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LSU’s baller freshmen mean the future is blindingly bright

The argument for Ed Orgeron as the right man for LSU back in 2016 was always grounded in recruiting. Yes, his evolution as a coach — the ability to motivate, manage and hire — were important elements to his profile, but recruiting was always going to be his bread and butter.

With that in mind, we can more easily excuse LSU’s 2-2 start to this season. It hasn’t been pretty. The hire of defensive coordinator Bo Pelini might have been a mistake. There was a ton of attrition, both expected and otherwise. The schedule is going to be very difficult moving forward, with Auburn on deck Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) and Alabama, Texas A&M and Florida looming, too.

If you’ve taken joy in the Tigers’ stumble, that’s fine. Get your shots in now, though, because Coach O’s work on the recruiting trail is already bearing fruit, with a few freshmen asserting themselves already as some of the best players, period, on LSU’s roster. A rocky rebuild is looking more like a reload, and fans are getting rightfully excited for what 2021 might hold.

Get a load of this freshmen run-down in Baton Rouge:

After logging four total tackles in the first two games of the season, BJ Ojulari has logged four sacks in the last two games of the season, including three sacks over the weekend against South Carolina. Ojulari was a Top 100 prospect coming out of high school but he was slender of build so the reveal of his talent was always going to be dependent on how quickly his body would be ready. He’s ahead of schedule and only going to get better as one of the highest upside prospects in LSU’s 2020 class.

TJ Finley was a high-ceiling but low-floor quarterback prospect. He had one of the strongest arms in the class of 2020, and one of the biggest frames, but there were questions about pocket mobility and consistent accuracy. LSU was forced to start Finley before they had envisioned on Saturday against South Carolina and whether it was due to LSU’s evaluation or preparation, Finley looked well ahead of schedule and like one of the top freshmen quarterbacks in the country.

Eli Ricks was a five-star cornerback prospect, a guy that was as ready as any defensive back in the country from an instinct standpoint. LSU has thrown him into the fire and all he’s done is intercept three passes in four games, return one for a touchdown and emerge as LSU’s best defensive back to this point in the season.

Five-star tight end Arik Gilbert was an expected force on the offensive side of the ball. Even with a bevy of talented options on offense to spread the touches around to, Gilbert sits second on the team in receptions with 16, receiving touchdowns with two and receiving yards with 204. Fellow five-star Kayshon Boutte is fourth on the team in receptions and yards.

Look at the Pro Football Focus ratings for LSU’s defense and you’ll see freshmen Ojulari and Ricks sitting prominently atop the list with the highest PFF grades on the season. When you include junior college transfer Ali Gaye at defensive line and North Dakota State transfer Jabril Cox at linebacker, four of LSU’s top seven defenders are newcomers. All of the top seven are newcomers or second year players.

According to the 247Sports Team Talent Composite rankings, LSU has the sixth-most talented roster in college football. That is a ranking that accounts for the attrition, the opt outs and the departures from last year’s team. That’s noteworthy considering LSU has 68 scholarship players as opposed to the 82 to 85-man counts on the rosters ranked above it.

Imagine what LSU would look like without the recruiting chops and implementation of the new talent that abounds on the current roster. All that time to build leadership and identity lost in the spring and summer is being felt right now in front of our eyes as talented players are being thrust into a more critical role than even they may have anticipated. Baptized in blood, the youngsters will become the leaders by necessity. This COVID-tainted season won’t be one that produces any banners for Orgeron and the Tigers, but it’s proving to be critical anyway.

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