should be good but not as good as it was in 2008. If the Tigers can get Jevan Snead out of his rhythm and make it tough for him connect with Dexter McCluster, then the Ole Miss offense should be held in check. There are some good RBs on the roster, but nothing LSU won't have seen all year long.
On defense, Ole Miss has a great group of tackles and ends, but how deep that talent goes is up for debate. By this time in the season, fatigue and injuries may be an issue. Sure, it's an issue for both teams, but LSU (in my opinion) is more talented down the depth chart in all positions. Ole Miss defensive backs and LBers are good. But when I examine the roster, what jumps out at me is again a lack of quality depth. By the eleventh game of the season, that problem (if it is one) will likely be solved. But who knows. The point is, I think Ole Miss' weakness on defense may be it's vertically challenged defensive backs (against a lengthy and speedy LSU receiver corps) and depth across all of the second level.
Overall, Ole Miss in Oxford will be a tough win for LSU, but a win it will be. (9-2, 5-2)
12. Arkansas. Petrino will have a very good team this year. But, no friggin' way LSU loses ot Arkansas again. No. Friggin'. Way.
Now that we've got that out of the way. Petrino, as I said, has a good team cued up. First, the Arky passing game is going to be pretty good if Ryan Mallett can stay healthy and if the young receivers pan out as expected. The running game should be rockin' with senior Michael Smith. The big question is? Any guesses? Yep, the offensive line. Arkansas has pieced together a respectable offensive line, but theres been a lot of shifting and patchwork involved and it remains to be seen how effective the unit will be. Athleticism and size aren't a problem. But experience at individual positions may be a limitation. If Mallett doesn't have time to throw, he won't be as effective as he could otherwise be.
The Hawgs aren't really known for defense. That won't change this year. There are some bright spots in the roster. But, overall, the Tigers should be able to throw on Arkansas all day long, which should make the running game a snap. If Jordan Jefferson is still healthy and has learned to read SEC defenses by this time, the stat sheet for the passing attack could get ugly. With an expected weak pass rush and no consistent defensive backs to speak of, LSU should move the ball at will on the Razorbacks.
Both teams will be heading to bowls, but LSU is going to embarrass Arkansas in Tiger Stadium. Easy win for LSU. 10-2, 6-2.
SUMMARY. I think the best to expect from this team this year with this schedule is a 10-2 season and a possible Capital One or Cotton Bowl bid. (LSU would have to win the West, IMO, to get to the Sugar Bowl) But to get to 10-2, LSU has to upset Georgia in Athens AND Ole Miss in Oxford, as I've "predicted" above. Not an easy road, but achievable.
Conversely, the worst I think we should expect this year is 9-3. I say this because I think Ole Miss has a depth problem and they could be really hurting by the time they get to LSU. So I don't see them beating the Tigers this year. At 9-3, LSU is still probably #2 in the SEC West, and might expect to play in either the Captial One or Cotton bowls.
At the extremes of the spectrum of reality, I see 11-1 being the absolute best season to expect and 8-4 the absolute worst. I think beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa is possible. But I just don't see Florida - with a healthy Tebow and an extra week to prepare - falling to LSU this year. I think the hype is pretty accurate and Florida will be a monster of a team. On the flip side, while I think it's entirely possible that LSU drops losses to UGA, UF, Bama and OM this year, I don't see Arkansas getting another year with that ugly ass boot trophy in their field house.
Bottom line: It's not unreasonable to expect 10-2, SEC West Runner Up behind Bama, Bowl win against Ohio State or Okie State (both would be poetic), and another insane recruiting year leading up to 2010 and 2011, when LSU will be favored to win the SEC and compete for the crystal footballs.