Fiesta time

LSU-Central Fla. contest could offer preview into next year

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Going into this season, it always looked like this was an LSU team that was maybe a year away from something really special.

So maybe it exceeded expectactions for a team that was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West. Maybe the Tigers (9-3) are ahead of schedule to be playing Central Florida (12-0) on the big stage of today’s Fiesta Bowl.

But if that theory holds, there will be an added attraction for today’s contest.With two key early defections to the NFL draft and a rash of injuries, it could be a pretty good preview of what’s in store for next year.

Yes, there will be plenty of emergency fill-ins, particularly on defense. But what you see today could be what you get for next year.

All-American cornerback Greedy Williams and noseguard Ed Alexander will be missed, but they weren’t going to be there next year anyway.

The team entrusted with halting UCF’s 2-year, 25-game game winning streak will be more of the projected cast of characters. Is it the last game of the 2018 season or the 2019 season-opener?

“To some point, yes,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said of the sneak-peak premise. “But we don’t have our recruiting class in here yet. We’ve got some good guys coming in.”

True. In fact, Orgeron said that incoming freshman cornerback Derek Singletary — who as an early enrollee went through three bowl practices with the Tigers — would be be starting today in a secondary that’s missing three cornerbacks if he was eligible.

That’s an extreme case, perhaps.

It’s also likely that the heart of the LSU defense, All-American linebacker Devin White, will eventually join the two others in declaring for the next NFL draft.

But most of what you see today — including several in bigger roles than usual — will be back next year.

“At LSU when one person goes down, you stick another one in and the train keeps rolling,” White said.

“We recruit the best players. Now we’re going to put a guy in. It is time for him to make a name for himself. It’s a great chance for (them) to make the big step going into next season so everybody knows this is my spot and I’m here and who you can talk about for next year.”

“This could be a big stepping stone for us in the off season as far as the passing game and the rhythm of the offense,” said quarterback Joe Burrow, who’ll be ready to take on expanded role today that should carry over to a more experienced offense next season.

“Winning 10 games would be huge for us going into spring. We have a lot of players coming back so so that would be a great stepping stone for next year.”

Orgeron has seen it.

Two years ago, he said, a convincing victory over Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson made for a spirited offseason for the Tigers. Last year’s late loss to Notre Dame, not so much.”It could be big for us,” Orgeron said.For now, the Tigers will worry about the first day of this year.”They better play their butts off,” Orgeron said. “I can tell you that right now.”Central Florida features a high-powered, up-tempo offense known for wearing teams down with its fractic pace of play. The Knights have scored at least 30 points in every game of the winning streak.”It’s like basketball on grass,” Orgeron said. “It happens so fast, that guys can’t get lined up.”If these guys would be huddling up and going at a normal pace, I’d say it was an advantage for our defensive line. But the pace is the great equalizer.”This is going to be a big challenge for us, one of the biggest challenges all year.”””

LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) drops back to pass in the 2nd quarter against Alabama at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk Meche)

Kirk Meche

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