Five Questions for 2009
What will this year hold for Les Miles and the Tigers? TigerRag.com presents some fodder for thought.
by Matt Reynolds
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
(At left, Les Miles and the Tigers finished the year on a high note in Atlanta. Can “the hat” put the Tigers back on top in 2009? (Photo by Beth Bonner DeVille)
College football fans, much less Tiger fans, can’t ever seem to get enough football, especially this time of year when the next game is eight months away.
Fans seem to be obsessed with lists and prognostications about the next season, so here are five questions Tiger Rag poses about the upcoming the 2009 football season.
1. Will John Chavis be the answer to LSU’s defensive struggles?
The pressure is certainly on for John Chavis. After the disastrous co-defensive coordinator experiment of Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory this season, LSU coach Les Miles was practically forced to make a change. So Miles goes out and makes another huge coaching land with longtime Tennessee defensive coordinator Chavis.
Chavis certainly brings with him a chest of knowledge and SEC coaching experience. In 14 seasons as the Vols’ defensive coordinator, Tennessee’s defense ranked in the top four in the SEC in total defense 10 times. In addition, the Vols participated in 12 bowl games since 1995 including three appearances in the BCS bowls.
And although the Vols had an embarrassing season in 2008, Chavis’ defense finished the season as the third ranked in the nation, only giving up 262.2 yards per game.
Also Chavis has put as many LB’s in the league as any team in the country while at Tennessee. This is a position that LSU could definitely improve on.
Chavis will take over an LSU defense that finished the year ranked 32nd in the nation, but a pass defense that was a forgettable 73nd in the nation – giving up 215.4 yards per game on average.
The defensive coordinator will apparently make more than $500,000 annually, quite a jump from his former annual base salary of $340,000 with the Volunteers.
So now Chavis will have to produce and produce quickly in the college football game of “what have you done for me lately.” And he will have to work his magic with a very inexperienced defensive front, as LSU will lose three starters from the defensive line.
2. How will Russell Shepard fit into LSU’s offense?
This may be the only person in Baton Rouge will more pressure on him than Miles or Chavis. Yet mega-recruit Russell Shepard just took his last high school exam less than a month ago.
It would be impossible to imagine another player in LSU history that has more to live up to than the 18-year-old from Houston. Part of that has to do with the evolution of the recruiting process due to the internet.
On recruiting websites and message boards around the web you can read such comments as: “Shepard is already an LSU legend in my mind.” Or “How many Heisman’s and Championships will Shepard win?”
Talk about jumping the gun.
Shepard finished high school early and arrived at LSU this week to officially started his collegiate career as he began taking classes on Monday.
That’s not saying that Shepard couldn’t end up with a heavily decorated career, but the modern recruiting world brings a new definition to the term “over-hyped”.
But it’s understandable that the fan base is excited about the duel-threat quarterback. He is considered to be heavily involved in the process of recruiting many of the other players that make up LSU’s current No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2009. Shepard relentlessly calls uncommitted LSU targets and stays in touch with verbal commitments.
The problem lies in the idea that Shepard may step in and play quarterback early.
Many recruiting experts doubt the freshman’s ability to play the position at the college level. No one doubts his explosiveness and playmaking skills though. But in typical Russell Shepard fashion, when asked about this, he says, “All I want is just the opportunity to compete for the position.”
Also it looks as if LSU may have found a frontrunner after Jordan Jefferson’s most outstanding offensive player performance in the Chick-fil-A bowl in Atlanta.
But in the age of the ever-so-popular wild cat formation, it would be hard to imagine LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton not finding a package for the talented Shepard.
3. Where does LSU fit into the SEC West?
Although the Gators have solidified themselves as the best in the country, the SEC west made a strong case as the better half of the best conference in college football this season.
Both Alabama and Ole Miss are bringing back a slough of starters next season, so look for there to be much of the same out of those to programs in ’09.
Ole Miss could possibly be picked to finish first in the west in the preseason, mostly because the Rebels will bring back starting quarterback Jevan Sneed, who improved drastically over the course of the 2008 season.
Alabama however will be faced with replacing John Parker Wilson, who accumulated 46 starts at the quarterback spot over the course of his career in Tuscalusa. This could prove to give them such growing pains as LSU faced at the position in ’08.
Arkansas is going to do nothing but improve under Bobby Petreno, but the Hogs still may be a couple of seasons away from contending for a shot in Atlanta, ironically enough.
It seems that Mississippi State and Auburn may be near the bottom, at least for the next season. State is going to be hard-pressed to find a tougher instate recruiting nemesis than Houston Nutt at Ole Miss and Auburn just pulled the head-scratcher of the decade as far as coaching hires go.
LSU is sitting right behind Ole Miss in the west when ’09 kicks off.
4. How will LSU handle the 2009 schedule?
In the season opener, the Tigers travel to Seattle? That’s odd just saying it, but it’s a great opportunity for LSU to travel out west and flex its muscle. The only problem is LSU pretty much has everything to lose by taking on a University of Washington team that went O-12 in 2008. But if LSU was to struggle against the Huskies, which is unlikely, it would a sign of horrible things to come.
It’s highly possible that on October 10, 2009, Baton Rouge might be one of most energized cities in the country. Unless Vanderbilt or Mississippi State pulls the unthinkable, LSU will host the defending national champions. It will be Tim Tebow’s last stand against the Tigers, a team he has certainly had history with.
The trip to Athens the following week seems more manageable now with the departure of Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford to the NFL.
Then LSU will have two weeks to prepare before Auburn comes to Baton Rouge, before possibly the toughest part of the schedule faces the Tigers.
The Tigers will have a gimmee against Tulane before having to travel to face Alabama in Tuscaloosa. A resurgent Louisiana Tech team comes to Baton Rouge that would like nothing more to pull a fast one on the Tigers. It’s more likely that the earth will be hit be gamma rays of an exploding star in a distant solar system than this happening, but stranger things have happened.
The next game could quite possibly be the best game of the season when the Tigers travel to Oxford to seek a little revenge for the beat down the Rebels gave LSU in ’08.
Then the Tigers will host Arkansas and no one in the world knows how this one will ever turn out. Just make sure to bring a calculator.
Historically the odd number years have been kind to LSU, as the Tigers national titles this decade came in 2003 and 2007.
5. Will the Saban hatred finally wither up and fade away?
The national media and Nick Saban himself kind of turned the tables and made LSU nation look somewhat silly during the week of the Alabama-LSU game in 2008.
It was a date that LSU fans circled on their calendar since the day Saban took the job in Tuscaloosa and by all accounts, it lived up to the hype as Bama ended up edging LSU 27-21 in overtime.
But prior to the game while Saban was giving interviews on how much he thought he made a mistake when leaving LSU and talked of how much he cherishes his times in Baton Rouge, some LSU fans were burning him in effigy and putting degrading billboard signs along local interstates.
All but two players recruited by Saban (Harry Coleman and Charles Alexander) are now gone and Miles has just as many national championships as Saban does. So to quote Saban himself, “it’s time to move on, aight.”