LSU Football: 5 Things Standing in the Way of an SEC Championship
LSU tackle football can not come soon enough for Tigers fans. The season opener for Les Miles' squad against Wisconsin will be one of college football's most heavily anticipated opening week games.
The Badgers may not be a conference opponent, but BCS implications will certainly be on the line. No matter the outcome, it will help make Tigers battle-tested for SEC slate.
LSU has not been to the SEC Championship Game since 2011. Miles knows the road back to Atlanta will be arduous but achievable.
Here are five things that could keep the Tigers from hoisting the conference championship trophy in the Georgia Dome.
*Stats and rankings via 247Sports, LSU Sports Information and cfbstats.com.
Overall, LSU is a deep and talented team. But they are inexperienced at key positions on offense.
LSU will have a first-year starting quarterback next season no matter if Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris wins the job. Growing pains will ensue as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron molds them into seasoned signal-callers.
Wide receiver is a question mark as well. Current No. 1 option Travin Dural only caught seven passes in 2013. Program returnees John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie, Avery Peterson and Rob Bolden have combined for one career catch and no starts. The Tigers will look for highly touted incoming freshmen receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn to be difference-makers.
Senior running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard are solid contributors but lack the elite game-breaking ability. No recruit in the country has more pressure than Leonard Fournette, who the Tigers will need to make plays to be successful. Fournette said to ESPN.com he will win the Heisman as a freshman in Baton Rouge.
Miles has been pretty public about the Tigers' need for the freshmen skill position players. If LSU has any chance of making it to Atlanta, they will need them to play spectacularly.
The SEC West
The SEC West will be loaded with talent, which is par for the course for the toughest division in college football.
Defending SEC champion Auburn returns Nick Marshall at quarterback. Alabama has 5-star talent on both sides of the football. Ole Miss returns future first-round draft picks in receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
And that is just half of LSU's divisional slate.
Defeating Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Texas A&M is no easy task. Winning divisional games are critical in the SEC standings. Lose one of them, especially against a championship contender, and playoff aspirations could be over.
The beauty of college football is that every game counts. That might change now that there is a playoff in place, but losing one regular-season game could eradicate championship hopes.
With that said, teams cannot have off weeks. In 2013, there were two conference games where the Tigers played inexcusably bad.
LSU was poor in all facets of the game against Ole Miss. The Tigers lost 27-24, but the scoreline did not tell the full story. The Rebels, who were a touchdown and change underdog and without six starters on defense, thoroughly outplayed the Bayou Bengals.
In the regular season finale, LSU squeaked by Arkansas 31-27. But the Razorbacks controlled the tempo of the game, despite being 24-point underdogs and not having won an SEC game.
Miles shouldered some of the blame for the team's lack of preparation against the Rebels, and rightfully so. In his defense, it is hard to get young players to consistently play well every week.
But Miles must have his Tigers ready to play every week, especially against teams that they are supposed to beat.
Can LSU's defense be dominant again?
Despite losing Ego Ferguson, Anthony Johnson, Lamin Barrow and Craig Loston, LSU's defense as a whole returns a multitude of contributors at every position. Danielle Hunter, Kwon Alexander and Tre'Davious White are a few players with All-SEC potential.
All three levels of the defense should be better this season. LSU allowed a little over 340 yards-per-game defensively in 2013, the worst in the Les Miles era. Expect that number to be under 300 this season.
LSU's pass defense must take a massive step forward. They were good, but not great, last season. White and the secondary want to make "DBU" the best defensive back corps in the country again.
LSU's program is built on defense. Defensive coordinator John Chavis will have an improved bunch take the field in 2014. If Chavis' unit cuts down on the mental errors from last season, there should be no reason for them to not be amongst the nation's elite.
All teams need luck to win conference championships.
Les Miles has earned the reputation of a lucky coach. Miraculous wins in his career against Florida, Tennessee and Auburn prove that. But even the almighty Nick Saban has had his share of good fortune too.
But luck goes farther than just games. Coaches, for the most part, need players to stay out of trouble off of the field and remain healthy, both of which are out of their control.
If the lucky bounces and breaks go the way of the Tigers, it could be a special season in Baton Rouge.
*Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.