Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly mailbag, a question-and-answer forum between readers and LSU team and recruiting reporter Sam Spiegelman.
In this edition, we touch on the biggest game on LSU’s 2017 football schedule, potential losses and the priority targets in the Tigers’ 2018 recruiting class.
Aside from the obvious choice (Alabama), name another must-win game for LSU in 2017? (@RyanMicklin61)
To be honest, it’s hard to figure out a “must-win game” in the middle of July when every team’s record is 0-0.
Alabama is the obvious choice because of the six-year losing streak, including last year’s heartbreaker in Tiger Stadium. At the same time, you could look at Florida and Auburn as critical games on the Tigers’ schedule for obvious reasons, too.
There has been tension between LSU and Florida since last year’s scheduling mishap. There has been back-and-forth on social media, between athletic directors and the two fan bases. When the teams did play, it was a last-second thriller, which obviously went in Florida’s favor. Heck, the Tigers and Gators played one another in the College World Series earlier in the summer.
That’s a road game and arguably the second-toughest game overall on LSU’s 2017 schedule. But because of the stakes surrounding the game and the fact there’s budding tension between the two sides, I don’t believe that necessarily qualifies it as a “must-win game.”
Get what I mean?
The other alluring choice is the home game against Auburn. Last year’s showdown in The Plains also ended in exhilarating fashion. Danny Etling raced to his right to find D.J. Chark for the game-winning touchdown. Oh, but the time on the scoreboard suggested otherwise and within hours, the Les Miles era at LSU had come to a halt.
This time around, Auburn will travel to the Bayou to take on LSU for the first time under coach Ed Orgeron. When the teams met a season ago, it was Miles vs. Gus Malzahn with the two coaches squarely on the hot seat. Well, Malzahn might still be there heading into the 2017 season but we don’t anticipate that Orgeron is already. But could a loss to Auburn at home hold significant ramifications?
For that reason, I pick Auburn. That game is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 14, and presumably, it will be an evening affair. Can LSU return the favor with a win at home to send a rival coach packing? It’s the Tigers’ biggest home game of the year.
Will James Cook be visiting anytime soon? (@tankthompson02)
There are two ways to view LSU’s pursuit of 4-star running back James Cook.
Back in the spring when I first discovered Cook — then a Florida State commitment — was in regular contact with the LSU coaching staff, he was adamant that a visit was on the horizon and that the Tigers were in consideration to be a team he’d commit to when he finalized his plans this winter.
This spring, Cook was expected to be on campus for the LSU spring game. A Miami native, he was supposed to make the drive from South Florida to the Bayou alongside defensive back commit Nadab Joseph. Joseph attended the game, but Cook did not.
The 4-star tailback was supposed to make a visit to LSU in the summer, but as the calendar winds down, Cook has yet to get on campus. Thus far, there has been chatter, but no visits to back up any said interest.
Earlier this month at Nike’s The Opening Finals in Oregon, Cook — who was on the verge of de-committing from Florida State — told SEC Country he was down to two: Florida State and UGA. Asked about whether LSU was in the mix or a visit was forthcoming, Cook said no. But why?
- At the time, LSU recently added three running back commitments to the 2018 class. Currently, Tae Provens and Chris Curry remain committed to the Tigers.
- Cook added communication with the LSU coaches fell off despite talking on a near-daily basis during the spring.
Cook has maintained he’s down to Florida State and UGA, but his mother told another website he has plans to make a handful of other visits this summer into the fall before making a decision.
LSU holds commitments from two running backs, as does Florida State. UGA holds a commitment from one: Zamir White, the No. 1 tailback in the class, per the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Tigers want to add a third running back to their class, but in all likelihood, it will not be Cook.
Who are LSU’s biggest remaining priorities in the 2018 recruiting cycle? (@Klutch6ene13)
Much of them fall on the offensive side of the ball, and under Ed Orgeron, most reside from Louisiana.
First and foremost, there’s an argument to be made that Terrace Marshall Jr. is the top priority in the class. LSU needs wide receivers more than any other position in the current recruiting cycle with the impending departure of senior leader D.J. Chark and a thin group of unproven players behind him on the depth chart. There is no wide receiver ranked higher than Marshall in the 2018 class.
While there are glaring needs at wide receiver, I would also argue that Justin Rogers is a priority for the Tigers. Although he gave a verbal commitment to TCU on May 31, LSU is not done pursuing the 4-star dual-threat quarterback. More likely than not, LSU will not take a quarterback in this class. However, the team will make room if it can flip Rogers away from the Horned Frogs.
Defensively, must of the recruiting work is done. The Tigers addressed edge rusher, middle linebacker and the defensive front. There are three defensive back commitments and all of them are good. However, Patrick Surtain Jr. is the top-ranked cornerback in the country and has been for several years. He has been made a tremendous priority by the LSU coaching staff, and as a result, the Tigers remain out in front for the South Florida stud defensive back.
Here are the main priority targets for LSU in 2018:
- Terrace Marshall Jr., 5-star WR
- Ja’Marr Chase, 4-star WR
- Devonta Jason, 4-star WR (Kansas commit)
- Justin Rogers, 4-star QB (TCU commit)
- Michael Thompson, 4-star DT
- Patrick Surtain Jr., 5-star CB
- Anthony Cook, 5-star CB
Who do you see LSU losing to this year and why? (@chris_baudean)
The season is just more than six weeks away, so Chris, I appreciate the question and the timing of it. I’ll expect a similar version of it next month as the opener against BYU in Houston approaches.
Before delving into each game, it’s important to note we can’t immediately believe that the offense, defensive or special teams are going to be at a championship level before we see a snap. Some of my opinions are subject to change when LSU kicks off fall camp July 31 and I can get a better grasp on how the offense looks, whether Etling is healthy and which wide receivers are stepping up around Chark. On the other side of the ball, there are question marks about a new linebacking corps, new faces on the back end of the secondary and, yes, when Arden Key will be available and how far along are his backups.
With that being said, here are my projected losses for the 2017 season:
At Florida: Florida got the edge over LSU last year in Baton Rouge, a game that should have been played in the Swamp but was moved because of a hurricane. As a result, the Tigers will be heading to Gainesville, Fla., this year and again in 2018 in a game that qualifies as tense these days. The Gators did not have superb quarterback play last season, nor did they need it to beat LSU on the road. With Malik Zaire on board competing against Luke Del Rio and Feleipe Franks, perhaps Florida will be improved in that notorious area. It’s easy to forget that these are the back-to-back defending SEC East champions, but maybe this year they’ll be even better.
Vs. Auburn: Whatever transpires in The Swamp on Oct. 7, LSU will have to return home to face another SEC title contender in Auburn the following Saturday. Last year, LSU’s last-second loss to Auburn in The Plains cost Les Miles his job, so yes, I think we can expect a somewhat raunchy environment. Auburn is a popular pick to win the conference outside of Alabama. The Tigers, too, have addressed their question marks under center and we know they have arguably the best place-kicker in the league. Given where Auburn lies on LSU’s schedule, it poses a difficult task for the Tigers … even at home.
At Alabama: LSU enters its showdown with Alabama having lost six consecutive games with the defending SEC champions. The Tide return many familiar faces that helped them defeat LSU in Tiger Stadium last November such as Jalen Hurts, Calvin Ridley and Minkah Fitzpatrick. While ‘Bama has lost several key contributors to the NFL, the Crimson Tide tend to reload each year. Again, that is the case with All-Americans DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy at receiver; Christopher Allen and Dylan Moses at linebacker; and Phidarian Mathis and Isaiah Buggs along the defensive line. Several of those players hail from Louisiana and will be cherishing the opportunity to play against their home team. Alabama is deep, talented and has the advantage of playing in its home confines, and it’s hard to imagine that LSU bucks the trend away from Death Valley.
Do articles by reporters such as yourself have a significant impact on a recruit’s decision? (@mister_smith005)
Interesting question, and one that I toyed with back when I first started to cover the recruiting beat.
Consider what a typical recruit has to deal with from a media standpoint most days out of the week: In addition to communication with multiple college coaches, they are getting direct messages and text messages from random college football recruiting writers. Some, like myself, could be asking their thoughts on certain teams. So a 4-star cornerback might be subject to questions about where LSU stands versus Texas, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida and Florida State. That recruit is also fielding questions about the Texas staff, the Alabama staff, the Ohio State staff and so on.
That’s a lot, for sure, but I don’t believe that answering questions about the state of one’s recruitment is changing that recruit’s mind. For one, these recruits are so advanced and so mature for their age that they can almost predict the majority of questions that they are going to be asked in a given interview. Also, they are responding to questions they’re already well aware of. For instance, how often are they in touch with a position coach, which visits they’re going to be taking and which teams are standing out at the moment.
They know that already. We are the ones that are curious about it.
While I don’t believe that answering questions on specific teams changes the way that a recruit views those programs, I do contend that giving a response is a helpful reminder to the bigger landscapes of their recruitment. For example, if a recruit is asked about how often LSU is in touch with him and the answer is not as much as expected, that may serve as a reminder of why the Tigers are not in that top group of schools. Sometimes, a recruit might not be so forthright and be more inclined to give a politically correct response, but deep down they realize that LSU is actually lagging in his recruitment behind some of the other schools that are in communication more.
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