Mass LSU defections reshape looming matchup with Texas

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Level up.

Those involved with arguably the most dominant college football team of all time aren’t settling for $100 handshakes from Odell Beckham, Jr. — from the coaches to the players, the LSU Tigers are parlaying Monday’s national championship into promotions and professional careers.

No judgement there. Get those chickens.

The architect of the passing revolution that vaulted Joe Burrow from the loser of an Ohio State quarterback battle and a mediocre player as a junior to the Heisman Trophy and an historic season is now off to the Carolina Panthers as Matt Rhule’s new offensive coordinator. For all the talk of a raise and contract extension, Joe Brady capitalized on his one season in Baton Rouge by landing his first on-field gig in the NFL at 30 years old.

Rhule leaving Baylor to take that job in Carolina reverberated even further through the LSU program when defensive coordinator Dave Aranda took his first head coaching job with the Bears on Thursday.

Due to Aranda’s move, there may be more staff changes for head coach Ed Orgeron’s program, but that prospective news will surely take a back seat to the avalanche of NFL Draft declarations radically reshaping the LSU roster next season.

Ever heard of 11 early entrants leaving a single program in a single season? It certainly feels like a record.

The Tigers have vacated the premises in a flurry that now runs the gamut from expected to unexpected, touching nearly every position on the team. Friday represents the soft deadline to declare as LSU currently stands to lose the team’s starting quarterback, starting running back, leader in receptions, starting tight end, starting left tackle, starting left guard, starting center, starting right guard, starting nose tackle, starting defensive end, three starting linebackers, two starting safeties, starting cornerback, and starting nickel back to graduation or declaration.

Got all that?

Apologies for not merely listing the starters who will actually return, a group that includes star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, right tackle Austin Deculus, defensive end Glen Logan, linebacker Damone Clark, and rising cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr. Five players on offense and defense.

Any readers who have made it this far surely understand why this topic is worth discussing — the Longhorns travel to Baton Rouge for the second game of the 2020 season, the back end of the home-and-home series that produced one of the most hotly-contested matchups in college football last year. Before the game, during the game, and well after the game, the two teams developed and maintained a significant mutual dislike for each other despite the lack of recent history.

Likewise, before the national championship game and after the national championship game, LSU coaches cited the pivotal 3rd and 17 that produced the game-clinching touchdown for the Tigers as the moment that revealed the team’s ultimate upside as decisive champions.

For Texas, the all-out blitz by former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and loss of leverage by safety Caden Sterns came to negatively define the season and will forever loom as the moment that illustrated why Orlando lost his job after the regular season.

Call it the inflection point for both teams.

And so while it’s impossible to say whether next season’s game can or will produce such a monumental moment, at least one player from LSU or Texas will create some bulletin-board material before the game. Tempers are likely to flare during warmups. LSU coaches might even be involved. Again. The visitor’s locker room could be unusually unpleasant. The environment in Death Valley will be hostile in a way that only Tigers fans can manage.

As Texas head coach Tom Herman resets nearly his entire coaching staff and LSU resets its coaching staff and roster for diametrically opposite reasons, the preseason expectations are still taking shape for both programs.

Unquestionably, though, the shape of the 2020 Tigers team looks much different than it did in the immediate, euphoric glow of the national championship. Expect the Horns to enter Tiger Stadium as the underdogs, but many of the primary architects of last season’s LSU win won’t be involved.

Call that a major opportunity for Herman and his Texas program. One that could define the season for both teams and the entire tenure of the fourth-year Longhorns head coach.

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Wescott Eberts


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