BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - LSU will officially begin practice Thursday morning and the usual preseason excitement surrounding the team is certainly building around town, but so is the frustration caused by the outcomes of the past few seasons.
Everyone is yearning for that first taste of crisp, fall air and the epic games the Tigers will partake in this season, but along with that anticipation, is the sense fan patience is growing even shorter than usual. Last year's lackluster 8-5 overall record and a perceived decline in the program have cast skeptical eyes towards head coach Les Miles and his team.
The Tigers have played in one major bowl game (last season was the first year of the new four team playoff) since they won the national championship in 2007. Appearances in The Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Outback Bowl and Music City Bowl over the last three campaigns were played in stadiums nowhere near full, against decent, but hardly stellar opponents. And, LSU lost two of three.
As 2015 quickly approaches, there are certainly exciting pieces in place for the Tigers to have a big year. It all starts with electric sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, who should finish his career as one of the greats in LSU history. Not only is Fournette tremendously talented, he's also personable and an incredibly approachable star. Behind a veteran offensive line, anchored by veterans like Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins, the freakish Fournette should soar this fall.
However, the lingering questions surrounding the most important position on the field are still strongly felt. Can LSU be an elite football team with either Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris behind center? Despite the fact he's only a junior, many fans have already given up on Jennings and feel he's not going to improve substantially. Harris easily has a stronger arm and better physical tools, but still has to prove he's mature enough to navigate an entire fall camp successfully and truly earn the trust of his teammates. Success at this position not only falls on the quarterbacks, but obviously, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. For the salary Cameron is getting paid ($1.5 million this season), he simply must do a better job.
And, while many shrug off the departure of defensive coordinator John Chavis to Texas A&M, others view it as a more serious loss. LSU obviously had tremendous difficulty during the last several years, getting stops late to win games. Miles said 2:00 defense will be a major focus in practice under new coordinator Kevin Steele, in particular, tackling ball-carriers inbounds. Steele, alongside new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, have maintained their all-star status on the recruiting trail. But how good they can be as game day coaches looms as another burning question.
LSU will likely beat McNeese State easily in the season opener, before things really get interesting. A road trip to Mississippi State and then a home affair with preseason SEC favorite Auburn could really set the tone for the season. LSU will either gain great confidence towards a run at the Western crown or the doubt created by last year's slide will be further enhanced. It should truly be a fascinating September.
But first comes the grind of August - the pouring sweat, endless work, nagging fatigue and yes, boredom. A day can sometimes feel like a week for both the players and media alike. Everyone simply can't wait until that first game. However, this grueling month is necessary and LSU must feel the need and perhaps outside pressure to improve because 8-5 isn't going to cut again and everyone knows it.
The heat is on the Tigers in more ways than just one.