by Dave Miller
August 27, 02014
On Monday at the NFP I released my preseason bowl projections, which included the four participants in the inaugural College Football Playoff as well as the teams chosen by the playoff's selection committee for the other four major bowl games.
While I ultimately have LSU heading to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando for a matchup with Michigan State, the Tigers enter the 2014 campaign as the most intriguing team in America because there is never any reason to doubt the program's talent level despite the lack of seasoning at key positions.
ICONA Les Miles-coached squad should never be taken lightly.
The major issue concerning the Tigers this fall is an abundance of youth on the offensive side of the football. In his 'bold predictions for 2014' piece on Tuesday, veteran college football scribe Bruce Feldman predicted that Leonard Fournette would win the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first true freshman to win the award. Based on the high school film of the physical freak, he's as good a bet as any in the freshman class to pull off a feat that's never been accomplished. Will he have an Adrian Peterson-type impact on the Tigers? A Les Miles-coached team will always make running the football Priority No. 1, and Fournette will have a chance to get plenty of carries despite the presence of Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee. Fournette is a special breed, possessing the power, speed, agility and maturity to make an instant impact.
And he isn't the only true freshman that has a chance to stand out for the Tigers.
With Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry no longer in Baton Rouge, the Tigers need immediate production at wide receiver. And that's exactly what Malachi Dupre can provide. While Travin Dural and Avery Peterson return, Dupre will be looked to early and often throughout the season because the New Orleans native will be a beast. I spoke to a coach who worked with him this offseason who was very impressed with all of Dupre's physical tools. And keep an eye on sophomore DeSean Smith, who could emerge as a pass-catching threat at tight end for this young Tigers unit.
But who will be distributing the football for Cam Cameron's offense?
By the end of last season, it appeared that Anthony Jennings would be the starter with Zach Mettenberger moving onto the NFL. But early enrollee Brandon Harris has a shot to start the season opener against Wisconsin on Saturday in Houston. Even if he doesn't hold off Jennings for the starting gig, we will see him at some point this fall because the same coach who saw Dupre this offseason told me he believes that Harris has the complete skill set to succeed and be the first true freshman to start under center in Baton Rouge.
Defensively, LSU lost key pieces such as tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson as well as safety Craig Loston. But coordinator John Chavis still has a ton of talent such as ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco, linebacker Kwon Alexander, safety Jalen Mills and cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson. There won't be too much dropoff, and Chavis knows his unit must be stingy as the offense needs time to gel.
Can the young offensive pieces come together quickly in Baton Rouge? Certainly the team faces a big test in the opener against the Badgers. But if the unit grows up fast, do not dismiss the Bayou Bengals as a serious contender in the SEC West and a darkhorse candidate for a spot in one of the six major bowl games at the end of the season.
If the Tigers are able to get by Wisconsin, keep an eye on the two-week stretch in early October when the team travels to Auburn and Florida. Everyone looks forward to the annual LSU-Alabama clash (which will be at Tiger Stadium this year), but keep in mind that LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss last season and has owned Auburn in recent years. The Gators, meanwhile, should be much improved on offense.
LSU is expected to get immediate production from its top freshmen, especially on offense. If growth on that side of the ball is expedited, LSU will be the most dangerous team in the country.
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.