Week by week we’ll break down each 2018 opponent and see how the Gators might fare. You can check out our preview of the first five games at the end of the article. Next on the slate: The LSU Tigers
2017 Record: 9-4 (3rd overall in SEC West)
Toughest 2017 Opponents: #1 Alabama (lost 24-10), #10 Auburn (won 27-23), #11 Notre Dame (lost 21-17, Bowl)
Best 2017 Win: 27-23 win over #10 Auburn Tigers
2018 Outlook: It’s hard to have known what to expect in Year 1 of the Ed Orgeron era, and it certainly had its ups and downs. From an embarrassing loss to Troy to a run of six wins in seven games to end the regular season, the Tigers were far from consistent in a year in which they endured injuries and internal drama. In the end, the nine-win season is tied for LSU’s best effort in four years.
2018 will be a critical year for Orgeron, especially after the way the Tigers parted way with offensive coordinator Matt Canada. How new OC Steve Ensminger performs will be the key to LSU’s efforts. The Tigers has to replace the most productive elements of the offense with leading receiver D.J. Chark, leading rusher Derrius Guice and a trio of starting linemen departing. And LSU will have a new quarterback under center. Often criticized, Danny Etling was actually a rather steady hand for LSU in 2017. Etling’s likely successor, Myles Brennan, has a much higher ceiling. But the rising sophomore needs to show he can elevate the offense before he’s crowned as a special player.
The defense is also losing a number of key contributors including Arden Key, Donte Jackson, and John Battle. There’s plenty of young talent behind those departures like K’Lavon Chaisson, Eric Monroe and Kary Vincent, but LSU needs underclassmen to come along quickly. LSU generally has to replace a lot and often endures the losses well, but it’ll have to prove it can do so again in 2018. By the way, the Tigers will face Miami Week 1 at AT&T Stadium in Texas, so we’ll know pretty early how this team looks.
How do the Gators fair? Our Prediction: Florida 28 – LSU 24
This is a game I really went back and forth on for the Gators as well, especially after having to play a very tough game against Mississippi State the previous week. The key to this game comes down to all of the key departures for the Tigers. Losing Etling and starting a young quarterback against what is expected to be a very good Gators defense in The Swamp is what tipped the scales in Florida’s favor. The energy and hate both teams have for each other continues to be fueled by the 2016 Hurricane drama and there is no doubt this game will be a battle to the very end.
And then there is a major question about the run game that LSU will bolster in 2018. Over the past decade, LSU has featured a rushing attack that could win games by grounding and pounding the opposition for four quarters. For the first time since the 2013 season, when Jeremy Hill ripped off 1,400 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns, the Tigers are without a proven tailback. Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams formed a deadly one-two punch in 2017, but both are now off to the NFL. The key returning tailbacks are Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Nick Brossette. The duo combined for 134 yards on 28 carries without a score last season. Brossette likely wins the job, but that is a lot of untested talent to support a new QB.
Defensively you can expect LSU to remain very athletic and very aggressive. They will certainly cause problems for Florida’s quarterback in the secondary and force quick decisions. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is one of the best in the country, but could be in trouble in 2018 if a replacement for Greg Gilmore is not found. Gilmore led the Tigers with 7.5 sacks last season while coming up with 53 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. It should be expected that Florida will want to use their stable of running backs to beat down the Tigers and test their defensive line. When you add everything up, Florida has just a bit more upside than LSU in this match-up, though there are uncertainties for both teams. I’m sticking with the thought that Mullen will do whatever it takes not to have the Gators lose at home – that trend continues with a bounce-back win against the Tigers.
W vs Kentucky Wildcats
W vs Colorado State Rams
W vs Tennessee Volunteers
W vs LSU Tigers