Road to SEC, national title looks tough for LSU

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 31, 2011

The 2011 college football season looks to be a season in which LSU faithful will be full of SEC and national title aspirations.

And who can blame them? Top to bottom, the 2011 LSU football team looks to be one of the most stacked teams in the country in terms of both talent and experience.

LSU returns 15 starters from last year’s 11-2 squad, eight on offense and seven on defense. Seven Tiger players were nominated to the pre-season All-SEC squad, and expectations surrounding new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe are high. Not to mention, LSU has consistently recruited well for more than a decade.

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But there are several things working against the Tigers this season, which is why I ultimately think they’re probably at least another year away from an SEC and BCS National Championship.

First, although the Tigers are returning most of their defensive starters, the ones they lost leave some pretty big shoes to fill. Patrick Peterson, who was drafted No. 5 overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2011 NFL Draft, is the obvious headliner of the group.

Peterson’s defensive prowess is well documented, but the Tigers also lose a strong return man with his departure. One of the most underrated aspects of football is when a team is able to flip the field position with the return game, and Peterson did a great job with this last season, averaging 27.5 kick return yards.

Having someone like Peterson who can flip the field position with his special teams play takes a huge load off both the offense and defense. It means less yards to drive for the offense, and if a drive stalls out, more field for the opposing offense to drive down after the Tigers punt.

Two other big names lost on defense are defensive tackle Drake Nevis (third-round pick for Indianapolis) and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (third-round pick for Buffalo). Even with LSU’s returning starters, those three will leave big holes to fill.

It’s also worth noting that special teams takes a hit with the loss of placekicker Josh Jasper and punter Derek Helton. Jasper was easily the best placekicker in the SEC last season, and Helton averaged 45.7 yards per punt last fall. Both losses are huge.

Secondly, the schedule for LSU is brutal in 2011. Opening game against Oregon in Dallas? Tough road games against West Virginia, Mississippi State and Alabama? Playing in the SEC West in general? Any title aspirations certainly won’t come easily.

Lastly, everyone points to LSU’s quarterback experience as a strength. But to this date, Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee haven’t shown they can lead an offense. It doesn’t help matters that hometown hero Stevan Ridley, who was a first-team All-SEC selection by the coaches last fall, has gone on to the NFL.

While there’s certainly talent at the running back position in Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, replacing an All-SEC starter at any position is tough. And the running back is often looked at to take the pressure off the quarterback, especially in the SEC.

If the Jefferson-Lee tandem continues to fall short of peoples’ expectations, everyone’s favorite player — the backup quarterback — will be in high demand this fall. Zach Mettenberger comes in from junior college with high expectations, but how quickly can he adjust to starting on a team with championship aspirations if Jefferson and Lee falter?

I’m expecting a 10-win season from LSU — I think there’s too much talent and experience overall — but I think the Tigers are still a year away from winning the SEC and national title.