Another Top 10 List! What to keep an eye on as the 2019 LSU football season approaches
BATON ROUGE — Yes, practice has started. But LSU football is not really here yet.
If you have ever attended a practice, you know what I mean.
The talk and number of stories about football have clearly intensified, but it does not start until Aug. 31 when the No. 6 Tigers host Georgia Southern at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU. And that, in reality, will be a pre-season game.
Then it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in one week as LSU will travel to No. 10 Texas for a 6:30 p.m. game on ABC. Now, that is when the season really starts as the Tigers will play the Longhorns in the regular season for the first time since Sept 18, 1954, when unranked LSU lost its season opener, 20-6, at No. 4 Texas.
These are the top 10 items to keep an eye on between now and throughout the 2019 season:
1. Quarterback Joe Burrow
He only arrived in Baton Rouge in June of 2018 after transferring from Ohio State, and he and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger were able to put together a decent pass offense pretty quickly that got better as the season went along.
In his last three games, Burrow completed 66 of 100 passes for 971 yards and nine touchdowns with one interception while rushing 42 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns. Now, that included a game against Rice and seven overtimes at Texas A&M, but still very impressive. He threw for an average of 323 yards and rushed for an average of 47 yards a game.
A senior, Burrow is the team's leader and should have received the coveted No. 18 jersey Thursday night.
Burrow and Ensminger represent the first returning starting quarterback and starting offensive coordinator combo to return for a second season at LSU since Jordan Jefferson and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton came back for the 2010 season. And this time, it is good news on both fronts. Plus, head coach Ed Orgeron has added a 29-year-old assistant to help the 60-year-old Ensminger in pass game coordinator Joe Brady, who was a low-level assistant the last two seasons at the epicenter of NFL passing offense with the New Orleans Saints.
2. Offensive line
LSU returns four players who started regularly last season in junior left tackle Saahdiq Charles, junior center Lloyd Cushenberry, senior right guard Damien Lewis, and junior right tackle Austin Deculus. But there are likely no high-round draft picks in this group. At best, it can be a decent to very good offensive line, or at least a solid one. It needs to improve or have someone emerge, such as true freshman Kardell Thomas — the No. 1 guard in the nation last year out of Southern Lab High in Baton Rouge. LSU will not be able to beat Alabama with this line unless Ensminger and Burrow and maybe Brady can get tricky and win with finesse.
3. Tailback John Emery
LSU will need more than a good or decent tailback to progress from the average-to-above-average program it has been since 2012 to elite status for the first time since 2011, and true freshman Emery has the best chance to do that. He was the No. 2 tailback in the nation last year out of Destrehan High.
4. Another wide receiver
The Tigers need one of their top receiver recruits over the last two seasons to develop so he can complement junior Justin Jefferson. Sophomores Terrace Marshall Jr. or Ja'Marr Chase need to make a move, or freshman Trey Palmer of Kentwood will.
5. Outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson
The Tigers were only seventh in the SEC last year with 34 sacks without Chaisson, who was lost for the season in the opener with a knee injury. Chaisson has Barkevious Mingo-like ability and could have double-digit sacks this season.
6. Nose tackle Siaki Ika
The No. 5 defensive tackle in the nation last year out of Salt Lake City, Utah, could form quite a 1-2 behemoth punch if red-shirt sophomore nose tackle Tyler Shelvin can finally deliver. Ika is 6-foot-4 and 356 pounds, and Shelvin is 6-3 and 343.
7. Defensive line
The Tigers have been average here for several years. But with Ika and Shelvin and returning starting senior defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko along with juniors Glen Logan and Neil Farrell behind them, this one could be above average.
8. Derek Stingley Jr.
The freshman from Dunham High in Baton Rouge is the first national No. 1 overall prospect to sign with LSU since Carencro tailback Kevin Faulk in 1995. A December graduate, Stingley could have played in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 1 for LSU and would have dominated. He won the starting left cornerback job and punt return duties before practice opened. He could be the most game-changing defensive back LSU has had since Tyrann Mathieu in 2011, which was the last time LSU had a great team.
9. The schedule
The aforementioned Texas game in Week 2 is critical. If LSU beats a top 10 team there while No. 6 or better, it could be top five or top four or top three in the country on its way to an 8-0 start and possible top two or three pairing at Alabama on Nov. 9. This would include a home win over No. 8 Florida, which beat LSU last year, and a home win over No. 16 Auburn, which has not won at LSU since 1999.
If that scenario plays out, LSU could lose to Alabama for the ninth straight time, lose the SEC West, and still reach the College Football Playoffs as Alabama did in 2017. That is, if LSU recovers from the Alabama loss and wins at Ole Miss, at home against Arkansas, and at home against No. 11 Texas A&M. The first two will be much easier than the third one. So remember, LSU does not have to beat Alabama ... if it beats everyone else.
They will be selling it to the common man in Tiger Stadium at LSU games for the first time in history this year as the SEC lifted its alcohol ban. The question, though, is this: Which beer?
With craft beer trending as much as spread offenses, there are many great local products in Louisiana such as LA 31 Pale Ale from the Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville. This would make sense as Tiger Stadium is on LA 30. There is also GameDay IPA and Bayou Bengal Lager from Tin Roof Brewing, which is mere blocks from Tiger Stadium right off LA 30, aka Nicholson Drive.There is also Canebrake Wheat from Parish Brewing in Broussard and Southern Drawl from Great Raft Brewing in Shreveport or Blonde Ale from Nola Brewing.
But the beers Tiger Stadium has asked fans to choose from before deciding on the menu are decidedly not craft. Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra are on the list. That's a depth chart that needs more work than LSU's offensive line and will go flat on Tiger fans unless LSU wins more than 10 games for the first time since 2011.
Then again, if LSU loses three in September and October but wins at Alabama, they could resurrect Goebel beer, sell it as craft, and everyone would be happy.
Have a good season.