LSU’s football mission is to prove it’s not a one-hit wonder

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LSU's Ja'Marr Chase practice
LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase practices with jersey No. 7 for the first time (Photo: Jonathan Mailhes).

LSU began preparing for the 2020 football season with its first spring practice Saturday.

It’s inevitable that the 2020 Tigers will be viewed in the context of what the 15-0 national champion Tigers of 2019 accomplished.

Perhaps the next LSU football team will finish 15-0 as the last LSU team did, win an SEC championship and a national championship as the last LSU team did and set a boatload of records along the way, as the last LSU team did.

But it’s unlikely the 2020 Tigers can match what the 2019 Tigers did. It would be unfair to expect Myles Brennan to do what Joe Burrow did, or for a rebuilt offensive line to create opportunities the way last year’s line (recognized as the best in the country) did, or for the team to seamlessly replace eight key players that ran out of eligibility and nine other key players that bypassed remaining eligibility to seek employment in the NFL.

Nonetheless, the next Tigers team has a rare opportunity to do something special even if it doesn’t match the accomplishments of its most immediate predecessor.

LSU doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder. Ed Orgeron’s mission from the time he became the full-time head coach after the 2016 season has been not just to win a national championship – though obviously that was a big part of it. The bigger mission was and remains to build the Tigers into an elite program – a perennially strong contender to win the SEC championship and the national championship.

If LSU is going to remain comparable to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma – which are in the national-championship mix virtually every season – it has to be able to withstand the loss of 17 key players in a single season – not to mention coaching losses such as defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, passing game coordinator Joe Brady and others.

Step one for Orgeron was to build a national-championship team and he not only did that, he built the best team in LSU history and a team worthy of being discussed as perhaps the best team in NCAA history.

Step two and by far the bigger one is to build as good a program as there is in the country, to oversee the most successful era in LSU football history.

Paul Dietzel won a national championship in 1958, Nick Saban won one in 2003 and Les Miles won one in 2007. Orgeron has a chance to win more than one.

His second national championship doesn’t have to come in 2020 because he has time on his side. But if that second one – and perhaps others – are to come, it likely will require the 2020 team demonstrating the type of foundation necessary to be an elite program.

Brennan isn’t going to do what Burrow did, but he doesn’t have to. And he seems capable of coming closer to what Burrow did than nervous followers might expect.

It remains to be seen how well offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger is able to blend new passing coordinator Scott Linehan’s program into his scheme in the wake of Brady’s departure to the NFL.

New defensive coordinator Bo Pelini begins his second stint in Baton Rouge with a unit in transition — not just from Aranda’s 3-4 scheme to his 4-3, more aggressive scheme but also with numerous relatively inexperienced players taking on much bigger roles.

Orgeron said this week that TK McLendon has moved from tight end to defensive end and Devonta Lee has moved from wide receiver to safety.

Programs that have the sustainable success to which LSU aspires have the talent and depth from recruiting and the teaching skill among its coaches to enable players such as McLendon and Lee to thrive under such circumstances.

Orgeron has had a few highly touted recruiting classes and if they live up to expectations – and if his most recent coaching hires prove to be as astute as his previous ones – the Tigers might have staying power.

The coach said he’ll be putting in longer hours, working harder and paying closer attention to details to set the tone for a program that won’t slip, though he was realistic.

“I can’t expect this team to be last year’s team,” Orgeron said this week. “It’s a new team, but we still have high expectations.”

Orgeron added that “it would be a fault to keep talking about last year.”

But there is one regard in which it’s appropriate to track the 2020 team’s accomplishments in comparison to those of the 2019 team: Does it perform in a manner that demonstrates that last season was an aberration – or in a manner that suggests last season was the launching point for a new era of LSU football?

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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