LSU Tigers: LSU Tigers
BATON ROUGE, La. -- One of the leading questions for LSU's spring practice is how the Tigers' defense might function differently with Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator.
We probably won't have an answer there until a few weeks into the season -- LSU has no incentive to reveal anything before then -- but here's a small twist. Apparently the linebackers will be more involved when the Tigers shift into a nickel defensive package.
Under previous defensive coordinator John Chavis, the strongside linebacker (nicknamed "Sam") left the field and the Tigers used five defensive backs in the nickel along with the middle linebacker ("Mike") and weakside linebacker ("Will"). But strongside linebacker Duke Riley said he has started working at the "Money" position since spring practice started.
"Usually I wasn't in the nickel when Chief [Chavis] was here when I was at Sam," Riley said. "Me or Lamar [Louis] would go out and just the Will and the Mike would be in at the nickel, so I'm the Money now."
That shouldn't come as an enormous surprise. At Steele's previous stop, Alabama, Nick Saban's defenses frequently repped an assortment of linebackers and defensive backs at the Money position. Riley and Louis seem like obvious candidates for the job since Sam linebackers typically possess strong coverage skills in addition to tackling ability.
Such personnel adjustments frequently accompany the changes in philosophy that come with a new coordinator hire. But LSU's linebackers said they haven't noticed many major changes between the Chavis and Steele defensive schemes.
And in the meeting room or on the practice field, Steele's methods seem to be meshing well with the players from the position he also oversees, linebacker.
"He's not the type of coach that hollers and is just on you, on you, on you," Riley said. "He'll treat you like a pro and make sure you understand. It's hard to focus out there when a coach is [yelling], 'rawrrr rawrrr.' Steele is just the kind of coach where he'll pull you to the side, talk to you, tell you what you've got to do and everything goes from there.
"It's actually better for all of us. I've been having some of the best practices. Everybody has been having some of the best practices since we've been here."
The starting lineup seems set -- at least for now -- with Louis at Sam, Jones at Will and Kendell Beckwith at Mike. However, a key for LSU's linebackers this spring will be developing depth behind the three veterans.
Garrett, one of LSU's most highly recruited signees last year, believes he is better prepared to contribute than he was last fall, when he appeared in just three games.
"To be honest, toward the end of the season I was still a little bit confused," Garrett said. "I never really got the whole scheme down, so this year when Coach Steele got here, we got a chance to go over some of the new stuff and things like that, it kind of started clicking to me. I felt like I got a chance to really get a chance to sit down and actually look at it and understand it more."
It will be a tall order to steal snaps from Beckwith, though, after the junior linebacker developed into a star once he joined the starting lineup midway through last season. He finished the year with 77 tackles -- second only to Kwon Alexander's 90 -- and 7.5 tackles for loss.
Beckwith said during bowl practice that he was ready to take ownership of LSU's defense this season, and he insisted after a recent practice that it is now "his."
"I already own it. They know it. The guys on defense know it," Beckwith said with a grin. "I've been trying to just get the hang of everything right now, so I've kind of been keeping to myself and just helping people if I can. Once we start rolling and we get deep into this thing, they know. It'll be mine."
That certainly will not be a bad thing. Beckwith looks like a star in the making, and the veterans at the top of the depth chart should be fine in starting roles.
Yes, depth is a concern -- and it could become a greater issue in 2016, particularly if Beckwith plays well enough to enter the NFL draft after this season, since Louis and Jones are both seniors. But should the Tigers avoid any major health issues, Beckwith has high hopes for what LSU's linebacking corps can become this fall.
"I think we'll be the best three in the country, so I don't really have no concern about us," Beckwith said.
Indeed, the competition between junior Jennings (1,611 passing yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs in 2014) and sophomore Harris (452 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs) might determine whether the Tigers re-emerge as legitimate contenders in the SEC West or remain in the middle of the pack like last season’s 8-5 club.
But there are plenty of spring stories to follow at LSU beyond Jennings-Harris. Here are five more that deserve some attention.
What will Kevin Steele’s defense look like? The public likely won’t gain a full understanding of Steele’s defensive modifications until the regular season starts in September, as LSU’s spring practices are open only for short periods of time and the Tigers will probably play it close to the vest in their spring game.
How will the secondary take shape? The Tigers have a ton of good options at defensive back, so this is hardly a nightmare for Corey Raymond’s crew. It’s a matter of figuring out which pieces fit best at which positions.
The biggest position of interest is the cornerback spot opposite two-year starter Tre'Davious White. With the departures of Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson, the Tigers lack a proven second option -- assuming that senior Jalen Mills remains at safety. Mills started for two seasons at corner and could move back, but will that be necessary? LSU has numerous options to fill the spot -- including heavily recruited early enrollee Kevin Toliver, sophomore Ed Paris and junior Dwayne Thomas, who is coming off season-ending knee surgery. And other alternatives will arrive this summer in signees Donte Jackson and Xavier Lewis.
Safety is also an interesting position, particularly if Mills works at corner. Sophomore Jamal Adams seems likely to grab a starting spot, but who else claims the top spots in the rotation out of Rickey Jefferson, Corey Thompson, John Battle and Devin Voorhies? Raymond will have his work cut out in distributing the PT to so many capable players.
Will Cam Cameron open up the offense? This is a corollary to the decision on the starting quarterback. LSU’s passing game was woefully unproductive last season, mostly because of underwhelming play at quarterback. How much will offensive coordinator Cameron be able to open up his playbook in 2015 after playing it so conservatively a season ago?
With Leonard Fournette in the backfield, LSU still figures to be a run-heavy offense. But the Tigers might not be able to beat the high-scoring teams on the schedule without getting the ball downfield more effectively. Cameron understands this reality.
Either way, expect him to throw more wrinkles at opposing defenses than he did for most of the 2014 season. Perhaps the regular-season finale against Texas A&M was a template. Cameron mixed things up against the Aggies and a stagnant offense came to life with 491 yards of total offense. Between that game and the bowl loss against Notre Dame, Cameron handed the ball to speedy receiver Travin Dural -- mostly on jet sweeps -- a total of eight times for 110 yards.
Getting more out of the quarterbacks would greatly help Cameron make better use of his skill talent, but it seems likely that he will be more ambitious this season regardless, out of necessity.
What impact will the new assistant coaches have on their positions? We’ve already discussed Steele and how he might juggle different defensive looks. Any shuffling would likely impact how he uses the players at his new position group, linebacker, as well. When the Tigers open spring practice on Saturday, it will be interesting to see where Steele has the various linebackers lining up.
LSU’s other new assistants, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron and receivers coach Tony Ball, both have young groups to develop. They both have obvious candidates for playing time (tackles Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture for Orgeron and wideouts Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse and Trey Quinn for Ball), but building depth will be an objective for both coaches.
The Tigers have a boatload of unproven youngsters at both position groups, and LSU would benefit greatly if the new assistants could get some production out of them starting this spring.
Who grabs the last two starting spots on the offensive line? The positions for LSU’s three returning starters on the offensive line -- Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic -- aren’t set in stone, but it’s almost a certainty that all three will start somewhere.
Jeff Grimes’ job this spring will be figuring out where they fit best and which players to slide into the other two openings along his offensive line. Grimes lost two senior starters (left tackle La’el Collins and center Elliott Porter) and two top reserves (seniors Evan Washington and Fehoko Fanaika) from last season, so the Tigers will be young in spots.
Most likely that will be on the interior line, although Alexander could play either guard or tackle and Pocic is capable of playing every position on the line. Guard/tackle Josh Boutte, center Andy Dodd, center/guard William Clapp, tackle K.J. Malone and guard Garrett Brumfield are all players who might get some consideration from Grimes this spring.
As is the case each spring, there are a number of positions that are up for the grabs for the Tigers. The competition between quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris will generate the most attention, but there are several other positions where multiple players are vying for playing time.
Let’s take a look at five LSU position battles of interest this spring.
Offensive line: When last we saw Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins, the two draft-eligible mainstays along the LSU offensive line both announced that they would return for the 2015 season. They also said they expect to man the tackle positions after Alexander played left guard last season and Hawkins played right tackle. If that comes to pass, that leaves three interior line spots up for grabs. Ethan Pocic would fill one of them -- he has started at both center and guard -- and inexperienced youngsters will likely fill the others. A few names to watch this spring: Junior Josh Boutte, sophomores Andy Dodd and K.J. Malone and redshirt freshmen William Clapp and Garrett Brumfield.
Linebacker: It will hurt losing All-SEC weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander, who led the Tigers with 90 tackles, but LSU still has a solid core at the position starting with junior middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith (second on the team with 77 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss). New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele might shift things around a bit, incorporating some of the 3-4 looks that his defenses employed in his previous stop at Alabama. That might create some new roles for Steele’s linebackers. Lamar Louis could conceivably play a larger role, as could 2014 reserves like Duke Riley, Deion Jones and Clifton Garrett. The Tigers have everyone back at the position except for Alexander and D.J. Welter, so this veteran bunch should be a strength once everyone settles into the roles that Steele assigns them.
Cornerback: Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson -- who combined to start 13 games last season -- are out of the picture, so LSU essentially has one starting position to fill opposite junior Tre'Davious White. It will be interesting to see how Steele and secondary coach Corey Raymond opt to fill that hole. Jalen Mills, who started at cornerback for two seasons before starting at safety in 2014, would be a capable option. But they have plenty of alternatives, including Dwayne Thomas (returning from ACL surgery), Ed Paris and highly touted early enrollee Kevin Toliver. LSU’s secondary is loaded with talent, so this will not be a situation where Steele and Raymond are forced to settle on a lineup. They’ll be able to work through a number of options this spring and decide which personnel combinations they like best.
Defensive end: This will be only the first chapter of this battle. It will truly get interesting in the summer once signees Arden Key and Isaiah Washington arrive on campus, but somebody has to take the first step in replacing starters Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco for now. Hunter (13 TFLs and 1.5 sacks) and Rasco (7.5 TFLs and 4 sacks) were LSU’s top pass-rushers a season ago, although the Tigers left a lot to be desired in that department. Only South Carolina (1.08 sacks per game) averaged fewer sacks per game than LSU (1.46) among SEC defenses. Junior Tashawn Bower seems like an odds-on favorite to take over a starting job, but Sione Teuhema and Deondre Clark also played a bit as freshmen last season. New defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will certainly make it an objective to build a line that generates more sacks this season, and it will start with more consistent pressure off the edge. But who will Orgeron identify as the players who can handle that duty?
Quarterback: We can’t do a list like this and not touch on the quarterbacks. No position got more attention last season -- largely because Jennings and Harris were so inconsistent -- and it will continue to draw the most speculation until somebody nails down the job. Early enrollee Justin McMillan joined the team in January, but this remains a two-man race. Jennings has started 13 of the last 14 games, but he was underwhelming in his first season as a starter, completing 48.9 percent of his passes for 1,611 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions last fall. Harris had a few impressive moments as a freshman, but bombed in his starting audition against Auburn and failed to earn the trust of the coaching staff. LSU’s coaches insist, however, that he has every opportunity to win the job between now and September.
A half-dozen signees from ESPN’s No. 2-rated class -- including Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Malachi Dupre and Davon Godchaux -- became instant-impact freshmen, and most of the 23-man class contributed in some capacity.
LSU’s newest crop of signees does not face the same pressure to make an immediate impact since the Tigers weren’t hit by the NFL draft as hard as they had been in recent years. That said, there are still several players in this class who seem likely to play right away.
Here is an early attempt at identifying some of those players:
Arden Key: LSU loses both of its starting defensive ends in Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco, and the candidates to replace them are largely unproven. The Tigers also need to bolster their pass rush after totaling just 19 sacks last fall. Enter Key, who LSU coach Les Miles described as a “pass-rush specialist” and who defensive line coach Ed Orgeron compared to former Tigers star Barkevious Mingo.
Miles and Orgeron both predicted on signing day that Key, ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end, will immediately help address the Tigers’ needs at end.
“It’s the school that he always wanted to come to and you could just tell when he walked into Tiger Stadium, he’s a cat, he’s a Tiger, we’re glad to have him,” Orgeron said. “He’s quick-twitch, long levers. We expect him to play next year and we expect him to work very hard this spring and this summer to be ready.”
Tyron Johnson: Wide receiver was not a huge position of need in this class, but of course LSU still wanted Johnson. ESPN rated the New Orleans native as the top player in Louisiana as well as the No. 30 overall prospect and No. 3 wideout.
“His signing sends a message to the state and to the rest of our young guys that if you’re best, you need to come to LSU, because frankly, we'll play you,” Miles said.
Cornerbacks: LSU has playing time available in the secondary following the departures of safety Ronald Martin and cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson. A newcomer might not jump straight into the starting lineup, but it seems likely that at least one of them will see regular action. The question is which member of the group -- one of the nation’s best collections of defensive back signees -- will make the cut?
Kevin Toliver II, ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect and only five-star signee in LSU’s class, seems like the safest bet since he is already enrolled and will participate in spring practice. But Donte Jackson also has star potential, and Miles said that the speedster might contribute as a return man and on offense.
Don’t forget about Xavier Lewis and Jeremy Cutrer, either. Cutrer was committed to LSU in 2013 but had to spend the last two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College when he failed to qualify. He’s exceptionally athletic, which could help him become an immediate contributor if he makes the grade and enrolls at LSU later this year.
“It’s a standard of excellence we look for at that position group,” LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said. “The guys that we went after fit the bill. We feel that they can come in and contribute very early. Patrick Peterson charged us with that problem in 2010 with a young Tharold Simon, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, and we’ve tried to hold that standard in recruiting at that position group.”
Running backs: Also the Tigers’ running backs coach, Wilson filled a major need by adding three players to his position group. LSU did not have a scholarship fullback on the roster after losing Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, so getting the versatile David Ducre (another early enrollee) was a coup.
Wilson also lost veterans Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, leaving Fournette and Darrel Williams as his only scholarship tailbacks prior to signing day. In signing Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette, LSU added two of the state’s top prospects -- both of whom seem likely to help right away because of LSU’s tendency to rotate backs.
“We didn’t have any scholarship fullbacks, so we needed to address that need at that position group,” Wilson said. “And then we have two sophomores and bring in two freshmen [at tailback]. It gives us some leeway some next year where it’s not a position of demand in next year’s class.
“But we like where we’re at in that, only because it gives you quality depth and it’s not stacked. At times we’ve been as high as six, so four is a good number for us because the rotation becomes realistic.”
The big day arrives tomorrow, so here are some players and positions to watch as Les Miles’ staff attempts to put the finishing touches on another top-10 class:
Offensive line was LSU’s biggest position of need this year and Weathersby (ESPN’s No. 149 overall prospect and No. 9 guard) could be another strong late pickup for Grimes, who last week got a surprise commitment from Chidi Valentine-Okeke, ESPN’s No. 87 overall prospect and No. 6 tackle.
The biggest name in the class thus far is Maea Teuhema, who appears set on signing with LSU after taking a recent visit to UCLA. The younger brother of LSU defensive end Sione Teuhema is ESPN’s No. 71 overall prospect and No. 2 guard. Adding line depth was a priority for this class, and with additional verbal pledges from tackles Adrian Magee and George Brown Jr., Grimes appears to be on the verge of addressing that need nicely.
Leo Lewis: As we mentioned in Monday’s LSU linebacker breakdown, positional depth might be a concern if the Tigers whiff on Lewis. They currently do not have a linebacker committed in this class and will lose at least two (seniors Lamar Louis and Deion Jones) and maybe three (draft-eligible junior Kendell Beckwith) linebackers after the 2015 season.
Signing Lewis could help ease that transition. ESPN’s No. 60 overall prospect and No. 2 inside linebacker decommitted from Ole Miss while visiting LSU over the weekend. It appears that his decision will come down to LSU and Mississippi State.
Derrick Dillon: There had been some recent chatter about Daylon Charlot picking LSU over Alabama, but the more likely possibility might be that the Tigers flip Dillon from Florida on signing day. ESPN’s No. 119 overall prospect and No. 8 athlete, Dillon initially bristled at the notion of playing cornerback in college and could become a slot receiver should he sign with LSU.
As the No. 5 prospect in Louisiana, Dillon appears to be the highest-rated in-state player who might become a late addition to LSU’s class. The Tigers already have the state's No. 1 (receiver Tyron Johnson), No. 3 (running back Derrius Guice), No. 6 (running back Nick Brossette), No. 8 (cornerback Xavier Lewis) and No. 9 (athlete Donte Jackson) prospects committed.
Will running backs stick to pledges?: Keep an eye on what happens with Brossette and Guice on Wednesday. With Leonard Fournette -- last year’s No. 1 overall prospect -- on LSU’s roster for at least two more seasons, Guice and Brossette have apparently been tempted by offers of better playing time elsewhere.
Brossette recently visited Texas and Guice re-opened his recruitment last fall before eventually recommitting to LSU. Both running backs remain on LSU’s commitment list, but they have other options. Losing either of them would be a blow for running backs coach Frank Wilson, who has only Fournette and Darrel Williams among his scholarship tailbacks after losing seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.
Other possibilities: LSU picked up a commitment from Australian punter Josh Growden on Monday, and a few other possible (but unlikely) late additions include quarterback Torrance Gibson, an Ohio State commit who is considering other options, and safety Justin Reid, the brother of former LSU star Eric Reid.
The most intriguing possibility, however, might be adding a signature from 6-foot-8 defensive end Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. The native Nigerian generated a ton of recruiting interest in his lone season playing high school football and officially visited LSU in mid-January.
He recently learned that he could sign in 2015, not 2016, so Wanogho seems likely to explore the possibilities and sign well after national signing day. Nearby Auburn might be the favorite to land Wanogho, but LSU will continue its pursuit until he makes his decision.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- When a school advertises itself as "Defensive Back University," something special is obviously going down there.
Even while it has been a couple of years since LSU had a DB who jumped off the screen like Tyrann Mathieu, the Tigers still could make a case as the nation's top secondary. That shouldn't change in 2015.
"The tradition of DBU is going to still be here," rising senior defensive back Jalen Mills said. "We're looking forward to next year and not just being a dominant defense as a whole, but a dominant, just us as a whole secondary."
Any conversation about the secondary starts with cornerback Tre'Davious White and three-year starter Mills, who is capable of playing either safety or corner. But the Tigers' next superstar-in-waiting at DB might be Jamal Adams, who made a big impression last fall as a true freshman.
"He probably might not know what to do, but he's going to give tremendous effort as a freshman," Martin said while assessing Adams' rookie season. "You don't see too many guys come in as a freshman and give tremendous effort like that. That's what I give him the most. He has a lot of potential, very athletic and I think that's what stood him apart from a lot of the freshmen."
The Tigers should also get Dwayne Thomas and Corey Thompson back from injury, plus junior Rickey Jefferson, whom teammates point to as one of the group's vocal leaders after his role expanded as a sophomore in 2014.
"I already put it in my head that I'm going to be hard on the guys coming in and I'm going to be hard on the guys that were in because I see what we've got here," Jefferson said. "I know we've got a great opportunity to be amongst the best, and DBU, and we're going to bring that tradition back and keep it alive. So that's really my focus and what I'm planning to do next year."
Speaking of the guys coming in, LSU is in position to clean up at defensive back on national signing day. Cornerback Kevin Tolliver -- ESPN's No. 10 overall prospect -- is already on campus as an early enrollee and could immediately help address LSU's slight depth concerns at the position. The Tigers also landed commitments from four-star DBs Xavier Lewis, Donte Jackson and Jeremy Cutrer.
And they also return underclassmen Ed Paris, Devin Voorhies, Russell Gage and John Battle, who could compete for bigger roles after getting limited playing time in 2014.
Overall, there will be a few youngsters filling key roles and some depth-chart questions to answer at cornerback, but 2015 looks to be another potential-packed season for LSU's secondary. Take it from departing senior Martin.
"Those young guys, those guys have got to prepare and be stepped up for the spring," Martin said. "I think those guys are going to have a pretty good spring because they'll learn from the fall. Especially Jamal. I think he's going to step up and be a leader for those guys next year, him and [Tre'Davious White]. Basically I think Jamal and Tre'Davious and Corey Thompson coming back, I think those guys are going to be great."
Returning players: CB Tre'Davious White (33 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interceptions), DB Jalen Mills (62 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT), S Jamal Adams (66 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack), S Rickey Jefferson (23 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT), DB Dwayne Thomas (24 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), CB Ed Paris (3 tackles), CB Russell Gage (2 tackles), S Devin Voorhies (5 tackles), DB John Battle (0 tackles), S Corey Thompson (DNP).
Departed players: CB Jalen Collins (38 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT), S Ronald Martin (73 tackles, 2 INT), CB Rashard Robinson (17 tackles, 1 TFL).
Committed prospects: Kevin Tolliver (No. 10 overall prospect, No. 2 CB, five stars, early enrollee), Xavier Lewis (No. 150 overall, No. 13 CB, four stars), Donte Jackson (No. 176 overall, No. 15 athlete, four stars), Jeremy Cutrer (No. 26 on ESPN JC 50, No. 2 S).
Outlook: Despite the losses of Martin, Collins and Robinson -- who combined to start 26 games in 2014 -- the secondary is still in good shape. The Tigers will be short on experience at cornerback behind White and potentially Mills, but adding several future stars on signing day -- led by five-star early enrollee Kevin Tolliver -- is an outstanding answer to those concerns. This group looks more than capable of continuing the DBU tradition this fall.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- He might add some new job responsibilities, but Kendell Beckwith should be the centerpiece of LSU’s defense in 2015.
Leading tackler Kwon Alexander’s departure after a standout junior season only reinforces that possibility -- one that Beckwith himself embraces.
The rising junior took over as the Tigers’ starting middle linebacker early last fall and wound up ranking second on the team with 77 tackles, trailing only Alexander’s 90.
It remains to be seen how defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s new scheme might affect Beckwith’s role -- might the Tigers shift him outside at points to use him as a rusher off the edge? -- but his first season playing linebacker full-time has set up Beckwith to lead the defense this fall.
“I feel like I’ve got a little bit of experience now and I kind of know what it’s going to take,” Beckwith said. “I feel like I can take over the defense.”
But who will join him in the starting lineup now that Alexander and departed former starter D.J. Welter are out of the picture?
Starting strongside linebacker Lamar Louis seems like a safe bet to occupy one of the starting spots. Before he decided to return for his senior season, Louis and Steele put their heads together, with Steele telling the undersized linebacker that he envisions him playing a role similar to that of former New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers linebacker Sam Mills.
The 5-foot-9 Mills was an All-Pro linebacker while playing under Steele with the Panthers in 1996.
“Me and Coach Steele were just talking about work ethic and just doing the right things at the right times. That’s one of the biggest things that we talked about,” Louis said. “Definitely we’re going to have some discipline in the linebacker room and he’s going to expect us to be good people, foremost, much more than good players. So that’s something that he was stressing was that Sam Mills was a great player, but he was also a disciplined, good person.”
Among the other candidates for increased playing time are Deion Jones and Duke Riley, who both started against Louisiana-Monroe last season while Alexander and Louis were sidelined. Ronnie Feist might be another possibility after ranking among the top performers in last year’s spring game, as could rising sophomore Donnie Alexander, who played in 12 games (mostly on special teams) as a true freshman.
But the candidate who will likely receive the most attention this spring will be sophomore Clifton Garrett, ESPN’s No. 2 inside linebacker prospect of 2014, who appeared in just three games last fall.
Illinois native Garrett reportedly had difficulty acclimating to the South Louisiana heat when he first arrived last summer, but still impressed teammates with his potential.
“His future’s going to be bright. He’s just got to come along a little bit faster,” Alexander said during bowl practice. “He works hard and he’s going to be a great player. When he learns to get the plays down and everything, be smart -- he’s the Mike backer, so he’s got to know all the keys and all that -- when he gets all that down, he’s going to be all right.”
During that same conversation, Alexander predicted that his position group in 2015 would be “the best linebackers in the country.” He later opted to pursue a future in the NFL, but even without Alexander, the group should still have the depth and talent to remain productive.
“We work hard enough to be the best linebackers in the country,” Alexander said. “Kendell coming up, he’s going to be one of the great ’backers, I’m trying to tell you. He works hard, he works real hard. We’ve got Lamar, D-Bo Jones, Duke Riley, all them. They work hard, everybody’s coming along well.”
Expect to see Steele move several of them around during the spring as the Tigers nail down some of their new defensive looks. But as Alexander indicated, LSU should have more than enough at linebacker in order to handle the demands of any additions Steele will make to the scheme.
Returning players: Kendell Beckwith (77 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 INT), Lamar Louis (29 tackles, 2.5 TFL), Deion Jones (27 tackles, 3.5 TFL), Duke Riley (20 tackles), Ronnie Feist (4 tackles), Donnie Alexander (1 tackle), Clifton Garrett (0 tackles).
Departed players: Kwon Alexander (90 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), D.J. Welter (35 tackles, 2 TFL),
Committed prospects: None.
Outlook: It hurts to lose Alexander, the team’s leading tackler, but this is still a capable group with pretty good depth. LSU could potentially lose a lot from this position after this season, so closing strong on the recruiting trail would be big. But as for 2015, returning starters Beckwith and Louis are among the leaders of what should be a highly productive position for the Tigers. They will transition a bit with some new wrinkles that will likely come under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, but the Tigers have enough different skillsets within the group that we shouldn’t notice any drop-off.
Perhaps no position group at LSU progressed more over the course of the 2014 season than the defensive line.
That group was a problem early in the season when opponents like Mississippi State and Auburn rolled up two of the biggest yardage totals ever accumulated against the Tigers in the Les Miles era. But by the time the season ended, the line was a strength.
The biggest question facing the group in 2015 will be whether the Tigers' front can do a better job pressuring the quarterback, particularly without Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. The Tigers did not record many sacks -- they had just 19, second-to-last in the SEC -- even with those two ends, but now it might fall on younger players like Tashawn Bower, Sione Teuhema and Deondre Clark to make quarterbacks sweat.
"It would be great to get all the sacks, but we definitely got a lot of QB pressures and a lot of quarterback hits and things of that nature," Bower said. "So we're definitely happy with where we're at, but we're not content."
New position coach Ed Orgeron also has work to do in developing depth. Predecessor Brick Haley got a lot out of interior linemen Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux, but the Tigers have a number of heavily recruited tackles who struggled to make much of a difference.
Entering their redshirt sophomore seasons, tackles Maquedius Bain, Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore could help Orgeron build better depth, as could redshirt freshmen Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao.
The two redshirt freshmen might be able to make an immediate impact, in fact.
"Trey Valentine, he's a true run-stopper," Rasco said. "He's got some juice in him in the pass rush. You'll see him in a game and you won't be expecting him to be able to move as good as he moves. And also with Trey Lay, for a guy to be so little, he's real powerful and he brings a lot to the table. Those are going to be the secret weapons for next year as long as they do what they have to do on and off the field."
It will be a huge benefit that LaCouture and Godchaux both return after locking down starting jobs last fall. That should help LSU's front seven remain strong against the run while Orgeron nails down the ends he can rely on to generate a better pass rush.
Some of those players might not even be on the roster yet. LSU continues to pursue several top-tier end prospects, some of whom would be capable of providing an immediate lift should they sign with the Tigers on Feb. 4.
"Those guys, I don't see no letdown," Rasco said during bowl practice. "The only thing that'll happen, I don't know who they're bringing in, but they'd better get with the program early if they want to play. That's the only thing I can say."
Returning players: DT Davon Godchaux (42 tackles, 1.5 TFL), DT Christian LaCouture (40 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks), DE Tashawn Bower (16 tackles, 2.5 TFL), DT Quentin Thomas (9 tackles, 0.5 TFL), DE Deondre Clark (9 tackles, 0.5 TFL), DE Sione Teuhema (7 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks), DT Maquedius Bain (6 tackles), DT Greg Gilmore (4 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks), DE Lewis Neal (3 tackles, 1.5 TFL), DT Mickey Johnson (3 tackles), DT Frank Herron (3 tackles), DE M.J. Patterson (1 tackle), DT Trey Lealaimatafao (redshirted), DT Travonte Valentine (redshirted).
Departed players: DE Danielle Hunter (73 tackles, 13 TFL, 1.5 sacks), DE Jermauria Rasco (71 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks), DE Justin Maclin (3 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks).
Committed prospects: Isaiah Washington (No. 72 DE, three stars)
Outlook: Orgeron will need to fill holes at defensive end after Rasco and Hunter left -- a position battle that should rank among the most intriguing for LSU in the spring and preseason. The good news is that tackles LaCouture and Godchaux developed into solid starters, which should help the line be more stout against the run than it was early last season. If Orgeron can help the Tigers' front produce more sacks and negative-yardage plays, 2015 should be a solid season for the line.
La'el Collins sat down to review LSU practice film late last season and eventually noticed something familiar. When his backup K.J. Malone got reps at left tackle, he was using many of Collins' blocking techniques.
"He's going to be a great player. He's learned a lot," said Collins, who won the SEC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conference's top blocker in 2014. "I watch film on him in practice and I see some of the stuff on his tape, I can tell that he's been watching my film. I asked him, 'Karl, have you been watching my film? Where'd you get that from?' [And he said], 'Yeah, I watched it.'
Collins leaves an enormous void at left tackle, but he is confident that LSU's offensive line will remain strong thanks to youngsters like Malone and Andy Dodd. And it doesn't hurt that right tackle Jerald Hawkins and left guard Vadal Alexander decided against entering the NFL draft, giving LSU three returning starters along with center/guard Ethan Pocic.
'Y'all haven't gotten a chance to see the young guys, really, at all, and y'all will be pretty shocked at how athletic and strong and talented the guys are coming up on the offensive line, from Garrett Brumfield to Josh Boutte, K.J. Malone," Alexander said.
Alexander started at right tackle as a freshman before shifting to left guard for 2013 and 2014. After announcing he would return for his senior season, he said he expected to move back to tackle this fall -- although he didn't know which side he or Hawkins might play. He predicted that rising junior Pocic and other young players would fill in the interior spots.
As for Hawkins, he definitely has earning the starting job at left tackle on his mind.
"I definitely see it as my objective," Hawkins said. "Any lineman, when we play as tackles, always wants to play left tackle."
A possibility at one of the interior spots is Dodd at center. Dodd said he spent 95 percent of his time at the position during practice last season and the other 5 percent at guard, although he played only center during games.
Dodd said knowledge of the playbook is one of the most important factors at center – a lesson that his time behind departed starter Elliott Porter reinforced.
"You have to be confident. You've got to know your stuff," Dodd said. "You just have to be able to think during the game. Like whenever something's not exactly how it is in practice, you have to be able to adjust to it. It's not really hard. You just have to focus."
Pocic is capable of playing any position on the line, which will give second-year position coach Jeff Grimes plenty of flexibility. With Boutte, Malone, Brumfield -- ESPN's No. 1 guard prospect in 2014, who redshirted last season -- Jevonte Domond, Will Clapp and Jonah Austin all back, Grimes will also have multiple lineup options.
"It's going to be a lot of room for learning," Malone said. "We're going to be really young because we're losing a lot of veterans, maybe. La'el, he's going to be a great loss to the O-line. But I think learning from all the veterans right now, I think we'll be ready for it."
Entering his third season as a starter, Hawkins agrees with Malone's assessment. He said he has been impressed by the potential he sees from the group of players who will begin fighting to grab starting spots this spring.
"All our young guys -- from Garrett Brumfield to K.J. Malone, William Clapp, especially Andy Dodd -- they're just coming up like they want it," Hawkins said during bowl practice. "I can see it in their eyes like they really want it. They want to play, and you can tell in practice. They're going after it each and every day."
Returning players: Starters: LG Vadal Alexander, RT Jerald Hawkins, C/RG Ethan Pocic. Reserves: OG Jonah Austin, OG Garrett Brumfield, OL Josh Boutte, C/OG Andy Dodd, OT K.J. Malone, OL Will Clapp, OT Jevonte Domond.
Departed players: Starters: LT La'el Collins, C Elliott Porter. Reserves: RG Fehoko Fanaika, OL Evan Washington.
Committed prospects: Maea Teuhema (No. 2 OG, No. 71 overall on ESPN 300, four stars), Adrian Magee (No. 41 OT, four stars), George Brown Jr. (No. 67 OT, three stars).
Outlook: LSU got welcome news in mid-January when Alexander and Hawkins announced they would return next fall, giving the Tigers three returning starters. No doubt, it hurts losing star left tackle Collins, but the Tigers have some promising youngsters waiting for their shot. It will be interesting to see where Pocic lands during spring practice -- either guard or center, most likely -- and which players get the first shot at the other two starting jobs on the interior line, assuming Alexander and Hawkins occupy the tackle spots. The ground should remain a strength for LSU in 2015.
Although he won't be around to make a difference in the fall, Logan Stokes sees great potential from his former position mates at LSU.
Tight end was one of the deepest positions on the team last season, and even without Stokes and fellow 2014 senior Travis Dickson, it should remain a valuable group this season.
"I expect nothing but the absolute best from those guys," said Stokes, whose lone reception at LSU went for the game-winning touchdown last season against Ole Miss.
Stokes' specialty was blocking, but the Tigers have several tight ends with receiving skills. The question is whether they will actually get many balls thrown their way. LSU tight ends accounted for just 12 receptions last season, including seven by Dickson and one by Stokes. DeSean Smith accounted for the other four (for 66 yards), all of which came in a bowl loss against Notre Dame.
Perhaps that's a sign that Smith will play a bigger role as a receiver this fall, or that tight ends Dillon Gordon, Colin Jeter or redshirt freshman Jacory Washington might also get some looks.
"[Smith is] just going to continue to grow and get better and I think that he could definitely be one of the best tight ends in college football next year," Stokes said. "Jacory could be one of those guys, too, him or Jeter. All three of those guys bring something special to the table."
Gordon is the veteran of the bunch after starting 25 games in the last two seasons, but he is predominantly a dominant blocker.
"We can put him over there by one of those tackles and there's a bang on that side," LSU coach Les Miles said.
If the tight ends account for more passing production, it will probably come from Smith, Washington and Jeter.
Rising junior Smith might be the frontrunner to get the most looks, but Washington will also be an intriguing player to watch in the spring and preseason. He redshirted last fall because of the Tigers' considerable depth at the position, but his athleticism will make him an asset moving forward.
"I think Jacory's going to be a monster one day," Stokes said. "He's big, tall, strong. Just coming here, they wanted him to put some size on and get used to the system and we had a lot of older guys in front of him, so they redshirted him. But it's definitely benefited him a lot. He looks a lot more comfortable out there at practice, especially blocking. I don't think he had ever blocked before he got here and he's actually going to be a very good blocker."
The Tigers already have commitments from two tight ends for this recruiting class -- one of whom, blocking specialist Hanner Shipley, has already enrolled.
But the Tigers will again be led by veterans at tight end, and they will benefit from the versatility that exists within the bunch.
"They all kind of have what the other one doesn't have, I guess you could say," Stokes said. "They're going to work out perfect next year."
Returning players: Dillon Gordon (no catches in 2014), Colin Jeter (no catches), DeSean Smith (4-66), Jacory Washington (redshirted).
Departed players: Travis Dickson (7-60), Logan Stokes (1-3, TD).
Committed prospects: Bry'Kiethon Mouton (No. 6 TE-H, four stars), Hanner Shipley (No. 120 DE, three stars).
Outlook: Will this be the year where LSU makes greater use of the tight end in the passing game? The Tigers finally looked to the position a bit in the bowl loss to Notre Dame, but their tight ends mostly served as blockers in 2014. There is a good mixture of skillsets in the group, with Gordon easily the top returning blocker and youngsters Smith and Washington as candidates to contribute as receivers.
LSU's growing pains at quarterback made for the biggest storyline in the Tigers' 2014 season, causing similar issues at wide receiver to fly under the radar somewhat.
But if the Tigers are to improve upon their underwhelming passing numbers, it will take more than development from Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris under center. The young receiving corps will have to make big strides as well.
Perhaps that was the biggest issue for the Tigers from a receiving standpoint. Star freshman signees Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn were playing big roles in their first SEC season. Same for redshirt freshman John Diarse, who was in line to play in 2013 before a season-ending injury.
Even Dural was playing a much bigger role, taking over as the Tigers' go-to target once Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry jumped to the NFL after standout junior seasons in 2013. But Dural largely delivered, leading the team with 37 catches for 758 yards and seven touchdowns.
Considering that the Tigers passed for just 2,118 yards all season, Dural needs assistance from his fellow receivers -- and stronger play from his quarterback -- if the passing game is to improve in 2015.
The good news is that Jennings said he witnessed signs of growth throughout the season from some of the others.
"John Diarse is getting better, Trey Quinn is getting better," Jennings said. "All those guys that we're going to need in the offense are getting better each and every day. I think those guys are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Same for Dupre, ESPN's No. 1 wideout prospect in 2014, who was second on the team with 318 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He will be a key figure if the Tigers' passing production increases, as his 6-foot-3 frame makes Dupre a potential target for downfield throws and jump balls at the goal line.
However, fans should also keep an eye on another 2014 freshman, Dural said. D.J. Chark did not record a reception in six games, but Dural said he was impressive in practice and could be next in line to claim a bigger role in the position rotation.
"He's a guy who can help us stretch the defense out because he's a guy who runs 4.4., 4.3. He runs real fast and is long and athletic and can really jump," Dural said. "So coming into spring, if he has a good spring, he can be a guy who can really help us out next year."
The Tigers could use the help. If Jennings or Harris don't get it together between now and September, the receivers' improvement might not matter much. But assuming the Tigers put the ball in the air more than they did last fall -- and they almost certainly will after only 11 FBS programs averaged fewer passing yards per game than LSU in 2014 -- those still-developing quarterbacks need a more consistent effort from their receivers this fall.
After learning on the job last season, the group could be in for a season of major growth.
Returning players: Travin Dural (37 catches, 758 yards, 7 TDs), Trey Quinn (17-193), John Diarse (15-275, 3 TDs), Malachi Dupre (14-318, 5 TDs), D.J. Chark (no catches), Avery Peterson (no catches), Kevin Spears (no catches), Tony Upchurch (redshirted).
Departed players: Quantavius Leslie (no catches).
Committed prospects: Tyron Johnson (No. 3 WR, No. 30 overall on ESPN 300, four stars), Jazz Ferguson (No. 52 WR, four stars). ESPN lists verbal commit Lanard Fournette as a running back (No. 100 RB, three stars), but he could play receiver in college.
Outlook: The Tigers return every significant contributor from a year ago, plus they will add Johnson, who has the ability to play immediately. Dural is the veteran of the bunch after a breakthrough redshirt sophomore season, but Diarse, Dupre and Quinn all got valuable experience as freshmen in 2014. It will be interesting during spring practice to see whether any of the youngsters who didn't play much last fall will begin to make a move.
Leonard Fournette did not live up to preseason Heisman Trophy buzz last fall, but he still set LSU’s freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards. Now, with seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard working to earn NFL roster spots, Fournette is in position to become the Tigers’ feature back as a sophomore.
“I talked to Leonard and his mindset is very strong right now,” offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said on Jan. 16 after announcing his decision to return for his senior season. “He’s ready to go back to work. I talked to him actually today walking from class and he’s ready to go. We’re ready to make this offense explosive. Along with him and the whole offense, we’re ready to do big things.”
During his freshman season, Fournette displayed glimpses of the potential that made him ESPN’s top overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class. His 264 all-purpose yards (including 143 rushing yards and a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown) in a bowl loss to Notre Dame made for one of the most dynamic performances in LSU postseason history, and his power running was the driving force in key SEC wins against Florida and Texas A&M.
If he and fellow sophomore Darrel Williams take a step forward like their former teammates expect, LSU’s running game should remain in good shape.
“But I know once Kenny and Terrence leave, Darrel’s role is going to expand. He’s a hell of a back just like Leonard is. He just has to wait his turn. It’s hard when your classmate is the same age and gets a little more playing time. I know how that feels. But once he steps up, it’s going to be great.”
Williams was the less-heralded prospect out of LSU’s 2014 running back signees but became a valuable reserve, particularly in short-yardage situations. Magee agreed with Neighbors’ assessment that Williams’ role should expand, partially because of LSU’s traditional philosophy of spreading around the carries and partially because of Williams’ ability to avoid fumbling.
“It’s always running back by committee here,” Magee said. “Since he’s been here, the biggest thing that I’ve seen about him, he does a great job of taking care of the ball. Since he’s been here, I can only remember him fumbling the ball twice. That plays a big part in playing running back -- you’ve got to take care of the ball. He does a great job in pass protection, so I think he’s going to find his way on the field very easily next year on third downs as well as first and second down.”
The biggest question surrounding the group will be depth. Neighbors and Melvin Jones are out of the picture, leaving John David Moore as the Tigers’ only player with game experience at fullback. And with Magee and Hilliard completing their eligibility, Fournette and Williams will be entrusted with helping verbal commits Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette get ready to play as freshmen.
“I know they’re going to bring in two great young freshmen and hopefully they can learn from Darrel and Leonard and be able to contribute to the team next year,” Magee said.
It helps that David Ducre, who can play fullback and tailback, is already on campus as an early enrollee. Perhaps he wasn’t as high-profile a prospect as LSU’s tailback commits, but LSU believes it got a steal in Ducre, whose versatility could make him an immediate weapon.
The most important figure will be Fournette, though. He should be the centerpiece of LSU’s offense in 2015, and based on his performances when LSU continuously fed him the ball in 2014, that should be a good thing for the Tigers.
Returning players: TB: Leonard Fournette (187 carries, 1,034 yards, 10 TDs; 7 receptions, 127 yards; 1,786 all-purpose yards), Darrel Williams (64-302, 3 TDs; 6-63 receiving). FB: John David Moore (No carries).
Departed players: TB: Terrence Magee (112-571, 3 TDs; 17-171 receiving), Kenny Hilliard (90-447, 6 TDs; 4-35 receiving). FB: Connor Neighbors (No carries, 4-27 receiving), Melvin Jones (4-12; 5-22 receiving, TD).
Committed prospects: TB: Derrius Guice (No. 8 RB, No. 96 overall on ESPN 300, four stars), Nick Brossette (No. 12 RB, No. 121 overall, four stars). FB: David Ducre (No. 35 RB, four stars, early enrollee). ESPN lists Fournette's younger brother Lanard, who committed to LSU over the weekend, as a running back (No. 100 at the position, three stars), but it's possible that he will play receiver in college.
Outlook: This will be a young bunch with seniors Magee, Hilliard and Neighbors completing their eligibility. Fournette’s presence obviously solidifies the position, but the Tigers will enter the season with very little experience at fullback and only Fournette and Williams with on-field work at tailback. Ducre will get a leg up by participating in spring practice and tailback commits Guice and Brossette should have a chance to contribute as freshmen should they sign with the Tigers next month.
Here is how Fournette and LSU’s other true freshmen fared in the 23-17 victory over the Aggies:
S Jamal Adams
What he did: Adams started for the second time in the past three games and tied for the team lead with eight tackles, plus he made a tackle for loss.
What it means: The freshman safety was all over the place against the Aggies, including on an impressive third-down stop to force a punt in the second quarter. Adams is one of the most exciting young defensive players on LSU’s roster. He’ll be an All-SEC candidate next season once he enters the starting lineup full-time.
WR Malachi Dupre
What he did: Dupre made one catch for a 41-yard gain deep into Texas A&M territory in the fourth quarter on Thursday.
What it means: Dupre hasn’t made many catches lately (three receptions for 28 yards in the previous five games), but he’s made a couple of them count. He made highlight reels with a one-handed touchdown catch against Alabama, and his catch against A&M extended a late drive while the Tigers were trying to hold onto the lead.
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Starting for the fifth time in the past six games, Fournette posted a new career high with 146 rushing yards on 19 carries. He also returned two kickoffs for a total of 34 yards.
What it means: This was Fournette’s fourth game with at least 100 rushing yards, and he produced one of the SEC’s most memorable runs of the season by plowing over A&M safety Howard Matthews on a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Fournette hasn’t lived up to preseason Heisman hype, but he has been LSU’s best running back with 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: Godchaux started for the eighth consecutive game at defensive tackle and finished with one tackle.
What it means: Clearly Godchaux is one of LSU’s top options in the middle, as he has become a fixture in the starting lineup. Perhaps some of the Tigers’ redshirt freshmen will create more of a rotation at tackle next season, but Godchaux and Christian LaCouture appear to have the top spots locked down. Thanks to their improved play, the position is no longer the liability that it was early in the season.
S Devin Voorhies
What he did: Working on LSU’s kickoff coverage unit, Voorhies stripped A&M return man Speedy Noil on a kickoff just before halftime, with LSU’s Duke Riley recovering at the Aggies’ 19-yard line. It was the little-used Voorhies’ first career forced fumble.
What it means: It would not be a surprise to see Voorhies play more on scrimmage downs next season after contributing almost exclusively on special teams this fall. He appeared in seven games and made two tackles this season. To date, Thursday’s forced fumble, which led to a field goal and a 17-7 halftime lead, was easily his biggest play as a Tiger.
S Jamal Adams
What he did: Adams totaled four tackles on Saturday against Arkansas.
What it means: A week after making his first start, Adams came off the bench against Arkansas. He still played plenty and should be in line for extensive playing time in the finale against Texas A&M.
WR Malachi Dupre
What he did: Dupre caught one pass for 6 yards against Arkansas.
What it means: Only two Tigers (Travin Dural and Terrence Magee) caught more than once pass, so that's not a big deal as it relates to Dupre. It's not a particularly positive sign about the Tigers' passing game, however.
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette started at tailback and ran five times for 9 yards against Arkansas. He did not catch a pass or return a kickoff.
What it means: LSU coach Les Miles said after the game that Fournette was not injured, but that the plays they might have called for the star freshman tailback were not working. The Tigers struggled with their typical play-calling patterns since starting offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Elliott Porter were out for all or most of the game.
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: Godchaux started for the seventh straight game at defensive tackle and registered five tackles and two quarterback hurries.
What it means: Godchaux and LSU's defense were fine against the Razorbacks. Arkansas ran 38 times for just 95 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and totaled just 264 yards of total offense. It was an OK performance by the Tigers' defense, but the offense was so anemic that it wasn't nearly enough to win the game.
RB Darrel Williams
What he did: Williams ran six times for 16 yards on Saturday. He also returned a kickoff for a 21-yard gain.
What it means: With senior Kenny Hilliard out of the lineup, Williams played a more active role in the offense. It didn't matter much since the Tigers were unable to generate much on the ground -- Williams' 16 rushing yards were second on the team behind Magee's 24 -- but Williams will probably play an active role against Texas A&M if Hilliard remains out.
Recapping Florida Opening Regionals
TBD Bowling Green Tennessee TBD Wisconsin Alabama TBD UTEP Arkansas TBD Louisville Auburn TBD New Mexico State Florida TBD Louisiana-Monroe Georgia TBD Louisiana-Lafayette Kentucky TBD McNeese State LSU TBD Southeast Missouri State Missouri TBD Tennessee-Martin Ole Miss TBD Mississippi State Southern Miss TBD Arizona State Texas A&M TBD Western Kentucky Vanderbilt