GLENDALE, Ariz. — By the time the LSU team plane made it back to Baton Rouge on Wednesday afternoon, the Tigers were still well within their self-imposed 24-hour celebration rule.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Blood was still drying under the chin, beneath the grin of Joe Burrow, the LSU quarterback who answered simply when he was a…
Fresh off a 40-32 Fiesta Bowl victory over Central Florida, LSU had brought back its biggest trophy of the College Football Playoff era, and with it, optimism and anticipation for the future.
The bowl victory is arguably the biggest postseason win for LSU since its 2007 BCS national championship, although the 2011 Cotton Bowl may be more comparable.
LSU's 41-24 win over then-Big 12 Conference member Texas A&M set the Tigers at 11-2 for the 2010 season — momentum that vaulted the program to a 13-1 finish the next season as national runner-up.
In the week leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, Ed Orgeron and multiple players talked about how much a 10-win season could do for the program. Moments after the Tigers finished 10-3 for the first time since 2013, Orgeron said he thought the landmark was "a tremendous feat for the season."
"I look at the players and I think of the leadership to the right of me here," said Orgeron, motioning to bowl offensive MVP Joe Burrow, bowl defensive MVP Rashard Lawrence and Butkus Award winner Devin White. "I think of the great players we have, the great coaches we have, the LSU tradition. We have a tradition to uphold."
GLENDALE, Ariz. — This was not supposed to happen.
Championship contention will be tested early next season in what could be a top-10 showdown in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 7 against the Longhorns (10-4) — another rising program whose quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, declared on national television after a 28-21 Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia, "We're back!"
In fact, two of the other three teams in LSU's 2019 nonconference schedule won 10 games this season:
- Georgia Southern (10-3), which finished third in the Sun Belt Conference standings and beat Eastern Michigan 23-21 in the Camellia Bowl; and
- Utah State (11-2), which finished third in the Mountain West Conference and beat North Texas 52-13 in the New Mexico Bowl.
LSU made its rise this season with the toughest schedule in college football, according to SBNation's S&P+ rankings — and the Tigers' 2019 recruiting class, which includes three five-star players, ranks fourth nationally, according to 247Sports.
And the numbers of contributing players leaving the program for the NFL draft or expired eligibility is limited, although the deadline for college players to declare for the draft is Jan. 14.
So far, LSU is losing four starters on defense:
- Thorpe Award finalist cornerback Greedy Williams (early draft entry)
- nose tackle Ed Alexander (early draft entry)
- free safety John Battle (expired eligibility)
- defensive back Terrence Alexander (expired eligibility)
Three starters on offense:
- running back Nick Brossette (expired eligibility)
- tight end Foster Moreau (expired eligibility)
- guard Garrett Brumfield (expired eligibility)
And LSU will lose Lou Groza Award finalist kicker Cole Tracy (expired eligibility).
Each of the positions have depth filling in.
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Sophomore Kary Vincent started in the Fiesta Bowl at cornerback, and he'll be joined by elite freshman Derek Stingley, who practiced with the Tigers during bowl preparation.
Sophomore JaCoby Stevens started three games at safety and recorded a half-sack, half-tackle for loss and an interception against Central Florida.
Junior Breiden Fehoko started six games on the defensive line, mostly at nose tackle, before an arm injury sidelined him after the Nov. 3 Alabama game.
Sophomore tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 658 yards and seven touchdowns, and he'll be joined by a bevy of young running backs, not to mention new recruits John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price.
Tight ends Jamal Pettigrew (ACL) and Thaddeus Moss (foot) should recover from their injuries by next season, and youth abounds on the offensive line, including the arrival of elite guard Kardell Thomas from Southern Lab.
Brumfield, a fifth-year senior, said he sees upward trajectory within the program.
"Of course, you want to go out on a win," said Brumfield, who played his final college game Tuesday. "You want to go out on a high note. I feel great. It's been a long road, and I'm happy to have done the things I've done within the program, and I'm ready to see it continue to accelerate and level up."
LSU was missing much of their secondary before the Fiesta Bowl, and by the end they were missing most of it.