It will be a pivotal season for LSU in 2016. After reports to the contrary leading up the final game of the season, coach Les Miles will keep his job for at least one more season, but the program’s future is still muddled beyond next year.
The Miles situation brought to light some of the qualms LSU fans and insiders had with the coach and his program. The program will fail to win 10 games for the second consecutive season. LSU’s pro-style, run-oriented offense is becoming archaic in the world of the air raid and wide-open spread attacks.
But most of all, many people in Baton Rouge, La., felt the program was not in great hands with Miles at the helm. They wanted change. They felt that LSU was trending downward.
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit dismissed the negativity during ESPN’s College Football Final show on Saturday.
“This program is not in decline,” Herbstreit stated.
For the most part, Herbstreit is correct. A two-year swoon does not translate into a declining program. A slump? Perhaps. But LSU’s program is not dying and there are plenty of reasons to prove it.
The 2015 season will be remembered for LSU’s three-game collapse in November, but what shouldn’t be forgotten is just how young this team is.
LSU has only 14 seniors on its entire roster, four of which were starters. LSU’s offense is led by sophomores at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. LSU also started a redshirt freshman and true freshman at offensive guard, which might be the biggest reason why LSU’s running game disappeared against three high-quality front sevens.
Defensively, LSU will lose three starters from an inconsistent, but vastly talented unit. Safety Jamal Adams may have been LSU’s best defensive player as a sophomore.
Assuming Leonard Fournette doesn’t surprise the college football world and sit out next season or challenge the rules about NFL draft eligibility, the Tigers do not have a lot of early-entry candidates. Junior cornerback Tre White has been pegged as a potential first-round pick by draft prognosticators, while linebacker Kendall Beckwith or offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins could also test the process
The 7-0 start was a bit misleading as well. LSU squeaked past Mississippi State in the season opener, destroyed an underwhelming Auburn team, then faced a slew of backup quarterbacks including Florida’s Treon Harris.
LSU only received nine of a possible 225 votes to win the SEC in the preseason media predictions for a reason. This is a young, talented team that hit a wall against three better teams.
The Tigers can still salvage a respectable season and would surely be playing for a 10-win season had their season opener against McNeese State not been cancelled because of inclement weather.
This recent rut hasn’t hurt LSU too much on the recruiting trail, either. The Tigers currently have the No. 2 class in the country for next season, according to 247Sports.com. This class was ranked as the best before a trio of decommitments in the past couple weeks.
LSU’s 2015 class was ranked No. 6 despite an 8-5 campaign in 2014. The record may not be incredible, but Miles has continued to reel in the top talent. And by the way, Miles already has a commitment from a top-20 player in the Class of 2017.
Many people also forget the Tigers went through a similar situation during the 2008-09 seasons. LSU went 8-5 in 2008 and 9-4 in 2009. The next two seasons LSU went 11-2 and 13-1 behind veteran quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Brandon Harris has far more potential than Jefferson or Lee, and Fournette is clearly better than Stevan Ridley was in 2010.
LSU was led by a veteran defense that went through growing pains and flourished as upperclassmen. The trend shows that LSU could be in for an incredible 2016 season.
There will certainly need to be some changes made. LSU’s offense is too conservative and doesn’t utilize Harris’ abilities as efficiently as it should. The Tigers became overly reliant on Fournette, who was running behind a gelling offensive line that will only get better next season.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will need to improve in his second season and get the unit back to an elite level.
None of these changes will take a drastic overhaul, but merely some tweaks. Miles has assembled the talent and he will more than replenish this departing seniors. Now he has to get the most out of it.
The Tigers are not in decline. In fact, LSU could rise back into the national spotlight next season.