Now that spring practice has officially started in the SEC, we took a page out of the Big Ten blog's book and looked at the state of each SEC program by using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching and current and future personnel as indicators. We checked out the SEC East last week and this week will take a week-long look at the West, including today's post on LSU.
2015 record: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
Three-year record: 27-11
Coaching situation: Perhaps last season's drama with Les Miles has stabilized things. An embarrassing loss to Alabama sparked a three-game November losing streak that finally ended with a win against Texas A&M in the regular-season finale -- a night that many assumed would be Miles' final night coaching the Tigers. Instead, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva announced after the game that Miles would remain as coach and things have taken a turn for the better.
Miles replaced defensive coordinator Kevin Steele with Wisconsin's Dave Aranda, a move widely viewed as one of the best hires of the offseason, and added Jabbar Juluke and Dameyune Craig to coach running backs and receivers. Miles lost recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson, who accepted the head coaching post at Texas-San Antonio, and Wilson's right-hand man in recruiting, Austin Thomas. However, Miles had Ed Orgeron available to take over as recruiting coordinator, and that should be a productive move. Miles also reached an agreement with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on a new contract.
It remains to be seen where things stand with the LSU staff from a long-term perspective. Miles is the most consistent winner in LSU's football history, but the Tigers have lost three or more games every season since playing for a BCS title in 2011, plus they have a five-game losing streak against Alabama. If a veteran team fails to contend this season, the powers that be will be unhappy with Miles once again.
Roster situation: The Tigers are stocked with enough talent to win this fall and well into the future. No FBS team returns more starters than LSU's 18, and its well-regarded 2014 recruiting class – a group that included running back Leonard Fournette, safety Jamal Adams, receiver Malachi Dupre and quarterback Brandon Harris -- is now in its third season in the program. With those upperclassmen in leading roles and returning seniors such as linebacker Kendell Beckwith, cornerback Tre'Davious White and defensive linemen Christian LaCouture and Lewis Neal all turning down shots at the NFL, the Tigers have reason for optimism.
There are a few questions that Miles' staff will address over the next few months:
1. Who fills holes at linebacker and on the offensive line?
2. How will the defensive players adapt to Aranda's new scheme?
3. Can Cameron get more consistent play from the quarterback position after Harris' late-season slump played a role in the Tigers' three-game November skid?
Assuming the Tigers find positive solutions to those questions, this team has to rank among the leading contenders in the SEC and playoff races.
Recruiting situation: Moving forward without the tag team of Wilson and Thomas will require some adjustment, but Orgeron has plenty of experience as a recruiting coordinator. He's also one of three LSU assistants -- Craig and Bradley Dale Peveto are the others -- who ranked among 247 Sports' top 17 recruiters for 2016.
Recruiting is rarely a problem at LSU, and it certainly was not in this class. The Tigers were in the running for the No. 1 national class ranking throughout national signing day before finally ending up third in ESPN's rankings. The Tigers are already off to a good start for 2017, having secured a commitment from defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior 300. They should also rank among the leading contenders for No. 1 overall prospect Dylan Moses, who is from Baton Rouge and was committed to the Tigers for a time.
Moses plays a position of need for LSU in the upcoming class, linebacker, which could help in his recruitment. The Tigers also will attempt to sign at least one top-tier quarterback prospect since Harris and Purdue transfer Danny Etling will be juniors this season.
Trajectory: Holding steady. This is a team that should win double-digit games, with a returning star (Fournette) who will contend for the Heisman Trophy. The Aranda hire created a huge splash, and he should be an upgrade after the defense took a step backward in one season under Steele. So why is the trajectory holding steady instead of pointing upward? Let's call it guarded optimism. LSU looked like a playoff team before its November implosion last season. Further, the Tigers are 1-5 against Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas over the last two seasons. Let's see them take care of business in those late division games, particularly when Alabama visits on Nov. 5, and then we'll truly know that Miles has his mojo back.