Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports
LSU's continued lack of a functional offense might be the cause of a down year in 2013.
In geopolitics, there is a concept called the resource curse. Countries that are rich in a particular natural resource often end up with a worse overall economy than less blessed nations because the income from that resource papers over the other deficiencies. Things in the country seem fine until that resource either runs out or sees its price fall. Suddenly all of the other problems come to light, and then it could get ugly.
That concept comes to mind when I think about LSU football. The Tigers have been one of the best programs in college football over the last decade. They've won 10 games seven times in the stretch along with three SEC titles and two national titles. It has largely done it through defense, and in particular with fearsome defensive lines. The state of Louisiana is great at producing good D-linemen.
Over the first half of the last decade, the team also had pretty good offenses. Over the past few years, not so much. The team has been winning more in spite of the offense than because of it. I haven't gotten the sense that there's a sense of urgency to fix it in Baton Rouge, either. After all, they keep winning.
As you may have heard, however, there's a mass exodus of Tiger defensive players leaving early for the NFL. LSU won't be hurting for talent per se as the school recruits with the best of them. However for the squad to have any depth at all (on the line especially), it's going to need true freshmen to contribute. That's a difficult position to be in.
It's not unreasonable, then, to imagine LSU's defense taking a few steps back next year. It's been a top five or ten defense the last two seasons, and the best players are now heading to the pros. It's possible to sustain a defense that good while losing the core, but it's really, really hard to do. Plus while John Chavis is one of the best, he's not immune to having a down year. No one is.
Will the offense be able to pick up the slack? It's doubtful. I haven't seen much of anything in the post-Matt Flynn era that suggests there was any attempt made at major changes to turn things around. Even after Gary Crowton was politely told to find somewhere else to be, his chosen replacement was Steve Kragthorpe. Kragthorpe's offenses regressed each year he was at Louisville, and Tulsa got dramatically and immediately better on offense after he left. Hiring Kragthorpe was a sign that robust offense was not on the menu. While it's true that Kragthorpe's unfortunate health situation ended up pressing Greg Studrawa into service as offensive coordinator, it's hard to imagine much of anything being different had that not happened.
So, 2013 might be the year in which the neglect on offense really hurts the team badly. Consider LSU's 8-5 campaign in 2008. That was the season of the infamous co-defensive coordinators experiment that incited so much anger in the fan base. The defense from that year was 32nd in total defense, 56th in scoring defense, 23rd in yards per carry defense, and 42nd in passing efficiency defense. Those ranks are below LSU's standards for sure, but they're not a catastrophic and are all better (some much better) than Chavis's bad 2007 season at Tennessee. They're also not too far off from Auburn's 2010 national title team, except Auburn's rushing defense was a lot better and its passing defense was a lot worse.
The 2008 offense wasn't able to make up for the defensive decline, and the team lost five games. That offense, however, actually scored more points in its 13 games (402) than the 2012 offense scored in its 13 games (387). I could imagine next year's LSU offense barely cracking that 400-point barrier, but I can't see it smashing through it to something much higher.
LSU's defense has been good enough to make up for a bad offense in recent years, but I think that resource is about to run dry a bit. Some writers are putting LSU in the top 15 of their way-too-early 2013 top 25 rankings, outside of the national title hunt but still among the nation's best teams. I really think the downside risk is a lot greater, especially with the schedule not being terribly friendly (TCU to open, UF and UGA from the East, Bama a road game, Texas A&M). A four- or five-loss season would not shock me for LSU next fall.