Few expected LSU football to break out the way it did in 2019, rolling through the SEC to a dominant national title win behind quarterback Joe Burrow. Just a few years later, and questions have popped back up around head coach Ed Orgeron.
It isn't a huge surprise that the Tigers took a step back in 2020, after losing significant pieces from the title team. Burrow and a number of others left for the NFL, and star wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase opted out. Passing game coordinator Joe Brady, the mastermind behind the explosive 2019 offense, took the offensive coordinator job with the Carolina Panthers, while defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was hired as the head coach at Baylor.
Still, the drop off all the way to 5-5, with an embarrassing season-opening loss to Mississippi State and another upset loss to Missouri was not what anyone expected from the Tigers. LSU ended the year on a high note, with an upset of No. 6 Florida and win over Ole Miss to end the season, but there is a ton of pressure on Orgeron to get the team back contending for the SEC and national titles.
LSU opens the 2021 season with an interesting road test against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Bruins head coach Chip Kelly also faces plenty of questions as his rebuild of the program has been pretty slow, but ESPN's Paul Finebaum believes Orgeron has much, much more pressure on him in this Week 1 showdown.
“I’m going to say Ed Orgeron, because he has far higher expectations than Chip Kelly,” Finebaum said during an appearance on WJOX's The Roundtable earlier this week, per 247. “Chip Kelly cobbled a few wins together last year and ultimately he’s really not that high-profile...
"You expect a run at the SEC West this year. And when you look at the schedule of LSU, that would be a stinging loss. And it’s a good schedule. I think Florida is at home — that’s always critical. The Alabama game doesn’t always matter where it is because it’s the same intensity. But I think you would — there are a bunch of people who sold stock in O last September after Mississippi State and the Missouri debacle."
Orgeron spent the offseason addressing his staff, and clearly tried to move things back towards a more 2019 direction, hiring Joe Brady assistantJake Peetz as offensive coordinator, and former Dave Aranda assistant Daronte Jonesas defensive coordinator. LSU's situation certainly isn't Playoff or Bust for Orgeron, but fans are probably expecting a team that can compete with the top of the conference. A loss to UCLA would be a very bad sign, Finebaum says.
“They’re now all in. And if they lose that game, they’re going to start going, ‘OK, what’s happening here? Maybe last year was not an outlier.’”
After the UCLA opener, LSU has home games against McNeese and Central Michigan, before a long-awaited rematch with Mike Leach and Mississippi State on Sept. 25. The Tigers have a chance for a fast start this year, and Coach O may need it to avoid things getting a bit hairy this fall.