LSU Football: Tigers Are Quiet SEC Contenders

Brandon Harris LSU Tigers

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it was the 5-3 record in the SEC last season, maybe it’s the losses to the Alabama Crimson Tide the last two seasons or maybe it’s the fact it’s the LSU Tigers and losing three games in one season is something you just don’t associate.

When fans get used to winning and competing for national championships regularly, they tend to get a bit antsy when the norm isn’t met. The Tigers have still stockpiled talent within the top 5 of the conference the past five years, according to 247 Sports, which keeps expectations high.

Much of the preseason talk has been centered around the quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and about the Auburn Tigers’ chances at making a run at the College Football Playoff, however, the Tigers just seem to be sitting in the background of all the conversation.

The hesitation to place the Bayou Bengals ahead of Auburn or Bama is understandable. Zach Mettenberger is gone, top running back Jeremy Hill is gone and top receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. are both gone. While it’s a stretch to say LSU will be the SEC West representative in Atlanta, Ga., the threat of the purple and gold should never be off any team’s radar.

The uncertainty at quarterback surely plays a role, but keep in mind Cam Cameron is still in charge of the offense. Cameron already has a good track record in Baton Rouge, La., bringing a poor offense from 2012 into a unit ranked in the top 35 nationally in total offense in 2013. Plus, the Tigers do have a talented backfield. Cameron propelled Mettenberger to new heights last season and will do the same for whoever is the primary field general in 2014.

No, it’s not the Tide or the Georgia Bulldogs, but the ground game should be able to control games while either Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris get acquainted with the staring role behind center. LSU welcomes in the top freshman from the 2014 class, Leonard Fournette, who is expected to impact the rushing attack in a huge way.

In regards to the QB “battle,” coach Cameron told ESPN recently that the competition is close and will ultimately bring out the best in Jennings and Harris. Given Cameron’s NFL experience, fans should feel a sense of comfort regardless of the results. The sophomore Jennings is remembered from his game-winning touchdown drive against the Arkansas Razorbacks. No one will mistake the 2013 Razorbacks as good team, but the confidence gained from such a drive is key to a young player’s development.

Despite having a low year compared to what has been the norm under defensive coordinator John Chavis, LSU was still ranked within the top 5 of the SEC in total, passing and rushing defense. The weak link on the defensive unit last season was the inability to create the amount of turnovers needed to compete at championship level.

Keep in mind, this is LSU, and Les Miles has been able to reload his defense with an uncanny amount of talent through the years. The loss of Quentin Thomas hurts, but it isn’t time to hit the panic button. Frank Herron, the No. 2 prospect in Tennessee in 2013, is more than ready to step in.

It can be easy for fans to forget what it’s like to win less than 10 games, but it happens to the best of programs. 2009 was the last time LSU failed to win at least 10 games. 2014 could be the year the steak ends, but with only four true road games, the Tigers most certainly have a chance to beat every team on their schedule. If they can pull out back-to-back away games against Auburn and the Florida Gators, it would be hard to bet against the Tigers.

LSU may not be at the center of attention, but they’re a dangerous opponent for every team on their schedule.

Zach Pugh is a SEC Football Writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @RadioZachCFB, Google+ and Facebook.

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