From the Bird’s Nest: Forecasting the Season
Our last day on the radio before the first Cajuns game is always the day that fans can call into the show with their season predictions for the Cajuns, Tigers and Saints. I usually wait until toward the end of the show to give mine. But those who read this blog get a sneak preview:
Starting with the Black and Gold
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Let me say that I like this football team. A lot. I really believe there are four teams from the NFC who have a chance to play the final game of the season...and the Saints are one of them. Drew Brees has very few peers in the NFL and he's got a bevy of receivers to throw to, including the fast-rising Jimmy Graham at tight end, who is in position to be a star in this league. The offensive line is solid, especially with Jahri Evans, who the Saints will run behind regularly. The addition of Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles to go with Pierre Thomas give the Saints three solid options at running back. This is very scary offense capable of scoring lots of points.
I like the Saints defensively, too. I think they've upgraded at a couple of spots and I think Cam Jordan is going to prove to be a great pickup in the first round. These guys have been banged up the last couple of years, especially in the defensive backfield and that's a concern. The Saints have to be better at stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. While I don't believe this will be an elite defense, it doesn't have to be. It just has to be good. The offense takes care of the rest.
But here's the problem: The schedule is brutal this season. Already in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, the Saints also play the AFC South, featuring the Colts, a much improved Texans team and a Tennessee Titans bunch that is going to be a lot better, assuming Chris Johnson finally shows up. Add the NFC Central with the Super Bowl Champions from Green Bay, the division champs from Chicago and an improving Lions team and there are landmines all over the 2011 schedule. I have a feeling the Saints are going to be a much, much better team than their record is going to show.
Last year, when way too many Tigers fans were calling the show calling for Les Miles to be dismissed (even though LSU was undefeated at the time,) I kept saying LSU had a chance to have a special team in 2011. The Tigers wound up winning eleven games and all of the Les talk diminished. Michigan courted him but he chose to remain a Tiger. Les isn't stupid. He too, knew 2011 had a chance to be special.
But it's been a tough summer over in Baton Rouge.
I used to criticize LSU for their scheduling, but truth be told, this team has the toughest September of any team in America. Oregon, Mississippi State, West Virginia...and not a single one of these games in Tiger Stadium. The loss of Jordan Jefferson and Russell Shepard combined with the injury to Josh Dworaczyk make for some uneasy times for the offense. But LSU doesn't win a lot of games with their offense. They win with stifling defense and outstanding special teams. There were no suspensions to the defensive starters. Make no mistake, the LSU defense is one of the best in America.
As a result, LSU will still be very good this year. But they need Shepard to get reinstated as soon as possible. And, as much as a lot of Tigers' fans don't want to admit it, they need Jefferson, too. If LSU survives September, this is going to be a very good season.
PREDICTION: 11-1 if Jefferson returns, 10-2 if he doesn't
LOUISIANA'S RAGIN' CAJUNS
Yesterday, I gave a scenario of what I felt the Cajuns had to do in order to get to six wins on the season. And, in my opinion, six would be a great number for this team. Mark Hudspeth has said and done everything right since coming to campus in December. He's recruited well, he's beaten the drum loudly. And, Louisiana's Pied Piper has the followers believing. And, that's a good thing.
But let's face it, this Cajuns team has more questions than answers. It's got an offensive line with little experience and even less depth. It has two converted safeties at linebacker and both were hurt last year. It has a natural freshman starting at linebacker. It has a converted wideout as a backup corner. It has one player not starting in the secondary with any game experience. It has fifteen freshmen scheduled to make the trip to Stillwater. And with exception of wide receiver, no one has gotten hurt yet. And, no team makes it through a season injury-free.
I think if this offense can value possession of the football, they'll score points. I'm hoping with an experienced line, the defense will improve.
But I don't think this is going to be the kind of season fans are hoping for right off the bat.
I think the schedule hurts this team. I say that because I think this team (unless they really get hit with the injury bug) will get better as the season progresses. Unfortunately, by the time they hit their stride, they won't be at home very much. The schedule has four of the last five on the road and that will probably negate the improvement that I expect this team to show. If the Cajuns had the bulk of their games at home in the second half, I might be tempted to go with that blog from yesterday. But they don't. Hudspeth will win here. But it's too much to ask for it to happen right away.
The Kent State game in week two will tell me if this prediction holds water. A win there, and I might be rethinking things.