Since coming to Tuscaloosa five years ago, Nick Saban has not only had success against just about everyone in the SEC, but downright dominated them.
Well, everyone that is, except LSU.
The man who preceded Les Miles in Baton Rouge is just 2-3 against his former team, leaving many Alabama fans to shake their heads in frustration, and many LSU fans convinced that the coach known for the attire atop his head (The Hat, Miles) is actually inside the head of the ‘Bama coach.
Whether that’s true or not only Saban knows. But in the lead-up to the BCS National Championship Game, there is one story that’s being overlooked by most of the national media, and that’s this: If Saban doesn’t get the best of Miles on Monday night, it might be a long time before he has a real chance again.
That’s because as talented as the LSU Tigers are, they very well could be even better next year.
It might sound crazy, but it’s true. Because while Alabama has a veteran heavy team stocked with superstar seniors and elite, draft eligible juniors (Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower, Trent Richardson), the scary thing for fellow SEC teams is that as talented as LSU is, their roster is actually filled with mostly young talent. Peruse the Tigers depth chart and it’s a literal “who’s who” of elite freshmen and sophomores.
Don’t believe me? Just for fun, let’s take a quick sneak peak at LSU, and see not only who is playing well now, but who’ll be back in 2012.
First, let’s start with the ground game. To their credit, LSU has proven over the years that not only do you not need a good quarterback to win big in college football, at times, you don’t even need a competent one either. And while both guys who’ve been under center this year (Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee) will be gone in 2012, the guys who they’ve been handing the ball off to won’t be. Incredibly, of the four backs that LSU featured prominently this year, three (Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard) aren’t even draft eligible this year. Only Michael Ford could conceivably leave for the greener pastures and bloated bank accounts of the NFL, and even that seems unlikely. ESPN’s Todd McShay didn’t even bother to rank him on his extensive list of draft eligible running backs.
At wide receiver, it’s more of the rich continuing to get richer. Rueben Randle is a draft eligible junior, and along with cornerback Morris Claiborne seems the most likely of all LSU’s underclassmen to leave early. But even if he does, that would still leave LSU with plenty of talent there as well. Odell Beckham got off to a hot start when Russell Shepard was suspended early in the season, and never cooled off with 36 catches. Meanwhile Shepard (expected to return) caught 14 balls, with Jarvis Landry emerged early in the year, before cooling off. He finished with four catches, but should take on a bigger role next year (And by the way, if Landry's receiving skills are half as good as his kick coverage skills, well damn, he might end up being an All-American.)
Then, there’s LSU’s vaunted defense.
We all know about the defensive backs (we’ll get to them in a second), but what about the defensive line? The top four tacklers there (Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan, Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingo) are all redshirt sophomores, meaning each could be back for at least one more year…if not two.
And of course, there’s the secondary. By now everyone is familiar with ‘The Honey Badger’ Tyrann Mathieu, but what’s become truly scary about this team is that he might only be the third best cover corner. He and Tharold Simon are only both true sophomores, and will be back next year. Claiborne is almost certainly gone at that position, as a potential Top 10 pick.
And really, is there a better way to describe the Midas Touch Les Miles is working than this: Not only does LSU likely have the best pair of specialists in the country (Drew Alleman and Brad Wing), but guess what? They’ll both be back in 2012 too.
And maybe the scariest thing is that again, LSU has put together this nice little run (three National Championships since 2004, 25-2 since the start of 2010) without any true elite quarterback play. The only time they got it was when JaMarcus Russell was on campus, and even then they had to “settle” for a trip to the Sugar Bowl. Eventually he left campus for the NFL and Matt Flynn led the Tigers to a title the following.
Well, guess what? After seeing their fair share of arm-punts in the last half decade, there’s a real possibility that LSU could actually have a Heisman-worthy signal-caller over the next couple seasons. LSU has already landed the No. 1 high school quarterback in the country, Gunner Kiel, who will enroll in time to be part of a 2012 Tigers team which could very well be the most talented in the country.
Forget “the rich getting richer.” This is about LSU accumulating a wealth of talent like we haven’t seen in college football in a long time.
For all his college football insight, opinion and articles, follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.