So after SB Nation's LSU site, And The Valley Shook, asked us questions for an early, early preview of the 2014 season-opener, we sent them some of our own. How is LSU's spring shaping up, and what might we be able to expect Aug. 30 at Reliant Stadium? ATVS' Billy Gomila has some answers.
1. So this is certainly a fascinating matchup, particularly for a season-opener. What should Wisconsin fans know about LSU's offense, defense and special teams?
On the offensive side, LSU has always been a very power-and-play-action-oriented offense under Les Miles, and Cam Cameron really whipped that into high-gear last year. But the Tigers lost a ton of production in Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill, and there's going to be a lot of new faces. A few veteran skill players return like senior running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard and receiver Travin Dural, but look for a ton of freshmen to see action out of LSU's No. 2-rated recruiting class, namely stud running back Leonard Fournette, receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn and maybe even quarterback Brandon Harris. At least all those young skill players will be playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, which returns six of its top seven contributors from last year.
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On defense, LSU struggled a bit uncharacteristically last season, but some underachieving veterans have departed and a lot of exciting young talent emerged down the stretch, especially in the defensive backfield. Sophomore cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre'davious White could be on the verge of superstardom, and they're joined by two very versatile safeties in Jalen Mills and Rickey Jefferson. Watch out for defensive end Danielle Hunter, who could be a force from the edge.
2. Since making the 2012 national championship game, LSU's put together a pair of 10-3 seasons with trips to the Chick-fil-A and Outback Bowls. Is more expected in 2014?
The expectation will always be to compete for the SEC championship, and while I don't know that a team this young can win the conference, I do think LSU will be in the league discussion deep into the season. LSU's consistently churned out 10-win seasons against a pretty tough schedule -- they actually have a better record versus the Top 10 than Alabama the last two seasons (7-4 versus 2-3), but people tend to only see the end result.
With another loaded recruiting class arriving, most Tiger fans recognize that the program's still in a great place and will be for some time, even if this season features some growing pains.
3. What have been the major storylines in Baton Rouge this spring?
The quarterbacks are always in the spotlight for LSU's spring practice, and this spring we had a particularly tight competition with Jennings, Harris and redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig. Jennings and Harris have emerged as the top two candidates, but the competition will continue through the summer and fall training camp. Miles is notorious for playing these things close to the vest, so don't expect a starter until maybe a week before the game in Houston.
In addition to that, we've been watching LSU's defensive line very intently. It took a step back last year with a five-year low in sacks and tackles for loss, but we're expecting a rebound behind the aforementioned Hunter and some young, hungry sophomores and freshmen like Christian LaCouture, Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Tashawn Bower. LSU has produced five All-Americans and five first-round draft picks in the last 10 years, so we've come to expect better play on the defensive line.
4. Is it safe to assume LSU fans would've preferred a home-and-home in Baton Rouge and Madison?
Absolutely. Hell, half of the reason I've been clamoring for this series is to see how our fanbases interact. We both have reputations for being the hard-partying Delta Houses of our respective conferences. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that joint tailgate?
That said, I'd rather see these games played at neutral sites than not at all, and in the current college football climate that's the reality. There's definitely a cool factor to playing in such a storied location like Lambeau Field, but yeah, Baton Rouge beats the hell out of Houston and it would be a lot more fun to see Madison.
5. Can we expect a lot of LSU fans to make the trip to Houston for this one?
Without a doubt. Houston's only about five hours from Baton Rouge, so there will be plenty making that road trip. And on top of that, the Houston/East Texas region has a huge LSU alumni presence due to the petrochemical industry. The Houston chapter of the LSU Alumni Association is one of the largest. I would expect LSU fans to have a comfortable majority in Reliant Stadium.