Linebacker Deion Jones smirked.
The question had such an obvious answer that he couldn’t hold back his facial expression.
Why is LSU’s senior class so small?
His blunt response sent a group of reporters chuckling: “Guys left,” he answered.
There’s more to it, of course, but that’s the bottom line: LSU players left early for the NFL draft, transferred to other schools or never showed in the first place.
The result: one of the smallest senior classes in the Southeastern Conference, if not the nation.
The Tigers (7-3, 4-3) host Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3) Saturday in a game that will kick off at 6:39 p.m. At 6:14, the program will honor its 14 seniors in an on-field ceremony. Cody Townsend, a junior who is leaving, also will be honored.
The group of 14 is the third-smallest senior class in the SEC. Only Arkansas and Vanderbilt have fewer, and the Commodores have a whopping 12 redshirt juniors.
What’s most unsettling for LSU: Of its 14 seniors, half are walk-ons or players who see little, if any, playing time. Seven seniors play regularly, and just five make up the 22-member starting group.
“It just shows how youthful this team is and how much this team has to grow and develop,” sophomore Malachi Dupre said.
Dupre looks at the glass half-full. The half-empty one: LSU’s lack of senior leadership and veteran key players has the Tigers in this pickle of a spot.
Coach Les Miles’ job is in jeopardy, and the program’s on its first three-game losing skid in 16 years. Depth is an issue across the board — made more glaring by three starters suffering season-ending injuries. LSU’s reserves are littered with sophomores and freshmen.
There are 10 freshmen or sophomores who start and 13 more who are immediate backups to starters at running back, receiver, each of the five offensive line spots, weakside linebacker, defensive end, both defensive tackles, safety and nickelback.
Miles this week was asked about his small senior class. The embattled coach offered a subtle shot in his reply.
“Having a small senior class should mean that there’s a pretty good club returning,” he said.
LSU started the season with 12 seniors on the two-deep depth chart. That’s tied with Florida for the fewest in the SEC this year. Arkansas and Texas A&M had just 14 seniors on the two-deep, and Vanderbilt had 15. Those three schools and Florida have undergone a coaching change since or during the 2012 signing class.
The Tigers have five seniors starting. That’s tied with A&M for the fewest in the league.
“We have a few seniors on the team that may not be starters. Not sure how that pans out,” senior Lamar Louis said. “The draft would be the biggest reason.”
“It’s kind of weird, but it’s LSU,” sophomore receiver John Diarse said of the small group. “You have guys who excel faster than normal and, by doing that, they go to the NFL very early. That’s just kind of the way LSU rolls.”
LSU lost three juniors last season to the NFL draft, and a fourth, running back Jeremy Hill, left early two years ago as a redshirt sophomore.
Hill would be a senior this season — just like all the other members of a 2012 signing class that has undergone serious splitting over the past four years. Of the 24 signees that year, eight transferred or never enrolled, three are playing in the pros now and one was a junior-college signee who exhausted his eligibility last year.
Just 12 players in that 2012 class — ranked 10th nationally at the time — remain in Baton Rouge. That’s a slim number, even by major college attrition standards.
Said junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith, trailing off: “Just one of those classes ...”
2012 SIGNING CLASS
Left early for NFL (3)
LB Kwon Alexander
RB Jeremy Hill
DE Danielle Hunter
Current starter (10)
OL Vadal Alexander
WR Travin Dural^
DB Corey Thompson^
SNP Reid Ferguson
TE Dillon Gordon
OL Jerald Hawkins^
LB Deion Jones
LB Lamar Louis
CB Jalen Mills
P Jamie Keehn
Current/former reserves (3)
DB Dwayne Thomas
LB Ronnie Feist
OL Hoko Fanaika*
Transferred/never enrolled (8)
QB Jeremy Liggins
LB Lorenzo Phillips
CB Derrick Raymond
OL Derek Edinburgh
LB Trey Granier
WR Kavahra Holmes
DB Jerqwinick Sandolph
WR Avery Johnson
* — junior-college signee who exhausted his eligibility last year
Senior starters and two-deep seniors by SEC team
Texas A&M 14
Mississippi State 17
South Carolina 18
Ole Miss 25
Senior starters by SEC team
Texas A&M 5
Mississippi State 6
South Carolina 8
Ole Miss 10
Senior starter and two-deep numbers courtesy PhilSteele.com