Coach:Les Miles (34-6 in three seasons; 62-27 overall in seven seasons) | Staff In 2007:12-2, 6-2 in SEC (won SEC West; SEC; BCS title)
Highlights Returning starters: Offense—5. Defense: 4. Special teams—1 | Depth Chart Key losses: Offense—WR Early Doucet, QB Matt Flynn, RB Jacob Hester, T Carnell Stewart, TE Keith Zinger. Defense—T Glenn Dorsey, LB Ali Highsmith, CB Chevis Jackson, LB Luke Sanders, SS Craig Steltz, CB Jonathan Zenon. Special teams—P Patrick Fisher.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 1st | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
THE SCHEME: LSU runs multiple formations and can alter its approach depending on the opponent. The Tigers opened with a fullback in six games last season, but they also had three wide receivers on the field for the start of five games, began the South Carolina game in a four-receiver set and started the Arkansas game with two tight ends.
STAR POWER: Jacob Hester and Early Doucet may have moved on to the NFL, but the Tigers still feature plenty of star power on offense. Tackle Ciron Black and guard Herman Johnson give LSU two linemen who could develop into first-day draft picks. LSU has a number of running backs with breakaway potential. But perhaps no returning player has more proven big-play ability than senior wide receiver Demetrius Byrd, who caught 35 passes for 621 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Byrd showed his flair for the dramatic by scoring the winning touchdown with one second left in the Auburn game and catching a game-tying touchdown pass in the final minute of regulation in a triple-overtime loss to Arkansas.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee could emerge as the starting quarterback for the defending national champions at some point in the season. Lee, a former four-star prospect, is competing with Andrew Hatch – who began his college career at Harvard – for the starting job now that Ryan Perrilloux isn't on the roster. Lee went 7-for-13 for 181 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game, while Hatch was 13 of 17 for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
IT'S HIS TIME: Pick a running back, any running back. LSU has plenty of talented candidates to carry the ball now that Hester has moved on to the NFL, but which player will make the most of the opportunity? Charles Scott, Richard Murphy and Keiland Williams each averaged at least 6.6 yards per carry in a backup role last season. All three have star potential. If one doesn't separate from the others, LSU coaches could have all three share the load. Williams entered spring practice as the favorite, but Murphy turned some heads by rushing for 145 yards on 11 carries in the spring game. The big question is whether these backs can gain the tough yards Hester picked up in crucial situations last year.
STRONGEST AREA: LSU's line ranks among the best in the nation. There are four returning starters: Black, Johnson, center Brett Helms and guard Lyle Hitt. Johnson earned first-team All-SEC honors last season. Depth on the line is inexperienced, though. And Byrd and Brandon LaFell are back at wide receiver after combining to catch 85 passes for 1,277 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. The return of Byrd, LaFell, Terrance Toliver and tight end Richard Dickson should give LSU's quarterback – whoever it is – plenty of reliable targets.
WEAKEST AREA: Perrilloux's dismissal left LSU with a major question mark at quarterback. The Tigers still must decide whether to start the season with Hatch or Lee. Both showed promise this spring, but neither has Perrilloux's experience or upside.
OVERVIEW: It all comes down to quarterback. If either Hatch or Lee can develop into a consistent replacement for Matt Flynn, the Tigers could match their production from last season - when they averaged 38.6 points per game to rank 11th in the nation in scoring for coordinator Gary Crowton. LSU boasts an experienced line, solid wide receivers, a pass-catching tight end and a plethora of talented backs. The Tigers won a national championship last season with a first-year starting quarterback, but Flynn was a fifth-year senior. Still, this offense features so much talent that it should make any quarterback's job much easier. As long as Hatch or Lee avoids mistakes, LSU has enough firepower to succeed no matter who's throwing the ball.
That's the combined total of passes thrown by quarterbacks Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee during their college careers. The dismissal of Ryan Perrilloux means Hatch or Lee will be the Tigers' starting quarterback.
THE SCHEME: LSU runs a 4-3 set and doesn't figure to change its scheme much even after the departure of former coordinator Bo Pelini, who accepted Nebraska's coaching job. Miles responded to Pelini's departure by naming secondary coach Doug Mallory and linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto as co-coordinators.
STAR POWER: Junior tackle Ricky Jean-Francois played only two games last season, missing the entire regular season for academic reasons. But he still made enough of an impact to warrant billing as a star on the rise. Jean-Francois was named the defensive MVP of the BCS championship game after delivering six tackles – 1.5 for a loss – and blocking a field goal against Ohio State. Now that his grades are in order, Jean-Francois should emerge as an All-America candidate.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: LSU must replace both starting cornerbacks, which could allow true freshman Patrick Johnson to earn immediate playing time. Johnson was the No. 1 cornerback and No. 5 overall prospect in the 2008 recruiting class.
IT'S HIS TIME: The departures of cornerbacks Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon create a golden opportunity for junior Chris Hawkins, who almost certainly will replace one of them in the starting lineup. Hawkins, who had three pass breakups last season, is more experienced than the Tigers' other likely cornerback candidates.
STRONGEST AREA: Not many teams could thrive after losing a tackle of Glenn Dorsey's caliber, but LSU represents the exception to the rule. The Tigers have an embarrassment of riches at a position where most other schools are scrambling to find talent. LSU boasts so many outstanding tackles that potential first-round pick Al Woods could struggle to win a starting job. LSU boasts five tackles (seniors Charles Alexander and Marlon Favorite, juniors Woods and Jean-Francois and sophomore Drake Nevis) with more upside than the best tackle at most other BCS programs.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: LSU has plenty of promising underclassmen at cornerback, but they don't have any proven performers at that spot. LSU ranked third in the nation in pass efficiency defense last year, but it's tough to imagine the Tigers shutting down the passing game nearly as well this season unless Johnson, Jai Eugene and the other cornerbacks grow up in a hurry. LSU also needs a new strong safety after the graduation of Craig Steltz and two new linebackers.
OVERVIEW: LSU must replace plenty of star power on the field (Dorsey, Ali Highsmith, Jackson, Steltz) and on the sideline (Pelini), but the Tigers have so much talent that they shouldn't suffer too much. The inexperience at cornerback remains a major concern. LSU has recruited plenty of blue-chip prospects in the secondary, but how long will it take them to mature? The good news is that LSU's fearsome front four should cause enough of a pass rush that it takes some pressure off the inexperienced secondary. Assuming Tyson Jackson bounces back from a so-so 2007 season, he should team up with Kirston Pittman to give LSU a solid tandem at end to complement a group of tackles that is the nation's best.
Senior kicker Colt David returns after going 26 of 33 on field-goal attempts last season, including 6-for-10 from at least 40 yards. The Tigers must find a new punter, with senior Brady Dalfrey and sophomore Josh Jasper competing for the right to replace the departed Patrick Fisher. Trindon Holliday has returned a kickoff for a touchdown each of the past two seasons. The kick-coverage unit was strong last season, but the punt-coverage and punt-return groups were mediocre.
Les Miles' various quirks make it easy to overlook his 34-6 record at LSU. He has won as many games in the past three seasons as any coach in the country and won head-to-head matchups last season with many of the biggest names in the business: Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, Tommy Tuberville and Jim Tressel. Of course, it helps to be working with LSU's talent base, but it's tough to argue with the results. It will be interesting to see how much LSU misses Pelini. Although Pelini had a reputation as one of the nation's best coordinators, LSU gave up at least 24 points in seven of its final nine games last season despite boasting a talent-laden defense. The Tigers can only hope their defense adjusts as well as the offense adapted to life without Jimbo Fisher last year. Even though Fisher was considered one of the nation's best offensive coordinators, the Tigers might have received an upgrade with the arrival of Crowton.
at South Carolina
at Arkansas (Little Rock, Ark.)
The defending national I-A champions open the season against the reigning Division I-AA champs, one of eight home games on the schedule. One year after Appalachian State opened the season with an upset of Michigan, LSU isn't likely to take the Mountaineers lightly. The Sept. 13 game against pass-happy North Texas should represent a nice tune-up for LSU's inexperienced cornerbacks one week before the Auburn showdown. Although LSU doesn't have a non-conference opponent as strong as Virginia Tech this season, the Tigers' overall schedule might be tougher than it was in 2007. LSU plays Auburn, Florida and South Carolina on the road this year after all three traveled Death Valley last season. LSU also plays host to Georgia, which was missing from last season's schedule.
LSU's quarterback situation and a demanding road schedule make it difficult to predict a repeat national title, but the Tigers still have enough talent to merit a spot in the top 10. LSU looked like a top-five team and the SEC West favorite before Perrilloux was kicked off the team. Now, Auburn gets a slight edge because the Auburn-LSU showdown is in Auburn. Even if LSU fails to win the West, the Tigers still should be good enough to go 10-2 and challenge for a BCS invitation.