Coach: Les Miles (2nd season, 11-2) 2005 record: 11-2 (Beat Miami in Peach Bowl) SEC finish: 7-1 (t-1st West) 2005 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 52nd (150.1 ypg) Passing: 55th (224.0 ypg) 2005 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 6th (91.5 ypg) Passing: 11th (175.3 ypg)
#Little Rock AR
Depth Chart: Offense
4 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
5 returning starters in red
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There is no way that coach Les Miles' second year at LSU could be any more difficult than the first one, right? Surely, another Hurricane Katrina cannot be on the horizon. The natural disaster that crippled the region made for an interesting fall for the Tigers. Three games were changed, including the showdown with Arizona State, which was moved from Baton Rouge to Tempe less than a week before kickoff. This year, however, Miles hopes to play the games as they are scheduled.
But there is a problem -- and it's about the schedule. LSU has to travel to Auburn, Florida and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever. "That will be a unique challenge," says Miles. "But we're used to that around here. We'll have to face it."
For the fourth straight year, LSU will go into a season with as much talent as anyone in the nation, though there are some holes and question marks.
"We have to evolve in a number of ways," says Miles, who experienced some highs -- nine straight wins and a 40-3 victory over Miami in the Peach Bowl -- and some lows -- blowing a 21-0 halftime lead to Tennessee and suffering a 34-14 loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game -- in his debut season in Baton Rouge. "We have to identify who we are going to be. I think from a coaching standpoint, we feel a lot more familiar with the team as opposed to last year."
There has been plenty of quarterback talk around Baton Rouge, but Miles and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher are not listening that closely. Backup Matt Flynn was the hero of the Tigers' 40-3 victory over Miami, but Miles knows returning starter JaMarcus Russell has done much more.
"What we have," Miles says, "is a quarterback [Russell] who has won 10 games [last season; with 14 career victories since '04], one who has won one [Flynn] and a bright young quarterback pressuring them both [former Parade All-American Ryan Perrilloux]. But when and if JaMarcus returns fully healthy, it will be difficult not to have him starting somewhere, some time."
Junior Alley Broussard, LSU's leading rusher in 2004, missed all of 2005 with a knee injury, and his rehabilitation did not go smoothly; he missed all of spring practice. Whether or not he returns to 2004 form remains to be seen. Senior Justin Vincent injured his knee in the Peach Bowl, and he missed all of spring as well.
Russell was plagued by an inconsistent receiving corps last year that dropped far too many passes. But this group -- headlined by seniors Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe and junior Early Doucet -- is still among the best in the SEC.
The line is the major question for the 2006 season. Gone is one of LSU's best offensive linemen ever in tackle Andrew Whitworth and two other dominant starters in center Rudy Niswanger and guard Nate Livings. There is talent remaining, but this area is thin for the first time in years.
Thanks to some outstanding recruiting in recent years, the defensive line will likely be a strength, even though tackles Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams and end Melvin Oliver have moved on. The one holdover is Chase Pittman, a former transfer from Texas who appears ready to enjoy a banner senior season.
Like the offensive line, the linebacking corps is a big question mark. LSU must find two new starters to replace Kenneth Hollis (outside) and Cameron Vaughn (middle). Junior Ali Highsmith, who started on and off his first two seasons, is the most experienced returnee. He had 75 tackles and led the team with three forced fumbles.
There is plenty of talent and speed in what should be one of the strongest secondaries in the nation. Senior safeties LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels will be playing regularly for the fourth straight season. Backup junior safety Craig Steltz could start at most schools in the nation. Junior Chevis Jackson returns at one cornerback, while seniors Daniel Francis and Sammy Joseph and junior Jonathan Zenon will decide the other spot.
Senior punter/kicker Chris Jackson is coming off elbow surgery that forced him to miss the 2006 baseball season, but he should be ready to go in the fall. He was one of the best placement punters in the nation last season, and he hit six field goals of 40 yards or more.
>Miles should have his team in the hunt all season long, but a return to the SEC Championship Game might be a year away. For the first time ever, the Tigers must play at Florida, at Auburn and at Tennessee.