Sports, Thrill of Victory

SEC Football Preview series: LSU & Missouri

We’re now just six weeks away from the kickoff of the college football season. To get us ready for that, Chris Lee takes a look at all 14 Southeastern Conference teams; today’s edition features LSU and Missouri.

Can talented LSU head in a better direction?

LSU head coach Les Miles in the 2014 Music City Bowl. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

LSU head coach Les Miles in the 2014 Music City Bowl. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

How fast can a coach fall out of favor in the SEC? I submit Exhibit “A,” Les Miles. In 10 years in Baton Rouge, Miles has a 103-29 (.780) record and maybe more impressively, is 56-24 (.700) within the SEC. For comparison, only six coaches—Bob Neyland, Urban Meyer, Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Nick Saban and Bear Bryant—have coached five years in the league and had a better overall winning percentage, though Miles does rank 12th when it comes to winning percentage in league games. Miles also has a national title at LSU, as well as a runner-up finish, to his credit.

Still, last year’s 8-5 overall mark, with a 4-4 record in league play, didn’t sit well in Baton Rouge. While it might not be accurate to say that Miles is on the hot seat, another season like the last, whether fair or not, could put Miles there. That sounds silly, but it could be argued that the Tigers, year in and year out, have more talent on their roster than any team excepting Alabama, and the perception is that the program, which over the last four seasons has gone eight SEC wins, to six, to five, to four, is slipping.

LSU's Leonard Fournette is one of America's most talented players. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

LSU’s Leonard Fournette is one of America’s most talented players. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Miles has tons of talent on this year’s roster again. The problem is that there may not be enough of it at the most important position on the field. Neither Brandon Harris nor the suspended Anthony Jennings were good a year ago at quarterback, and though Miles says that Jennings should be eligible for the fall—he’s charged with unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling—a severe lapse in judgment didn’t inspire confidence in a player whose play (he failed to complete half his passes in ’14) hadn’t inspired much, anyway. Harris is thought to be the more talented player but failed to impress in limited duty last year when the Tigers faced good teams.

The good news: there’s plenty of other offensive talent, including running back Leonard Fournette, who is one of the country’s most talented players at any position. Most of the receivers are back—that includes the talented duo of Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre—and the line should be good, though replacing left tackle La’El Collins is tough.

LSU always manages to field a defense full of future NFL talent. Free safety Jalen Mills and corner Tre’Davious White could be NFL first-round picks and 10 of the top 14 on the front seven return.

Some pundits put the Tigers in the preseason top 10, and Las Vegas sets the over-under on LSU wins at eight. If things go perfectly, LSU has a chance to hit that number in its first eight games—it’s probably going to be favored in all of them, though the Auburn game in Baton Rouge may be a toss-up—but LSU jus find a quarterback before a November slate that includes Arkansas and Texas A&M, plus, road trips to Arkansas and Notre Dame.

Missouri underrated, again?

Gary Pinkel at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.  PHOTO BY TODD VAN ERNST, COURTESY GARY PINKEL

Gary Pinkel at
SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. PHOTO BY TODD VAN ERNST, COURTESY GARY PINKEL

After winning the East the last two seasons, the media picked the Missouri third in the division behind Georgia and Tennessee. That’s probably okay with coach Gary Pinkel, since the Tigers weren’t picked by much of anyone to win the division in 2013 or ’14, either.

To be fair, there are more questions with this year’s team than there were with last year’s.

When Missouri lost a pair of all-star defensive ends after the 2013 season, it replaced them with a pair of less-heralded back-ups in Shane Ray and Markus Golden who turned out to be better. That will not be the case again this year, and in fact, the Tigers lost their most talented returning defensive lineman (Harold Brantley, Jr.) after a summer auto accident. The Tigers’ returning wide receivers caught a total of 10 passes, and quarterback Maty Mauk, thought to be a strength heading into ‘14, endured a horrid mid-season stretch in 2014 in which he performed perhaps as poorly as any quarterback in America.

With the inexperience there, plus with Mauk being a wild-card—his play improved the last five games of the season, but was still mediocre at best—Missouri figures to play more to its strengths, which should be its running attack.

Missouri will likely build its offense around Russell Hansbrough. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI

Missouri will likely build its offense around Russell Hansbrough. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI

The best-kept secret in the conference may be tailback Russell Hansbrough, who put up numbers comparable to many of the league’s stars like Fournette and the Arkansas duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. It helps to have an experienced offensive line that may be one of the league’s best.

The defense’s strength will uncharacteristically be the linebackers, who include one of the league’s best tackling duos a year ago in Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer. Three-fourths of the starting secondary is back, though UM lost a pair of reserves there this week and that diminishes the depth. The line is lacking in experience and proven talent compared to the last two seasons, but the hope is that talented youngsters like Terry Beckner, Jr. step up.

Vegas has set the over-under on Tiger wins at either 7.5 or eight, depending on when and where you look. The schedule sets up nicely; Missouri may be favored in its first six games before a road trip to Georgia that could determine the East (remember, the Tigers upset UGA in Athens last time they played there.) That could give Pinkel time to find answers where he needs them, and though I like Georgia winning the East, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see UM represent the East in Atlanta once again.