GAME 1: Miami, Florida
Date: Sept. 2
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
The Good News: The Hurricanes started 10-0 10-0 under now third-year coach Mark Richt and won the ACC Coastal Division in 2017, but lost their last three by a combined 96-41 to Pittsburgh, Clemson (ACC championship) and Wisconsin (Orange Bowl). There is talent on offense, but offensive line is a major concern.
The Bad News: If the new pieces of LSU’s offense need time to coalesce, the clock could strike midnight against the Hurricanes. Miami returns much of an opportunistic defense that tied for third nationally with 31 forced turnovers. The turnover chain will be a staple of the 'Canes sideline once again.
Star Power: Even bigger things are expected from returning quarterback Malik Rosier. The same holds true for a Miami defense led by edge rusher Joe Jackson, linebacker Shaq Quarterman, cornerback Michael Jackson and safety Jaquan Johnson.
The Advocate says … Miami 23, LSU 16 (0-1)
GAME 2: Southeastern Louisiana
Date: Sept. 8
Time: 6 p.m.
Where: Tiger Stadium
The Good News: The Lions’ first visit to Tiger Stadium since 1949 comes at a transition time for SLU football. Frank Scelfo takes over his first collegiate head coaching job from Ron Roberts, who became defensive coordinator at UL-Lafayette. Scelfo was offensive coordinator at UTSA under former LSU assistant Frank Wilson.
The Bad News: While the Lions have to break in a new quarterback, Scelfo coached five to the NFL, including Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles at Arizona. Julius Maracalin and Marcus Cooper are back to pace the potent rushing attack, which led the FCS in 2017 with 283.1 yards per game.
Star Power: Maracalin was a second-team All-SLC pick two years ago with nearly 800 yards rushing. Cooper (646 yards, three touchdowns) was an All-SLC pick this past season. Wide receiver Juwan Petit-Frere earned first-team All-American honors in 2017 as a kick returner.
The Advocate says … LSU 46, SLU 13 (1-1)
In the stock market of LSU football expectations, the question is whether to go short or bet on the long-term investment.
GAME 3: Auburn
Date: Sept. 15
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Alabama
The Good News: Auburn has had a 1,000-yard rusher the past nine seasons but must identify another after SEC leading rusher Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway left for the NFL. Kam Martin, who averaged 6.1 yards per carry last season, likely will be the main back but works behind a retooled offensive line.
The Bad News: Auburn won the SEC West and beat both CFP title game participants (Alabama and Georgia) with a third loss to CFP semifinalist Oklahoma. That other loss was to LSU, blowing a 20-0 lead in Tiger Stadium, likely a rallying cry for Auburn. LSU is 2-7 at Auburn since 2000.
Star Power: Auburn returns one of the SEC’s top pitch-and-catch combinations in junior quarterback Jarrett Stidham and wide receiver Ryan Davis. The latter set a school record with 84 receptions in 2017. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown is a projected top-10 draft pick.
The Advocate says … Auburn 27, LSU 20 (1-2, 0-1)
GAME 4: Louisiana Tech
Date: Sept. 22
Where: Tiger Stadium
The Good News: After back-to-back nine-win seasons, the Bulldogs took a step back in 2017, going 7-6. It could have easily been another nine-win campaign, though: Tech went 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less. LSU is 18-1 all-time against Tech, its only loss in Ruston way back in 1904.
The Bad News: After years of a revolving door behind center, J’Mar Smith is the Bulldogs’ first returning starting quarterback since 2010. This may not be the most talented team Skip Holtz has had in Ruston, but it is experienced and skilled enough to contend in the Conference USA West Division.
Star Power: Tech returns one of Smith’s favorite receiving targets in senior Teddy Veal, a first-team preseason C-USA selection. Offensive lineman O’Shea Dugas was also a first-team pick and was named to the Outland Trophy preseason watch list. Defensive end Jaylon Ferguson was tabbed for the Nagurski and Bednarik watch lists.
The Advocate says … LSU 31, Louisiana Tech 18 (2-2)
GAME 5: Ole Miss
Date: Sept. 29
Where: Tiger Stadium
The Good News: Beset by NCAA probation, Ole Miss is literally a program that is not going anywhere, serving a second-straight bowl ban. The defense, 13th or worse in the SEC in points, total yards and rushing yards allowed, must vastly improve for the Rebels to equal or eclipse 2017’s 6-6 record.
The Bad News: Because of probation, the NCAA allowed Ole Miss players to transfer without penalty. Quarterback Shea Patterson fled to Michigan and receiver Van Jefferson to Florida. But Ole Miss returns QB Jordan Ta’amu, a junior college transfer who completed 66.5 percent of his passes after Patterson was injured.
Star Power: Despite the Rebels’ woes, their top-end talent is top notch. A.J. Brown led the SEC with 75 catches for 1,252 yards in 2017 and leads a stellar receiving corps that still has DK Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge. Like Brown, left tackle Greg Little is a first-round pick if he leaves early.
The Advocate says … LSU 48, Ole Miss 17 (3-2, 1-1)
GAME 6: Florida
Date: Oct. 6
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
The Good News: Florida turns to former offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, its third coach since Urban Meyer left eight years ago, with the Gators going a middling 52-36 since then. Rebuilding the offense is Mullen’s first task. Florida has finished eighth or worse in SEC scoring offense the past five seasons.
The Bad News: While the offense needs to get untracked, the defense has a chance to be stellar. Mullen brought defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with him from Mississippi State, where his defense ranked first in the FBS in fewest first downs allowed per game (13.5).
Star Power: The secondary, led by cornerback Marco Wilson and nickel back CJ Henderson, should be one of the SEC’s best. Left tackle Martez Ivey is a preseason All-SEC pick, but who will he block for? Feleipe Franks had a shaky 2017, but the one-time LSU commitment remains the favorite at quarterback.
The Advocate says … LSU 20, Florida 18 (4-2, 2-1)
GAME 7: Georgia
Date: Oct. 13
Where: Tiger Stadium
The Good News: Two things — the game is in Baton Rouge, and LSU will not play Georgia again until 2025. The Bulldogs will have to take everyone’s best shot coming off an SEC championship and a near miss in the CFP final against Alabama. Maybe Georgia will suffer a post-championship season hangover.
The Bad News: The Bulldogs are on a roll. Yes, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Roquan Smith are gone, but quarterback Jake Fromm returns, as does receiver Terry Godwin, cornerback Deandre Baker and safety J.R. Reed, preseason All-SEC selections all. All of that is bolstered by the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
Star Power: Then freshman Jake Fromm took over at quarterback from an injured Jacob Eason and never let go. Eason subsequently transferred to Washington but Fromm remains, working behind a bristling offensive line. D’Andre Swift now has a chance to shine as Georgia’s featured running back.
The Advocate says … Georgia 24, LSU 17 (4-3, 2-2)
GAME 8: Mississippi State
Date: Oct. 20
Where: Tiger Stadium
The Good News: After nine seasons under Dan Mullen, State is one of many SEC schools in transition mode with former Penn offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Before Penn State he was head coach at his alma mater Fordham from 2012-15, but this is a huge step up in weight class.
The Bad News: LSU was 21-1 against State from 1992-2012, but the teams have split their past four meetings. Given the Bulldogs’ 37-7 shellacking of the Tigers in Starkville last year, State now appears to have the upper hand. Sixteen returning starters from a 9-4 team has the cowbells clanging in StarkVegas.
Star Power: Longtime fans remember the hex State’s Wishbone quarterback John Bond had on LSU in the 1980s. Nick Fitzgerald is in that mold: a mediocre passer (55.6 completion percentage in 2017) but a dangerous runner. Jeffery Simmons can play defensive end or tackle and is one of the SEC’s best at any position.
The Advocate says … LSU 24, Miss. State 23 (5-3, 3-2)
GAME 9: Alabama
Date: Nov. 3
Where: Tiger Stadium
The Good News: There are some significant question marks for the Crimson Tide. The entire secondary, including starting nickel and dime backs, is gone. In fact, only three defensive starters return. And there is discord in Sabanland over the quarterback battle between Tua Tagovailoa, hero of the CFP title game, and Jalen Hurts.
The Bad News: Alabama is still Alabama, Nick Saban is still the coach, and the Crimson Tide is still preseason No. 1. Despite the issues, which would derail most teams, there is still more than enough talent, and well-coached talent, to make Alabama the favorite in every game on the schedule.
Star Power: Take your pick. Tailback Damien Harris is one of the SEC’s best, running behind the best O-line led by Jonah Williams and Ross Pierschbacher. Bama has probably the best linebacker corps with Anfernee Jennings and Mack Wilson. And 6-7 defensive end Raekwon Davis looks like some quarterback’s menacing nightmare.
The Advocate says … Alabama 19, LSU 12 (5-4, 3-3)
GAME 10: Arkansas
Date: Nov. 10
Where: Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas
The Good News: Yet another SEC school breaking in a new coach. In Fayetteville it’s Chad Morris, a hot name as offensive coordinator at Clemson but unable to ignite SMU in three seasons (14-22). The switch from pro style to spread offense will have the Hogs taking their lumps in 2018.
The Bad News: Arkansas has ranked last in the SEC in yards per play allowed the past three seasons. That should change under former LSU and Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis, but it would be unfair to expect even the dean of SEC defensive gurus to work miracles.
Star Power: There isn’t much. Hjalte Froholdt is by far the SEC’s best Danish offensive guard. Shreveport’s Santos Ramirez is a ball-hawking free safety. Former Teurlings Catholic standout Cole Kelley has a great chance to be the starting quarterback when the Tigers visit Fayetteville in November.
The Advocate says … LSU 30, Arkansas 21 (6-4, 4-3)
GAME 11: Rice
Date: Nov. 17
Where: Tiger Stadium
The Good News: After a rough midseason schedule and a finale at Texas A&M, LSU will need a scrimmage game. This is it. USA Today ranked Rice 124th of 130 FBS teams for 2018. The Owls welcome ex-Stanford assistant Mike Bloomgren as their new coach. Can he make Rice into C-USA’s Stanford? Patience.
The Bad News: There isn’t much for LSU in this one. The Tigers should welcome a win over their old rival whom they played all but two years from 1932-83, but only twice since then. The tragically bad news was for Rice in March, when junior defensive end Blain Padgett died unexpectedly.
Star Power: Wide receiver Aaron Cephus is a legitimate deep threat. He tied for third nationally in 2017 with six catches of 50-plus yards. Sixth-year Graysen Schantz is (obviously) a veteran edge rusher. Bloomgren wants to bring Stanford-like physicality to Rice and returns his top three rushers led by Nahshon Ellerbe.
The Advocate says … LSU 50, Rice 8 (7-4)
GAME 12: Texas A&M
Date: Nov. 24
Where: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
The Good News: Home or away, LSU has handled the Aggies every year since they joined the SEC in 2012, plus a win in the 2011 Cotton Bowl. LSU has generally outphysicaled A&M’s defense, which still doesn’t figure to be top-tier SEC caliber in 2018.
The Bad News: A&M is putting its money where its aspirations are when it comes to winning football. The school lured Jimbo Fisher from Florida State for $75 million guaranteed over 10 years and went hard after LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda before luring Notre Dame’s Mike Elko to College Station.
Star Power: Tailback Trayveon Williams limped through 2017 but has rushed for nearly 1,900 yards the past two seasons. A&M needs to figure out who its quarterback is between Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond, but both figure to benefit from Fisher’s coaching. Defensive end Landis Durham had 10.5 sacks as a junior.
The Advocate says … Texas A&M 25, LSU 20 (7-5, 4-4)