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LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda speaks with his players as the Tigers practice indoors, Friday, August 9, 2019 on LSU's campus in Baton Rouge, La.

It may have seemed a lot longer ago to many fans, but the LSU football team reached double-digit wins for the first time in four seasons when the Tigers went 10-3 in 2018.

While 10-win seasons are cause for celebration throughout much of the college football world, more is always expected of an LSU program that claimed two national titles and played for another between 2003-11. In that nine-year stretch, the Tigers won 13 games twice, 12 once and 11 three times.

LSU teams of late have found it difficult to duplicate that success, but after its 2018 breakthrough — capped by an impressive victory in the Fiesta Bowl — the Tigers have high hopes and even higher expectations now.

Here are some of the biggest storylines going into 2019:

1. NEW-LOOK OFFENSE

Ed Orgeron didn’t mince words in his annual address to the Rotary Club in late July. Before anyone settled into their seats after the national anthem, Orgeron gave them what they’ve longed to hear: The 2019 Tigers are going to throw the ball to the tight end, and they’re going to throw the ball over the middle — which was met with overwhelming approval by the audience. As such, the three-, four- and five-wide receiver sets Orgeron pledged to use in the run-pass option scheme of passing-game coordinator Joe Brady will come under scrutiny early and often.

2. TIGHTENING UP

Even though they won 10 games last year, Orgeron didn’t need a lot of time to get to the heart of one of his team’s top problems — pass protection — after LSU gave up 35 sacks (2.7 per game). The Tigers ranked 13th in the SEC and 102nd of 129 Division I teams, and only Joe Burrow’s ability to escape the pass rush reduced the number of sleepless nights Orgeron had. With four of five offensive line starters returning, Orgeron knows that can’t happen again — especially with speedy ends and outside linebackers flying off the edge.

3. CORNERBACK DEPTH

The coaches love what they have in projected starters Kristian Fulton, a senior who could be a first-round NFL draft pick next spring, and Derek Stingley, the heralded freshman, but finding depth on the outside and someone to fill the all-important nickel spot will be key to the defense’s success. Junior Kary Vincent has a leg up at nickel, but veteran Jontre Kirklin and several members of the heralded recruiting class — Cordale Flott, Raydarious Jones and Jay Ward — are in the mix for playing time as well.


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4. THE NEW COLE?

Kicker was one of the biggest storylines heading into the 2018 season, but LSU hit the lottery with graduate transfer Cole Tracy. He was money in making 29 of 33 field-goal attempts and nailing all 42 of his extra-point tries. With Tracy gone, the coaching staff believes it has found another gem — a younger one — in true freshman Cade York. A five-star recruit who showed off his powerful leg with a 59-yard field goal in the Under Armour All-America game, he’ll try to pick up where Tracy left off.

5. CLYDE AND COMPANY

Orgeron vowed to throw the ball more, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to abandon the running game. Junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire and fifth-year senior Lanard Fournette are the only experienced backs returning, which means redshirt freshman Chris Curry and true freshmen John Emery and Tyrion Price-Davis will have opportunities to make their mark in certain roles. This group will definitely have a chance to catch the ball more in space in the Tigers’ spread attack.

6. THE SCHEDULE

After playing four teams ranked in the top 10 of the USA Today coaches preseason poll last season, the schedule isn’t much easier this time around. No. 6 LSU will play five of the top 16 teams in the coaches preseason poll — No. 2 Alabama, No. 9 Florida, No. 10 Texas, No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 16 Auburn. Texas and two of the Tigers’ other nonconference foes — Georgia Southern and Utah State — won at least 10 games a year ago with nine of their 12 opponents in 2019 participating in bowl games.

LEADER

Unlike last season, when All-American linebacker Devin White was the Tigers' unquestioned leader, that man resides on the offensive side of the ball this year. Senior quarterback Joe Burrow has a firm grip on the Tigers’ new-look offense, but respect flows over to the defensive side after Burrow stepped in last season and fearlessly made plays with his arm and legs.

ISSUE

Most coaches would be tickled to have four starters on the offensive line returning, but this area still bears watching. Lloyd Cushenberry is a stud at center, but who replaces the steady and cerebral Garrett Brumfield at left guard — possibly Adrian Magee — will be important. Also, Ed Orgeron said before camp that tackles Saahdiq Charles and Austin Deculus must improve.

BREAKOUT PLAYER

For the second year in a row, it’s K’Lavon Chaisson, a 6-foot-4, 250-pounder who looks like he was born to play Buck linebacker. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to show it when he tore an ACL in the 2018 opener. Before going down, White repeatedly sang the praises of the speedy and explosive Chaisson, who can pressure the passer or drop into coverage.

OUTLOOK

Even after losing talents like White and Greedy Williams, Dave Aranda’s defense will be plenty salty again. Also, the two biggest questions heading into 2018 — who would be the quarterback and who would step up at running back — are gone or aren’t as pressing. If the new run-pass option scheme is effective, it could be a special year.

SCHEDULE

Date Opponent Time/TV

8.31 Georgia Southern 6:30 p.m./ESPNU

9.7 at Texas 6:30 p.m./ABC

9.14 Northwestern St. 6:30 p.m./SEC

9.21 at Vanderbilt TBD/TBD

10.5 Utah State TBD/TBD

10.12 Florida TBD/TBD

10.19 at Mississippi St. TBD/TBD

10.26 Auburn TBD/TBD

11.09 at Alabama TBD/TBD

11.16 at Ole Miss TBD/TBD

11.23 Arkansas TBD/TBD

11.30 Texas A&M TBD/TBD

PREDICTION: 10-2

Predicted order of finish

WESTERN DIVISION

1. ALABAMA: Despite laying an egg in the CFP title game last January, the Crimson Tide likely will win at least seven games in the SEC for the eighth year in a row.

2. LSU: There’s no reason to believe the Tigers won’t be as ferocious as ever on defense; the question is whether the new-look offense will be able to do its part.

3. TEXAS A&M: The Aggies took a big step forward in their first season under Jimbo Fisher, but a brutal schedule must be navigated to have a special season.

4. AUBURN: With a ho-hum 23-17 SEC record since playing in the BCS championship game in 2013, the Tigers are desperate to get back on track in the league.

5. MISSISSIPPI STATE: Joe Moorhead won eight games in 2018, but he’ll have to overcome the loss of several star defenders and a question mark at QB.

6. OLE MISS: The Rebels must replace star QB Jordan Ta’amu and several standout receivers, and a shaky defense has to show some improvement in a hurry.

7. ARKANSAS: After winning just two games in Chad Morris’ maiden voyage, the Razorbacks will be in rebuilding mode for at least a couple more seasons.

EASTERN DIVISION

1. GEORGIA: With Jake Fromm at quarterback, a stable of quality running backs and a strong defense, it’s easy to see why the Dogs will win the East again.

2. FLORIDA: In his second year with the Gators, Dan Mullen has experience at quarterback and a group of top skill players. But can they catch Georgia?

3. MISSOURI: There will be no bowl game because of probation, but former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant and the Tigers are motivated to secure a top SEC finish.

4. SOUTH CAROLINA: After winning nine games in 2017, Will Muschamp’s team fell to 7-6 with a defense that allowed 27.2 points a game — which is trouble.

5. KENTUCKY: The Wildcats finished 10-3 in 2018, but finding replacements for stars like running back Benny Snell and linebacker Josh Allen will be tough.

6. TENNESSEE: The Volunteers improved from four wins to five in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season, but the uphill climb to respectability isn’t over for Rocky Top.

7. VANDERBILT: Derek Mason got his team to a bowl game for the second time in 2018, but he still doesn’t have a winning season since taking over in 2014.

Can anyone stop a rematch of Georgia and Alabama in the SEC championship?

Four games to watch

ALABAMA AT TEXAS A&M

OCT. 12: In a six-game stretch from Sept. 21 to Nov. 9, this is Alabama’s only game away from Tuscaloosa. Could leaving the comforts of home be a roadblock for the Tide?

FLORIDA VS. GEORGIA

NOV. 2: In a game that could decide the SEC East, the Gators will be seeking redemption after losing to the Bulldogs by a combined score of 78-24 the past two seasons.

LSU AT ALABAMA

NOV. 9: For the first time since 2010, this one won’t be a CBS primetime affair. Yet, it’ll still a big one as LSU tries to end Bama’s eight-game winning streak in the series.

TEXAS A&M AT LSU

NOV. 30: After their epic seven-overtime battle in College Station — and postgame mini-brawl — last November, how could this game not be circled on the SEC calendar?

TRENDING UP: MISSOURI

Coach Barry Odom was supposed to be on the hot seat a year ago, but the Tigers finished 8-5 after winning five of their last six games and earned a Liberty Bowl invite. They won’t go bowling this season because of probation, but Odom’s team was picked to finish third in the SEC East and could challenge Florida for the second spot behind Georgia.

TRENDING DOWN: KENTUCKY

The Wildcats had a dream season in 2018. They won 10 games for only the third time in school history (and the first time in 41 years), going 5-3 and finishing second in the East. But after losing All-SEC running back Benny Snell, they could be hard-pressed to get to double-digit wins again and are tabbed to finish fourth by media.

ON THE HOT SEAT: AUBURN's GUS MALZAHN

Remember when Malzahn and Les Miles were on the hot seat in 2016 when their teams met and it was predicted the loser of that game would be fired? Malzahn survived then, but his chair is warm again after finishing 8-5 in 2018 — the fourth time in his six seasons the Tigers failed to get to nine wins. Eight isn’t great on the Plains.

Email Sheldon Mickles at smickles@theadvocate.com