It's never too early to talk college football, and one team with major buzz entering 2016 is the LSU Tigers.
After a tumultuous 2015 season in which Les Miles was, quite literally, a quarter away from being fired, things are way different just a few months later in Baton Rouge. The Mad Hatter not only survived that hot seat chatter but thrived, and coming off a big-time bowl win against Texas Tech expectations are through the roof for the Tigers.
Not only will LSU be good, but fans hope this is the season they knock Alabama off its perch atop the SEC and win a conference title. Here are five reasons why I believe that can happen.
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We all know that Fournette was great last season, but it really does feel like that greatness got a tiny bit lost as LSU struggled down the stretch as a team.
So in case you forgot: Fournette ran for just under 2,000 yards despite playing in only 12 games (LSU's first game was canceled). He put up over 100 yards in 10 of those games and had a three-game stretch with at least 225 yards.
The crazy part is he could be even better in 2016 with an extra year in LSU's system and three starters returning along the offensive line. The only question is this: With two other good backs behind him (Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams), can he possibly top the numbers he put up last season?
We're not betting against him.
LSU wasn't crushed by the NFL Draft
Through the years, no school has been hit harder by earlier departures than LSU (most notably when 11 players declared in 2013). While LSU recruits the high school ranks as well as anyone, eventually that attrition takes a toll on your depth chart.
Thankfully, for the first time in a long time, LSU finally caught some breaks with draft declarations as a number of big-time players decided to return. Cornerback Tre'Davious White is back after an All-SEC season and so is linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who finished second on the team with 84 tackles last season.
After announcing his decision, Beckwith told reporters, "I feel as if I have a lot of unfinished business here at LSU.
That sounds like a man who came back to win a title.
LSU's defense is again loaded
Speaking of White and Beckwith, they return to what should be a loaded defense in Baton Rouge.
In addition to those two, the defensive line is absolutely stacked, with Arden Key, Davon Godchaux, Frank Herron and others mixing and matching in new coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 defense. Meanwhile, hard-hitting safety Jamal Adams is back in the defensive backfield alongside White and ready to once again terrorize opposing wide receivers. Adams is already being projected by many as a first round NFL Draft pick in 2017.
Statistically the Tigers weren't their usual elite selves on defense last season, but that should change this year.
The SEC schedule appears to be manageable
Going through the SEC is never easy, but several teams appear as though they could take a step back in 2016.
Mississippi State will be breaking in a new quarterback for the first time since what feels like the Clinton administration, with Dak Prescott off to the NFL. Same with Arkansas, which not only lost Brandon Allen but Alex Collins and Hunter Henry, too. Ole Miss returns QB Chad Kelly but lost a lot around him, including his best receiver in Laquon Treadwell.
Even traditional rival Florida appears to have taken a step back on paper, as projected starter Luke Del Rio will be the third different QB under center since Jim McElwain arrived just a season ago.
Alabama may finally take a step back
At the same time, the Crimson Tide have real question marks coming into the season. Alabama will be breaking in their third different quarterback in three years this fall and won't have the Derrick Henry security blanket to fall back on in 2016 either. The defense is always talented, but it will be an adjustment without emotional leader Reggie Ragland and their actual leader in defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who's now the head coach at Georgia.
Add in the fact that the game between these two teams is in Baton Rouge this year, and it feels like if there's ever a time for LSU to surpass Alabama this is it.
That's exactly what will happen in 2016 as LSU will finally move past Alabama atop the SEC.