Louisiana State has won 11 or more games in five of eight seasons under coach Les Miles and has been camped out in the top 10 of the national rankings for most of that time.
However, after 10 underclassmen left for the NFL and eight players from the defense got drafted, few publications put LSU in the preseason top 10. But it says here the demise of the Tigers is greatly exaggerated.
LSU finished 10-3 last season, but all three defeats were one-possession losses. The Tigers allowed late fourth-quarter leads to get away in losses to Alabama and Clemson.
Miles brings back eight starters on offense, including all of the skill-position players. Zach Mettenberger improved as a quarterback late last season, and I’m expecting bigger production from the senior. He has outstanding receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, who combined for 99 receptions for 1,286 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
LSU is loaded in the backfield. Jeremy Hill rushed for 12 touchdowns as a freshman, but he might be suspended for today’s season opener against Texas Christian at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
If Hill doesn’t play, it shouldn’t be of any concern to bettors considering a play on LSU. That’s because of the presence of veteran running backs Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue, who averaged 5.7 and 6.8 yards per carry, respectively, in 2012.
Although only four starters return on defense, the Tigers have plenty of talent, including two likely All-Americans in safety Craig Loston and tackle Anthony Johnson.
Perhaps the most important factor driving my play on LSU, a 4-point favorite, will be several key absences for TCU. The Horned Frogs will be without last season’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Devonte Fields, who had 10 sacks and 8½ tackles for losses as a freshman, is suspended.
Also, TCU’s leading returning tackler, Joel Hasley, and starting offensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje no longer are with the program.
Finally, don’t look at this as a road game for LSU, even though TCU is located in Fort Worth. The Tigers are expected to bring more than 30,000 fans to the Dallas area.
Four more plays for today and Sunday (home team in CAPS):
■ Alabama-Virginia Tech (Over 45½) — The Crimson Tide averaged 38.7 points in 2012, and there’s no reason to think this year’s offense won’t be just as good, if not better. AJ McCarron threw for 30 touchdowns compared with three interceptions, and he has an arsenal of weapons around him. Alabama scores at least 38, and possibly 42 to 45. And don’t expect quarterback Logan Thomas and the Hokies to get shut out in this game in Atlanta.
■ Louisiana-Monroe (+21½) over OKLAHOMA — We can bet against a quarterback, the Sooners’ Trevor Knight, getting his first career action. Also, coach Bob Stoops has suspended two starters — defensive end Chuka Ndulue and cornerback Cortez Johnson.
The Warhawks went 5-1 against the spread on the road last season, with the noncover coming when standout quarterback Colton Browning was injured. Browning, who had 29 touchdown passes and seven rushing TDs, led Monroe to a win at Arkansas and a near-upset of Auburn. Monroe returns 16 starters, and Browning should have success against Oklahoma’s defense.
■ Northwestern (-6) over CALIFORNIA — Again, I like going against a team with a starting quarterback who will be taking his first career snaps, as is Cal freshman Jared Goff. Even though the Wildcats have to travel across the country, I’m not afraid to lay this moderate number on a vastly superior team.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald won 10 games last season, and his three losses came when fourth-quarter leads slipped away. The Wildcats cashed tickets at an 11-1-1 against-the-spread clip and return 15 starters, including Venric Mark, who rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns.
■ Ohio (+20½) over LOUISVILLE — The Cardinals won only two games by more than 20 points last season. The Bobcats finished 9-4 after a 45-14 blowout victory over Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship are two of the nation’s most underrated players.
Last season: 48-18-1 against the spread
Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.