As the 2009 season approaches, Washington once again will have one of the toughest schedules in college football, starting the season with a bang as LSU visits to open the season on Sept 5. The Tigers are coming off a disappointing 8-5 season, but there is plenty of talent on the squad to make another serious run for a SEC West title. LSU may not be of the same caliber as a USC, but they are a solid top 15 pick heading into the season.
Sophomore Jordan Jefferson looks to have earned the starting QB spot this past spring. Jefferson is 6'4" and very mobile. He played in seven games last season, starting twice. The obvious highlight of his 2008 campaign was leading the Tigers to a 38-3 upset win over Georgia Tech in the season's finale. Jordan finished the 2009 season by connecting on 36 of 73 passes for 419 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception, He also rushed for 134 yards and one TD on 49 carries. The Tiger defense will be ready for Jake Locker, as they will practice against a similar player every day.
The running back position is loaded with talent, experience, and depth. The Tigers return three seniors who each can break a game open. LSU is led by Charles Scott, who rushed for over 1000 yards in 2008. Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday provide plenty of experienced, quality depth, keeping defenses on their toes.
The wide receivers are led by Brandon LaFell, who tallied a team-leading 63 receptions last season. LaFell is an NFL-type talent who could have gone early in the 2009 pro football draft. Chris Mitchell, R.J. Jackson, Tim Molton, Chris Tolliver and five star recruit Ruben Randle will all push for playing time when the Tigers line up in three-and-four-wide sets. Randle will come in this fall with the ability to immediately start for the Tigers. Senior TE Richard Dickson returns and is a good bet to earn some post-season honors.
The Tigers' offensive line has the look of a rebuilding unit, as they lost three starters to graduation and the NFL. Bob Hebert, who was limited in 2009 spring drills due to a knee injury suffered during the 2008 season, will be the new starter at center. Josh Dworaczyk steps into the left guard spot, with Lyle Hitt returning for his senior year at right guard, plus Ciron Black and Joseph Barksdale teaming up to be one of the better tackle tandems in the SEC.
The key to the enduring success of the LSU football program under the regimes of both Les Miles and Nick Saban has been its defense. With all the growing that must take place on the offensive side of the ball in 2009, the defense will be counted on to pick up a lot of the early slack. LSU feels they have addressed this need by retooling its defensive staff in the form of three new assistant coaches.
The defensive line is rebuilding after losing their top five players to graduation in 2008. The Tigers return senior DE Rahim Alem , who led the SEC in sacks a year ago, and also got a boost from the NCAA when they granted DT Charles Alexander a sixth year of eligibility. Junior Pep Levingston and has taken hold of the defensive end spot this spring opposite Alem and it looks like he could be a player. He will most likely line up next to DT Drake Nevis. LSU is going to be challenged early up front this year because of the losses but they have a lot of talent in line that is just waiting for their first chances of getting into the rotation.
At linebacker the Tigers return Seniors Jacob Cutrera and Perry Riley, along with Jr. Kelvin Sheppard. All three have have all played a lot of football at LSU. Since LSU is bringing in a new DC expect some early growing pains as the talent adjust to the new schemes which were implemented last spring.
The Tigers are loaded at defensive back. CB Patrick Peterson and safety Chad Jones have All-American type talent. The other starting corner will likely be senior Chris Hawkins, who led the team with three interceptions and nine pass breakups a year ago. Pushing Hawkins and Peterson is junior Jai Eugene and sophomore Brandon Taylor, and they will more than likely battle for the nickel spot. Ron Brooks and Karnell Hatcher are battling it out for the starting spot at the other safety position.
LSU is rebuiliding but not in the same sense that Washington is. The difference is that LSU has a solid pipeline of young talent that has been tutored to expect success.
The inexperience at QB is going to hurt them early in the season. On defense rebuilding the front four with a new DC is also going to cause some early growing pains.
Expect the Tigers to finish in the top 25 but they are realistically a year away from contending for a national championship unless their QB grows up in a hurry against the always tough SEC schedule.
How does UW match up?
Realistically Washington should be playing Nevada or Utah State to open the season and not a team like LSU. UW is however going to be catching the Tigers at home at probably the best time all season to play them. UW obviously comes in with an edge at QB and our young receivers should be able to match up well with LSU. The offensive line will have its hands full with the Tigers defensive front even though they are in rebuilding mode. UW's offensive line frankly doesn't cut it at this point and only recruiting, time, and talent will change that.
Defensively the Huskies get a break facing an inexperienced QB starting the season on the road. I expect improvement in every phase of the Husky defense this season which is easy to say because they were argualby the worst unit in the BCS last season.
Washington should be able to hang with the Tigers early in this one. They should be fired up and playing over their heads in their nationally televised debut under new head coach Steve Sarkisian. Whenever you insert Jake Locker into the lineup it is a great equalizer to make up for a sup par offensive line. An enthusiastic full house to open the season should create quite a bit of excitement in Husky Stadium.
That being said overall talent and depth wins football games and sometime in the third quarter LSU should begin to pull away like so many teams such as Ohio State have done to UW in recent years. This one will be closer than expected but I am thinking pulls away and wins 31 - 21.