Last year when Mississippi State and LSU squared off, it was back and forth for three quarters. When the fourth quarter came, LSU blew the game wide open and would win going away. The Tigers will have a different identity than they did a year ago. The faces of the program are all gone, and some young guys will have to contribute. Mississippi State will have their hands full once again, but this could be a very close ballgame.
A lot of new faces will have to step up for the Tigers. They suffered a major blow, losing guys like Zach Mettenberger, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Anthony Johnson, and Ego Ferguson. The skill positions took the biggest hit, but there is a lot of talent waiting in the wings.
Looking to replace Mettenberger at Quarterback will be sophomore Anthony Jennings and True Freshman Brandon Harris.
Jennings came in against Arkansas and led the team to a late win after Mettenberger was injured. He also got the start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa. His first start was not all that impressive. He completed just 7 of 19 passes for 82 yards with an interception. He will more than likely be the opening day starter.
Harris comes in ranked as ESPN's #2 dual threat quarterback for the 2014 class. He enrolled early in the spring and should have enough knowledge of the playbook by now to have a chance to start a few games into the season. Maybe even sooner.
Seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will team up to replace Jeremy Hill at running back.
Magee was a solid backup last season, rushing for over 600 yards and 7.3 yards per carry. Look for him to get the majority of the carries.
Hilliard has mainly been a short yardage specialist his whole career. He is big but don't let that fool you. He also has breakaway speed. You will see him plenty in third down situations.
Don't overlook Leonard Fournette at running back either. He was the #1 recruit in the nation and should be a special player. He will get a decent number of carries, even as a freshman.
The position of most concern is the receivers. LSU's leading returning receiver, Travin Dural, only caught seven passes last season. Likely starting beside him will be John Diarse and Quantavius Leslie. None of these players have much experience.
Five star recruit Malachi Dupre may be the best player out of the bunch and has a chance to earn some starts. But like it is with any freshman, who knows how he will handle the pressure when the lights come on.
Combine this with the fact that a new quarterback will be throwing them the football, the Tiger's offense could see some early season struggles. I would expect them to mainly be a run first team early on, at least until the quarterback and receivers get their feet wet.
On defense, there are probably even more concerns. Linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Tre'Davious White will steal the show. They are two of the league's best. But that's really all the Tigers have to hang their hat on right now.
The biggest question mark is on the defensive line. Who will replace Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson? Those are difficult shoes to fill, and right now there are not many guys who have proven much of anything on the defensive line. Losing their top two players on a line that was unimpressive for the most part could spell trouble.
It also doesn't help matters any now that star defensive back Jalen Mills has been suspended. He was arrested last month on battery charges, and his future with the team is uncertain. Les Miles will have a tough decision to make.
LSU is one of the country's best defenses year in and year out, but last year they weren't as dominant. Several teams had success running the football against them. The dominoes could continue to fall and they take another step back, or they could reload and look like the Seattle Seahawks. Neither would really be shocking.
It seems like every year for the past 3 or 4 years the media and countless fans predict that the upcoming season will finally be the downfall of LSU. And year after year, the Tigers just reload and have another 10 win season.
Given that with the fact that they've won 21 of the last 22 games against the Bulldogs, you won't hear me predicting a W for this game anytime soon. But with them losing more players to the NFL than any other team in the country and the Dogs returning 17 starters, the chance is as good as it's been in a long long time.