SEC Media Days Football

LSU coach Ed Orgeron speaks during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Monday, July 16, 2018.

ATLANTA — The four-day hurly burly that is Southeastern Conference media days is a constant scramble for the next story, and then the next. But, in a few quiet moments, there were times this past week to speak to some national college football writers and get an outside perspective on LSU, going into this season and as a program:

Bill Bender, The Sporting News

Bender lives in Columbus, Ohio, and had some interesting personal observations of former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow, the front runner to be LSU’s starter this season:

I honestly thought Joe Burrow played the best in the Ohio State spring game. I know he has experience as a backup, obviously.

He’s very efficient throwing the football. He’s going to remind LSU fans of Alex Smith, throwing the ball in the 20-yard box. If he throws it to the receivers and (new offensive coordinator) Steve Ensminger has a creatively designed passing game, they’re going to have a lot of success.

I’m not trying to sound over-the-top about it, but he has a chance to be their best quarterback in this decade. You’ll really see that take off in the second year as a starter. He’s got a lot of intangibles. The one thing I would be concerned about is the SEC environment. How comfortable is he compared to being in Big Ten country?

If Burrow is that good, why wasn’t he able to win the job to replace J.T. Barrett?

I think the simplest answer is he got hurt last year, and in the biggest spot of the season when J.T. got hurt against Michigan, they turned to Dwayne Haskins and Haskins played well. It would be very hard for Urban (Meyer) not to start Haskins.

On the flip side of that, I think Ohio State fans will be monitoring Burrow quite closely. Ohio State, they play TCU and Penn State in September. If they somehow lose those two games, and Joe Burrow goes out and beats Miami and Auburn, the message boards will be very interesting in Columbus.

Joe Burrow aside, what are your thoughts on LSU as a program?

A pivotal year, especially with what he (coach Ed Orgeron) said regarding his offensive coordinator. This is his guy now. This is his move.

I do think reports of LSU’s demise are a little exaggerated given they were 9-4 (last year), 6-2 in conference. They’ve gone to good bowl games (under Orgeron).

It’s clear they can’t just line up and beat Alabama based on talent. So what are they going to do differently to try to close that gap? You know that game is going to be close and interesting this year (Nov. 3 in Tiger Stadium). But I’m wondering where they are going to be at.

This is a very pivotal year with that schedule. September is huge. You play Miami, Auburn and Ole Miss. If LSU is somehow 5-0 through that (month), we’re going to be talking about them being the biggest challenger for Alabama this year (in the SEC West). If they are somehow 2-2 going into that Ole Miss game, there are going to be serious questions about Ed Orgeron. That’s why I think Joe Burrow and Steve Ensminger play huge roles.

The crossover games are brutal. I think LSU could be anywhere from 10-2 to 6-6 and I wouldn’t be surprised.

If I could cheat and watch one quarter of any team then re-evaluate where I’m going to (rank) them, it would be either LSU or Michigan. LSU because of Joe Burrow and how that offense is going to look. Michigan for very similar reasons with (former Ole Miss quarterback) Shea Patterson. I think those two schools are very similar in that their ceilings are very high, but their floors with those schedules are very interesting.

Pat Forde, Yahoo! Sports

A national sports columnist for the website who has his roots in covering the SEC, had some candid things to say about Orgeron:

I think LSU has the wrong coach. We’ll see if plugging in a transfer quarterback can help some things there.

With the talent base there and the commitment to football, there’s every reason to think LSU should be certainly top 10 and sometimes top five.

Orgeron seems to know what the problems are and is trying to address them in recruiting. Where do you think the gap has grown between LSU and the best teams in the SEC?

When you go back and look at the best LSU teams, they were pretty darned dominant, especially on the defensive front. Really physical, tough teams that could pound away at you, get after your quarterback, that sort of thing. That hasn’t been the case the last few years. That weakness is probably amplified by having to play Alabama every year. There is no doubt that is where the biggest games tend to be won.

The challenges in the SEC West seem to grow every year with Alabama, Auburn being good, Texas A&M hiring Jimbo Fisher, etc.

It does not get any easier. I think Mississippi State made a really good hire in Joe Moorhead. Nobody in the SEC West is fading away and saying, ‘Here LSU, you step up and take it.’ But I do think with the talent in Louisiana and some of the people they can get in Texas and elsewhere, they should be able to compete and beat most of those teams.

Marcus Spears, SEC Network

The former LSU All-American defensive end and Southern Lab star still loves the Tigers but is always unvarnished in his assessments of the program:

Where do you see LSU as a program overall and what does it have to do to get back to where Tiger fans want it to be?

Where I see them right now is digging themselves out of not becoming a fly-by-night program. That consistency that LSU experienced (in past seasons) is what they’re looking for.

I will tell you what I like about Ed O: I think he has recognized things not only from a personnel standpoint, but the national narrative of LSU right now. It was different when they were top five in recruiting and sending players to the draft in numbers.

We have started to slip away from the conversation. It has become about Auburn, and Alabama. Now you’ve got Mississippi State. Mississippi State will not be able to sustain this (level of success), but what if? This team at Mississippi State this year is a better team than LSU.

I think he (Orgeron) has identified that, and I think they are a program right now that is realizing, ‘We don’t want to not be in the conversation.’ For the past few years we’ve been waiting to see if LSU is going to be in the top 25. That wasn’t even a thing for like 12 straight years. That is where they are right now.

My expectation and my view of LSU is totally different from a fan. When I came in from 2001, to 2011, we were a top 10 team (virtually) every year with two national championships. Mediocrity to me is not being in the conversation. I know that’s a lofty goal to be in that conversation, and it’s tough to stay relevant. But somebody is doing it. So it’s possible.

Do you think Orgeron is checking things off his list to get back there?

You guys know what an LSU football team looked like seven years ago as opposed to what we’ve seen the last three years. I love these kids. It’s not a knock on them. But I’m going to tell the truth. When you walked out to practice and you saw Marquise Hill and Chad Lavalais and Marcus Spears and Kyle Williams and Glenn Dorsey, you were like, ‘This is what it’s supposed to look like.’ Not only did we not look the same, but we started losing the recruiting battles.

We’ve had sprinkles of skill-position players. We’ve had OBJ (Odell Beckham Jr.) and Jarvis Landry, and Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice recently. But LSU has always had that. This is the first year we haven’t had a back who is highly revered. They may be very good. But you have to at some point recognize where you are. I think for a second there, LSU fans and people around it were just kind of cool with being OK. That is not where I think Ed O remembers that program.

He was at USC when LSU was rolling. He understands what he looked like and that type of success.

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Tony Barnhart, SEC Network

“Mr. College Football” annually makes a spring tour around the SEC. He visited LSU on Pro Day in April but departed with more questions about the Tigers than answers:

I talk to head coaches and coordinators and players. Most of the time when I leave I’ve got a pretty good handle on where they are. I have no clue where LSU is. There are so many things that could go wrong, there some that could go right, and I just don’t know.

I don’t know if the Steve Ensminger thing is going to work, but I know (Orgeron) trusts him, and that’s a good thing. You don’t know about Joe Burrow — hopefully he’s better than average. Who’s going to be the running back? And oh, by the way, you open up with Miami, and nobody wants to hear this, but Miami is probably better than LSU.

Now, from everything I’ve read, this is a generational recruiting class in the state of Louisiana. If he gets his fair share, or more, of them, you’ve got something to build on and feel good about in the future. But I just don’t know how it’s going to play out.

Has LSU taken a step back compared to the likes of Alabama and now Georgia and others in the SEC?

To me the most severe step back is on the offensive line. I know what an LSU offensive line is supposed to look like, and it hasn’t looked like that lately. They’ve got to get back to that.

Any time you’re building or rebuilding, it never changes. It starts at the line of scrimmage. Do you have the offensive linemen, and more importantly do you have the defensive linemen? That’s where LSU has got to get back to.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​