(Part 3 of a 14-part SEC preview series)
Ed Orgeron enters his first full season as LSU's coach with 12 returning starters (6 offense, 5 defense, 1 kicker).
Appointed as interim head coach after a 2-2 start cost Les Miles his job, Orgeron directed the Tigers to a 6-2 record and was eventually hired on a permanent basis.
A convincing 29-9 Citrus Bowl victory over Louisville enabled LSU (8-4, 5-3) to clinch its 16th straight season with a minimum of eight victories.
Orgeron brought in Matt Canada from the University of Pittsburgh as offensive coordinator and retained Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator.
LSU ranked 10th in the SEC last season in scoring (28.3 points per game), fourth in rushing (233 yards per game), 12th in passing (190.1 ypg) and ninth in total offense (423.1 ypg).
Senior Danny Etling returns at quarterback after appearing in 11 games in his first season with the Tigers. Completing nearly 60 percent of his passes, Etling threw for 2,123 yards with 11 touchdowns and only five picks in 269 attempts. LSU won seven of Etling's 10 starts.
Sophomore Justin McMillan, who completed his only pass for 19 yards, is the only other QB to have taken a college snap, though LSU signed four-star recruits Lowell Narcisse of St. James and Myles Brennan.
Following the loss of Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick of the NFL Draft, the Tigers have replaced one All-America running back with another. Drawing six starts as a sophomore in place of the injured Fournette, Derrius Guice averaged a gaudy 7.6 yards per carry while rushing for an SEC-best 1,387 yards and 15 TDs. The hometown product out of Baton Rouge Catholic High also caught nine passes for 106 yards and another score, and returned 11 kickoffs for a 20.3-yard average. Senior Darrell Williams (52 carries, 233 yards, 3 TDs) is a capable backup.
Four of the top five receivers are gone. D.J. Chark (26 receptions, 466 yards, 3 TDs), the third-leading receiver a year ago, is the only holdover starter. Senior Russell Gage (5-62-1) and sophomore Drake Davis (1-19) are looking for expanded roles this year, along with senior H-Back J.D. Moore (10-58).
Three-fifths of the offensive line is back. Will Clapp, who shifts to center after earning first-team All-SEC acclaim at left guard last season, is the leader of the group. Senior K.J. Malone of Ruston Cedar Creek and junior right guard Maea Teuhema return at left tackle and right guard, respectively. Junior left guard Garrett Brumfield and junior right tackle Toby Weathersby are first-year starters.
Aranda faces the task of replacing the top five tacklers, including a pair of first-round draft picks in the secondary from one of the top defenses in the nation. LSU ranked No. 2 in the SEC in points allowed (15.8 ppg), rushing (117.3 ypg) and No. 3 in passing (197.2 ypg) and total yardage (314.4 ypg).
Senior nose tackle Greg Gilmore (34 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) is the lone holdover on the front three. Senior Christian LaCouture (35 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack in 2015) returns at end after missing the entire 2016 season with an injury. Sophomore Neville product Rashard Lawrence (6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) is expected to start at the opposite end.
Junior Buck linebacker Arden Key (56 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, school record 12 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) is the top returning tackler. Key is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and will not be available when camp opens Monday, July 31.
Redshirt freshmen Ray Thornton and Andre Anthony are among a lengthy list of candidates who could step in if Key is not ready in time for the Sept. 2 season opener against BYU
Seniors Donnie Alexander (45 tackles, 1 INT) and sophomore Devin White (30 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT) head up the linebacker brigade.
Experience is limited in the secondary following the loss of safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Tre'Devious White, who were selected as the No. 6 and 27 overall picks of the draft.
Juniors Donte Jackson (39 tackles, 2 TFL, 8 pass breakups) and Kevin Toliver II (21 tackles in 7 games) are the projected starting cornerbacks. Seniors Ed Paris (10 tackles), John Battle (29) and true freshmen Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens are vying for time at the safeties.
Sophomore Josh Growden averaged 41.4 yards on 57 punts, with 10 punts of 50 yards or more and 22 downed inside the 20.
2017 LSU SCHEDULE
(All Times Central)
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Sept. 2 BYU (at Houston) 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 Chattanooga TBA
Sept. 16 at Mississippi State* 6 p.m.
Sept. 23 Syracuse TBA
Sept. 30 Troy (HC) TBA
Oct. 7 at Florida*
Oct. 14 Auburn* TBA
Oct. 21 at Ole Miss* TBA
Nov. 4 at Alabama* TBA
Nov. 11 Arkansas* TBA
Nov. 18 at Tennessee* TBA
Nov. 25 Texas A&M* TBA