Touring the LSU internet ghetto (and I say that with great love and affection), I've seen predictions of everything from an undefeated national champ year to 10-3 and second in the SEC West. I haven't seen much doom and gloom out there. (Don't you love that 4 losses is a bad year!)
Let's look at the schedule and try to set some realistic expectations for the year.
1. @ U-Dub. It's got to be tough to be a hopeful Husky fan after last year's dismal 0-12 record. But the good news in Seattle is that UW has a new coaching staff, and therefore a new outlook. QB Jake Locker, who is dangerous with his feet, is healthy again. His absence for 3/4 of last year's season had to contribute mightily to the team's poor performance. Clearly, the worst is over.
But all is not champagne and roses, either. While Washington rebuilds, LSU continues to reload. For example, the Huskies have recruited 13 4-stars (Rivals) over the past 4 years. LSU has averaged 13 4-stars EVERY YEAR during that time frame. Washington's program is built on 3-star talent, LSU on 4-star talent. The Huskies are hurting on the OL and in the defensive backfield. If LSU's defense is as improved as many of us think it is, LSU should cruise to an easy opening game victory. And while Les Miles is very hesitant to run up the score, the pent up frustration of last season's 5 losses could fuel a rout. LSU wins easily (1-0, 0-0).
2. Vandy. The Commodores return a very good defense and an improving offense looking for a QB. After beating Boston College in a bowl game last year, Vandy will be hungry to get back to a bowl. Key to the game: LSU's offensive line will have to play well against a fairly strong Commodore pass rush. If that happens, then LSU should be able to stretch the field. If not, then Vandy's habit last year of forcing turnovers may reemerge and that would be bad for LSU, obviously.
The 'Dores may no longer be the easy homecoming win that they've been in the past. But one bowl season doesn't make them a force in the SEC East, either. LSU will have to respect Vandy for the solid football team that they are. But I don't see Vandy stopping LSU's potent offense. Nor do I see Vandy scoring 20 points on a vastly improved LSU defense. LSU wins easily again (2-0, 1-0).
3. USL. Yes, I know they've changed their name. [Scoff. Arrogant grin. Take bite of corndog.] I'm not going to waste a lot of time on the Ragin' Cajuns. I have always loved USL. What self-respecting Coon-Ass doesn't want the Cajuns to have a great season? However. The Cajuns are rebuilding at QB, RB and WR. Fortunately, the OL is supposed to be very good, which should make that rebuilding easier. However, the Cajun defense is not good. And, against a loaded LSU offense, that spells serious trouble for them. This one is a full-up rout, folks. Les Miles will have trouble keeping 50 points off the board unless the turnovers for LSU are just horrible. Lots of playing time for the 2s and 3s in this cake walk (3-0, 1-0). [Scoff again. Arrogant grin. Finish corndog.]
4. @ Miss State. The Dawgs are getting no respect this year. After a disappointing season in 2008, and a new coaching staff led by Dan Mullen, the conventional wisdom is that Miss State won't win a game in the SEC this year. Perhaps. To be sure, the Bulldogs are not loaded with talent and are still rebuilding after a strong 2007 season. However, there are some bright spots that should cause LSU fans to at least respect this game. First, RB Anthony Dixon is a force. On any other SEC team, he'd be a household name, I think. Secondly, the Bulldog defense will be pretty good. At this point in the season, it will be the best all-around defense the Tigers will have faced.
This is an SEC road game for LSU, and that's never easy. Starkville is not the most hostile place to play, but away is away. Miss State, if they start strong, could be 3-0 heading into this game. But it's more likely they'll be 1-2 after having beaten Jackson State but suffering tough road losses to Auburn and Vandy. On the other sideline, LSU has Georgia and Florida after Miss State. So, this game has the potential to be a struggle for LSU, at least in the first half, as Miss State tries to add a signature win to its season and LSU works to focus on the task at hand and not the road ahead. I see a punch in the face for LSU, followed by a very strong finish. Easy win, but not in the first half (4-0, 2-0).
5. @ Georgia. I worry about this game. Most folks (media, bloggers and message board types) seem to think that Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss are the SEC teams to watch for other than LSU. They purposeful relegate Georgia to the second tier this coming year, mostly because Stafford and Moreno opted for the NFL. Fine. Those two were offensive juggernauts, no doubt. But here's the deal. Joe Cox is a 5th year senior who waited his time behind a #1 NFL draft pick. (Sound familiar?) Georgia's offensive line will be very strong. Georgia recruits very, very well and is stacked with talent like A.J. Green (WR) and a very deep RB stable led by Caleb King. Did I mention the offensive line? It's awesome when healthy.
On defense, the picture doesn't get much more comfy for Georgia's foes. The worst being said on the internet is that Georgia lacks a credible pass rush. We'll see if that holds true. But the rest of the defense is good to great, with big names like Rennie Curran (LB) and Reshad Jones (S) leading the pack. Georgia's defense won't lead the SEC (probably), but they won't be easy to score against either.
I don't see much breathing room in this one. Mark Richt has averaged 10 wins a year in his 8 seasons at Georgia. Umm. That's damned good, especially in the SEC. For my money, this may be the most competitive game of the year for LSU. On pure homerism, I give the coin flip to LSU in a very close game, won mostly on special teams play and the versatility of the LSU offense. LSU squeaks one out (5-0, 3-0).
6. Florida. This "analysis" could be almost as quick as the USL Ragin' Cajun segment, but for a different reason. Do I really need to explain how good the current BCS national champs really are? Do I have to remind folks that they return everyone from the 9th ranked defense in the country. EVERYONE? Yep, everyone. Do we need to talk about Tebow? Or Brandon James? Or the fact that Florida's 2 deep, much more than LSUs, is almost transparent - they could swap jerseys and in many cases you just wouldn't know it?
For LSU to win the SEC, they have to beat this team twice. Sorry, Tiger fans. Maybe next year. Florida is just too good right now. While I think it's completely possible that LSU takes this game in Tiger Stadium, there's a big factor that leads me to doubt it. LSU has Georgia the week before this game. Florida has - the week off. An extra week to prepare for LSU's offensive weapons. An extra week to rest from the dubious rigors of Charleston South, Troy, Tenn and @Kentucky. That is not a great recipe.
The good news is that Tebow is a known quantity. But that's the bad news, as well. Love him or hate him, he's a warrior and a very good college QB. LSU certainly can beat UF in Tiger Stadium. And I really hope I'm wrong here. But I give this one to Florida in a competitive but not all that close brawl (5-1, 3-1).
Tune in - I'll have the second half up soon.