Put up or shut up.
You can’t talk the talk without walking the walk. And that’s why every year I want to offer up my predictions for the upcoming season.
Last year went fairly well. I predicted ULM would win six games and that LSU would go 9-3 in the regular season. While I nailed those predictions, I swung and missed with an 8-4 Louisiana Tech prediction (the Bulldogs went 7-5).
Let’s see if we can nail all three this time around, starting with the school I missed on last fall.
Louisiana Tech prediction: 8-4
I promise I’m not copy and pasting, but Louisiana Tech is a straight up wild card this year. Reports from practice talk about the immensely talented receivers and certain defensive playmakers like the Bulldogs are going to run through Conference USA. And while no one doubts this team’s athletic ability and overall potential, there are far too many questions offensively for me to go higher than 8-4 at this point and time.
And by now, I think you know what those questions are. How has J’Mar Smith progressed at quarterback? Can Louisiana Tech get the run game back on track (11th in the conference in yards per game in 2018)? And has Louisiana Tech found the right pieces on the offensive line? Not to mention, the Bulldogs will have a new defensive coordinator in Bob Diaco on the other side of the ball. Diaco looks like a home run hire, but we need to see his defense in live action before we are fully convinced.
Plus you look around the division to find a North Texas team that will absolutely light it up this year with Mason Fine returning at quarterback, a Southern Miss team that Louisiana Tech has found new, interesting ways to lose to in recent years and a UAB that won the conference a season ago.
With a Texas loss, a 1-2 record against those foes likely and room for a slipup along the way, an 8-4 season would be a good year, even if it’s shy of a banner one.
ULM prediction: 6-6
The Warhawks are right there. ULM certainly was a year ago. But in order to take that next step, the Warhawks have to win all of the games they are supposed to. If you look at the 2018 season, ULM’s 46-14 loss to a Georgia State team that finished 2-10 ultimately cost the Warhawks a bowl berth.
Looking at this year’s team, there’s plenty to like. There’s continuity on defense with an improved pass rush and experienced secondary. And ULM is one of the few teams in America with four returning starters on the offensive line to go along with a two-year starter returning at quarterback. So even if the Warhawks have to find replacements for playmakers Marcus Green, R.J. Turner and Derrick Gore, ULM should move the football up and down the field against its adversaries in 2019.
But what about that schedule? Teams like Florida State, Iowa State and Memphis occupy the first half of it, and it’s conceivable the Warhawks drop all three games. At best, perhaps the Warhawks catch Memphis slipping in a rare home game against the Tigers and go 1-2. Appalachian State, Arkansas State and UL-Lafayette are primed to have strong seasons. Because of the swing games involved, it’s realistic to see ULM going 6-6 again with hopefully a bowl berth at the end of the season this time around.
LSU prediction: 11-1
This is by far my boldest prediction of the season.
The Tigers have an embarrassment of riches returning to campus. LSU finally found its quarterback in Joe Burrow, who has proven to be a tough, smart gunslinger for the Tigers. He’s surrounded by one of the most athletic receiving corps since the 2013 squad trotted Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry onto the field. Keep in mind the Tigers have a plethora of backs to choose from and a solid interior offensive line returning. This offense should produce more yards and points with more “10” personnel packages (one back, no tight end, four wide). On LSU’s “Hey Fightin’ Podcast,” LSU digital reporter Cody Worsham stated that LSU ran those packages frequently throughout the preseason games, which are closed to the media. He also dropped the nugget that LSU ran that personnel grouping just 10 percent of the time in 2018. Expect that number to go up.
The Tigers should be better offensively, and even better defensively with studs returning at every single level.
But can LSU run the gauntlet? The Tigers have a marquee game against Texas in Week 2, and we all know the SEC West foes that stand in LSU’s way of winning an SEC Championship.
My official prediction is LSU loses one game this season, and that’s in Tuscaloosa to Alabama. With a close loss against Alabama, LSU would still be in position — with a win against a Texas team that will compete for a Big 12 title — to make the College Football Playoff, despite lacking an SEC title.
Hey, we’ve seen crazier things happen before…