LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who led the Tigers to the Fiesta Bowl last season, returns as the starter in 2019. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY)

Football

Our 11th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 6 LSU returns Burrow, but also that pesky SEC slate

The Tigers' quarterback led the team to four wins over Top 10 opponents last year, but getting through the SEC schedule is always daunting.

Posted July 22nd, 2019

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We’re 38 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We continue with our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked first, second, eighth and 13th in our 2018 poll.

Our No. 6 team: LSU

The Tigers’ best-case scenario: LSU still must get past Alabama on Nov. 9, but perhaps the Tigers can take advantage of a schedule that avoids Georgia and really only has one matchup of significance in the first five games. LSU needs to find a new leading rusher, but the offense may not fall off that much if Joe Burrow follows up last year’s debut in Baton Rouge with a strong senior season.

And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? Even if Tom Herman proves to be the coach that got away on Sept. 7, LSU should still be 4-1 by the time it hosts Florida on Oct. 12. The SEC is still the SEC, though, so things could quickly get ugly if the Tigers don’t cut down on the penalties and sacks allowed. Only three SEC teams accrued more penalty yards last year than LSU, which also ranked 102nd in sacks allowed.

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Last year, LSU was 24th on our preseason poll.

Inside the Tigers

Coach: Ed Orgeron (4th year, 25-9; 41-36 overall, 7 years at Ole Miss, USC and LSU)

2018:  10-3, 5-3 in the SEC (beat Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl).

Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense

Shoes to fill: RB Nick Brossette (1,039 yards, 14 TDs); LB Devin White (leading tackler, fifth overall NFL pick); CB Greedy Williams (2nd round, Browns); K Cole Tracy (led team in scoring)

Spring cleaning: LSU had three draft picks, its smallest draft class since 2005, but LB Devin White and CB Greedy Williams were among the first 46 overall picks. … Joe Brady, who spent the past two years as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints, was the only addition to the coaching staff. Brady, 29, will help coach LSU’s receivers. … The son of NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss, junior tight end Thaddeus Moss, is set to make his LSU debut after transferring from North Carolina State and missing last year with a foot injury. … After redshirting at Texas in 2018, freshman DE Mike Williams transferred to LSU.

LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) catches a touchdown pass against the UCF Knights during the first half of the 2019 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium, on Jan. 1, 2019. [Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY]

Returning leaders

PASSING: Joe Burrow (led team), 219-379-2,894 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs

RUSHING: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (2nd), 146-658-7; QB Joe Burrow (3rd), 138-399-7

RECEIVING: Justin Jefferson (1st), 54-875-6

TACKLES: LB Jacob Phillips (2nd), 87; S Grant Delpit (3rd), 74

SACKS: S Grant Delpit (T-1st), 5.0; OLB Michael Divinity Jr. (T-1st), 5.0

INTERCEPTIONS: S Grant Delpit (1st), 5

Returning All-SEC (2)

Offense: None

Defense: S Grant Delpit (1st team)

Special teams: K Cole Tracy (1st)

FYI

Burrow’s breakout: When fans last saw Burrow in a game that mattered, he was throwing for a career-best 394 yards in the Fiesta Bowl. That capped a season in which he compiled 3,293 yards of total offense, a total at LSU that ranks behind only the 3,351 yards recorded by Rohan Davey in 2001. Burrow led LSU to wins over Miami, Auburn, Georgia and Central Florida teams that all were ranked in the top 10. Now a fifth-year senior, Burrow arrived at LSU in 2018 as a graduate transfer from Ohio State who was originally recruited to Columbus by Herman.

From pitcher to punter: Zach Von Rosenberg ranked seventh nationally in punting with his average of 45.7 yards. This year he’s vying to become LSU’s first-ever finalist for the Ray Guy Award. At 28, Von Rosenberg is this season’s oldest Tiger. Once committed to LSU’s baseball program, Von Rosenberg walked on to the football team in 2016 after spending six years as a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system.

Tough task: It’s safe to say that LSU won’t be favored when it travels to Tuscaloosa. The Tigers have dropped eight straight games in their series with Alabama, and last year’s 29-0 decision was LSU’s third shutout loss during that stretch. Struggling to score against Alabama is nothing new for LSU, which is averaging 9.1 points during its losing streak. In fact, LSU has exceeded 30 points only twice in its last 60 games against the Crimson Tide.

2018 national stat rankings

Scoring: 37th (32.4 ppg)

Total offense: 68th (402.1 ypg)

Passing: 66th (228.5 ypg)

Rushing: 59th (173.6 ypg)

Red zone offense: 27th

Time of possession: 31st (31:49)

Scoring defense: 26th (21.8 ppg)

Total defense: 25th (338.7 ypg)

Pass defense: 38th (200.1 ypg)

Rush defense: T-34th (138.6 ypg)

Red zone defense: 83rd

Turnover margin: T-7th

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 31Georgia Southern
Sept. 7at Texas
Sept. 14Northwestern St.
Sept. 21at Vanderbilt*
Oct. 5Utah State
Oct. 12Florida*L, 27-19
Oct. 19at Mississippi St.*W, 19-3
Oct. 26Auburn*W, 22-21
Nov. 9at Alabama*L, 29-0
Nov. 16Ole Miss*W, 45-16
Nov. 23Arkansas*W, 24-17
Nov. 30Texas A&M*L, 74-72 (7 OT)
* SEC game

The key game? Nov. 30, Texas A&M. Their seven-overtime marathon last year helped usher in a new NCAA rule about overtime, so don’t expect Burrow and A&M’s Kellen Mond to account for 699 yards of offense, 13 touchdowns and five two-point conversions in the rematch. Postseason positioning will likely be on the line for both teams and LSU will be looking to send its seniors off as winners in their final home game.

The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
20148-5 / 4-413th / 23rdMusic City Bowl, L
20159-3 / 5-314th / 16thTexas Bowl, W
20168-4 / 5-35th / 13thCitrus Bowl, W
20179-4 / 6-213th / 18thCitrus Bowl, L
201810-3 / 5-325th / 6thFiesta Bowl, W
Total44-19 / 25-155 bowl games (3-2)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Stanford will need its experienced defense to lead the way early

No. 24: Can Nebraska carry its end-of-2018 momentum into 2019?

No. 23: Was 2018 a one-time thing, or is Syracuse back as a program?

No. 22: A run to last year’s Big Ten title game has Northwestern wanting more

No. 21: Mike Leach hopes Clemson’s quarterback loss is Washington State’s gain

No. 20: With no proven quarterback, Wisconsin will ride the legs of Jonathan Taylor

No. 19: With Jarret Stidham in the NFL, Auburn must choose a freshman quarterback

No. 18: Army might end up throwing a real wrench into the CFP’s plans this year

No. 17: Iowa State hopes to keep its recent rise moving full steam ahead

No. 16: Central Florida is trying to overcome a pair of serious quarterback injuries

No. 15: Utah casts its eyes on winning the Pac-12 title this year

No. 14: Penn State’s baromoter? Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State (again)

No. 13: Defense may determine Washington’s chances at another Pac-12 title

No. 12: Texas A&M must navigate a scheduled peppered with heavyweights

No. 11: Is Jim Harbaugh’s coaching seat at Michigan getting hotter?

No. 10: If Feleipe Franks continues his rise, Florida can make some noise in the SEC

No. 9: Texas is counting on Ehlinger — Sugar Bowl MVP, coverboy, potential Heisman candidate

No. 8: Oregon’s Justin Herbert may end up as the Ducks’ career passing leader

No. 7: With its schedule, Notre Dame has the chance to impress the CFP selection folks

No. 6: LSU

Our Top 25, by conferences

5 schools:

Pac-12 — No. 8 Oregon, No. 13 Washington, No. 15 Utah, No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford

Big Ten — No. 11 Michigan, No. 14 Penn State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska

4 schools:

SEC — No. 6 LSU, No. 10 Florida, No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 19 Auburn

2 schools:

Independents — No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 18 Army

Big 12 — No. 9 Texas, No. 17 Iowa State

1 school:

AAC — No. 16 Central Florida

ACC — No. 23 Syracuse

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 5 team

Want a hint?

This school is the highest-ranked team in our poll that’s breaking in a new coach.

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