Premature Preview 2011: LSU

Previously: Memphis, Auburn

Time to take a look at Mississippi State’s Week 3 opponent, and it’s a Thursday night ESPN game, the first of two Thursday nighters for the Bulldogs in 2011. You’ve got a night game on the WWL involving Les Miles – you know some kinda magic is gonna happen. Black voodoo magic, perhaps, but magic nonetheless.

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LSU Tigers (Sept. 15, in Starkville)

Conference: SEC

2010 record: 11-2 (6-2, T-2nd in Western Division)

Final ranking: No. 8 AP, T-No. 8 USA Today, No. 11 BCS

Coach: Les Miles (62-17, six years)

Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense, 0 specialists)

Last meeting: LSU, 29-7 (Sept. 18, 2010, in Baton Rouge)

On the Web: lsusports.net

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I’m hearing mixed reports on how much quarterback Jordan Jefferson has improved or regressed this past offseason. I saw someone say recently he had a “nice spring“, but then there was that awful spring game: 4 for 14 with an interception.

Oh, and there was last season. Jefferson completed 56.1 percent of his passes (118 of 209) for 1,411 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions while splitting snaps with Jarrett Lee. Now, Jefferson is having to fend off highly touted transfer Zach Mettenberger. This is Jefferson’s senior year, so it’s kind of time for him to show us something.

And that’s the thing. I can’t buy into Jefferson until I see something, and I haven’t yet. He can barely run the offense under normal circumstances; throw him into a game-end pressure situation, and well … this happens. And this happens. As for the latter, you can’t count on dumb luck or Miles’ magic every time (can you?). Blame coaching in both instances if you want, but Jefferson screwed up, too.

Perhaps Jefferson really will be better. There’s a new offensive coordinator in town, Steve Kragthorpe, a guy who was middling as a head coach but has a good offensive mind. LSU ranked 86th in the country in total offense (341.3 ypg) and 107th in passing offense (155.6 ypg) last season.

Perhaps LSU is so good everywhere else that Jefferson doesn’t have to be much more than serviceable. Depth is one of the Tigers’ biggest strengths, and the defense is solid at every level. Cornerbacks Mo Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu can feast on the SEC’s collectively inexperienced quarterbacks.

I’m a bit wary about LSU this season, but a lot of folks think highly of this group. The Tigers are a popular top-five pick in the preseason rankings I’ve seen floating around the Internet. We might have a good idea of that by the time they meet MSU, because the Tigers’ season opens with Oregon. ESPN.com ranks LSU’s non-conference slate as the toughest in the league.

Up next: Louisiana Tech