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The LSU Tigers could make a run at a national championship this season. Yet it’s also possible that Coach Les Miles loses his job after this year too if the Tigers underachieve again and lose to both Florida and Alabama again. That probably seems hard to believe, but the Tigers have lost a total of nine games in the past two seasons – four total to the Gators and Tide -- after winning the 2007 national title. Certainly Miles’ seat is lukewarm if not hot.

The key to this team likely will be QB Jordan Jefferson and whether he can emerge as a top-flight quarterback. The talent is certainly there, and he had a pretty good 2009 when he completed 61% of his passes for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns with seven interceptions. However, he reportedly has struggled this offseason and been outperformed by Jarrett Lee. But the job is Jefferson’s for now and he’ll be expected to improve upon LSU’s 182 yards per game passing average from a year ago.

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Former top QB recruit Russell Shepard has moved fully to wide receiver now, and the Tigers say they will get him plenty of touches whether it’s throwing to him, handing it off to him or snapping directly to him in the Wildcat. He only caught five passes for 34 yards as a true freshman last year and ran for 277 yards and two touchdowns. He, Reuben Randle and Terrence Toliver could – could – be a dynamic trio.

The LSU running game struggled big time last year (three games with less than 50 yards), but there’s plenty of talent there with Richard Murphy, Stevan Ridley and redshirt freshman Michael Ford, who reportedly has been off the charts good. However, the offensive line was a mess less year – the biggest reason LSU finished 112th in the nation in total offense – so that unit must improve. The key player will be Joseph Barksdale, who moves to the left side. There are thus two new starters on the right. As long as that group is just solid the Tigers should be SEC contenders. Overall there are six starters back on offense from last year.

The defense only brings back four players and the star on that side of the ball is cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of the nation’s most athletic players. The Tigers also moved Jai Eugene to safety, so they may now have the fastest secondary in the nation overall. They will be very tough to throw against. The defensive line also must be better than last year, as it was largely at fault for LSU finishing 46h in the nation against the run and 87th in sacks. Lazarius Levingston is the lone returning starter there although Drake Nevis is probably the key player and will be counted on big time for his pass-rushing ability.

Here is LSU’s 2010 schedule:
Sept. 4 vs. North Carolina (Atlanta)
Sept. 11 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 18 vs. Mississippi State
Sept. 25 vs. West Virginia
Oct. 2 vs. Tennessee
Oct. 9 at Florida
Oct. 16 vs. McNeese State
Oct. 23 at Auburn
Nov. 6 vs. Alabama
Nov. 13 vs. La.-Monroe
Nov. 20 vs. Ole Miss
Nov. 27 at Arkansas

Very tough schedule here as LSU could potentially face three conference champions in North Carolina, West Virginia and Florida/Alabama. Thus you have to give the Tigers a pass for those two home games with overmatched McNeese State and Louisiana-Monroe.

That North Carolina defense will certainly test that inconsistent Tiger offense right away as the Heels are absolutely stacked on that side of the ball. If the Tigers can beat UNC, they should be 5-0 heading to Gainesville. The Gators’ 13-3 victory over LSU in Baton Rouge last year was their lowest winning point total since Urban Meyer took over the program in 2005. And that was with Tim Tebow, who obviously is no longer with Florida. That UF win also snapped LSU’s 32-game winning streak in Saturday night home games. Can the Tigers return the favor this year? I say no.

That Auburn game certainly could be tricky, but LSU shut down that high-powered attack last year (a 31-10 win) and basically gets to prepare for the Tigers for two weeks with McNeese State coming beforehand. Then LSU gets an off week before the huge matchup with Alabama, which could well decide the SEC West. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Tide also are off the week before, so that negates any advantage. Bama wins a close one.

Mississippi shouldn’t be much problem for LSU but then I think the Hogs do beat the Tigers in Fayetteville. Arkansas probably should have won last year’s game in Baton Rouge and if any QB can have success against the stellar LSU secondary it’s probably Ryan Mallett.

So that’s a 9-3 record and probably another trip to a Florida New Year’s Day bowl. The Tigers had been a perfect 4-0 under Miles in bowls until last year’s ugly offensive effort in a 19-17 defeat in the slop to Penn State in the Capital One Bowl. The Tigers are +3500 to win the BCS title and that’s actually decent value if you want to roll the dice that everything breaks their way this year. It’s possible but just not very likely.

  
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