HOOVER, Ala. -- Ed Orgeron could not have dreamed of a more attractive job for his second chance.
Nine years after his short tenure at Ole Miss ended as a big bust, the Larose, La., native was back in a permanent head coaching role at LSU last November.
Sept. 16;at Mississippi State*
Oct. 7;at Florida*
Oct. 21;at Ole Miss*
Nov. 4;at Alabama*
Nov. 18;at Tennessee*
Nov. 25;Texas A&M*
*SEC game #at Houston
LAST SEASON 8-4, 5-3 (tie second in SEC West)
COACH Ed Orgeron (6-2 in second year at LSU; 22-29 in sixth year overall)
RETURNING STARTERS (14): Offense 8, Defense 5, Specialty 1
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS WR D.J. Chark, QB Danny Etling, RB Derrius Guice, LB Arden Key, DE Christian LaCouture, LT K.J. Malone
SEC TITLE SCENARIO The Tigers must bring more offensive balance to their schemes and improve upon QB Danny Etling’s 59.5 percent completions, but most of all LSU has to find a way to defeat nemesis Alabama, which has won six in a row in the series.
Orgeron re-examined his career after his dismissal in Oxford, Miss., with a 10-25 record, leaning on mentors such as Pete Jenkins, Pete Carroll and Jimmy Johnson to talk through his troubles.
"The day I left Ole Miss, I looked at myself and I called my mentors and said, 'Hey, there's some things I have to change. I'm going to be a head coach again. I need to find out why I was not successful.' We dug in. I went to see different coaches. I went and talked to some mentors of mine."
Orgeron said he developed a two-step plan.
"Number one, I was going to treat the team exactly how I treat my sons, no different," he said. "And I was going to treat every coach on the staff with respect and let him coach his position as he knew it.
"Ever since those two minor changes, we've been 12-4, so that's the difference."
Orgeron went 6-2 as the interim coach at USC in 2013, then 6-2 in an interim role at LSU after Les Miles' dismissal early last season.
His loaded 2017 roster and the traditional talent in Louisiana give Orgeron a chance for success in his second go with the big whistle.
"I think the guys that are seniors that were on the team last year supported me, and the team bought into what we were doing," Orgeron said. "A lot of factors had to happen for me to get the job at LSU. I'm very, very honored to be the head coach here."
Orgeron accepted a $3.5 million salary, less than the going rate in the SEC West, and used some of the difference to secure young, innovative coordinators. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, now also the associate head coach, led the Tigers to a No. 10 finish in FBS total defense last year, allowing 314.4 yards per game. LSU gave up an FBS-low 16 touchdowns in 2016 and held Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville out of the end zone in a 29-9 victory in the Citrus Bowl.
Matt Canada is LSU's first-year offensive coordinator after productive stops at his alma mater Indiana, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina State and Pittsburgh the past 10 years.
In his lone season at Pittsburgh last year, the Panthers set school records for points (532) and points per game (40.9) -- including a school-record 76 against Syracuse -- and were the only FBS team to score at least 28 points in every game.
"Matt runs a very diverse offense with a lot of shifts, motions, use of personnel, fly sweeps," Orgeron said. "He makes it difficult to defend. But the thing I like best about Matt was he talked about being a team player, and he talked about running a balanced offense."
Canada was the only offensive finalist for the Broyles Award last season.
The Tigers have a big load of returning weapons on offense, including tailback Derrius Guice, the SEC's leading rusher with 1,387 yards; quarterback Danny Etling; receiver D.J. Chark; and four offensive linemen, led by left tackle K.J. Malone.
"Everything that we do is going to be based around our best player, Derrius Guice," Orgeron said. "We feel we have one of the best running backs and one of the best offensive players in the country coming back."
Guice was an apprentice to consensus All-American Leonard Fournette in 2015 before blossoming last year as Fournette struggled with an ankle injury. The junior knows he has to be a team leader now.
"All eyes are on you. Everybody is watching your moves," Guice said. "If I have a bad day, it can affect everybody. If I go in there yawning and tired, it can rub off on everybody. I've always got to be energized. I've got to act like Coach O 24/7, like I'm drinking Monster drinks."
The lament under Miles in recent years was that the passing game had been ineffective in big games. In Etling, the former Purdue transfer, the Tigers have an experienced senior and 2,123-yard passer who is expected to play a stronger role.
LSU has but five returning starters on defense, led by linebacker Arden Key and end Christian LaCouture, who is returning from injury, but Aranda has a full cupboard of emerging talent at his disposal.
"We have one of the best defensive coordinators in all of football," Orgeron said. "We're glad Dave is back with us. He signed a three-year contract. I think he did a great job of shifting from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense."
Said LaCouture, "I think Dave Aranda is a guy that you want to pick his brain."
Key, a 6-6, 238-pounder, had 56 tackles last season, including 14½ tackles for loss.
"He's a guy that carries himself in the fashion that he knows he has very lengthy, freakish talent, and he works his tail off," LaCouture said.
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville quarterback Austin Allen called him the best defensive player he faced last season.
"I think he's going to be the next Myles Garrett type to come out," Allen said. "He's a really good football player."
The Tigers have a weird quirk in their schedule based off of last year's rescheduled game in Baton Rouge against their permanent SEC crossover opponent Florida. LSU has to play five SEC road games at Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee.
Orgeron understands LSU must get past Alabama to reach the top of the SEC West, and that means breaking a six-game losing streak in the series in which the Tigers have averaged just 10.5 points per game.
"There's a lot of people on our schedule that are very, very good football teams, so we can't just point to Alabama," Orgeron said. "But they're the benchmark, and obviously the head coach at LSU must beat Alabama."
Sports on 07/23/2017