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Could LSU transfer portal whiffs cost Tigers a chance to make the College Football Playoff in 2024?

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton05/14/24


Brian Kelly’s recent viral NIL thoughts have been dissected enough. I come not to offer further comment on whether or not LSU is a broke boy program or if Kelly is anti-NIL. 

Neither are true. 

What is worth examining is the aftermath, not of Kelly’s comments, but the results of LSU’s inaction in the spring transfer portal window. 

Despite obvious needs at defensive tackle and in the secondary, the Tigers weren’t willing to pay the market rate for either overpriced commodity, and now the question is did the Tigers’ transfer portal whiffs cost them a chance to make the College Football Playoff in 2024?

Is LSU too thin defensively to contend for a playoff spot this fall?

Last season, LSU had the best offense in the country — and one that rivaled the Tigers’ historic unit in 2019 led by Joe Burrow. Jayden Daniels won the Heisman Trophy, while Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. formed the best receiver duo in the country. 

Yet, LSU squeaked its way to a 10-3 season, missing the SEC Championship Game and never truly sniffing playoff contention. The defense was so abominable that simply being bad might’ve positioned the Tigers to get to Atlanta and contend for the CFP. 

Fast forward to now, and LSU lost its famed QB1, both 1st-round receivers and the offense’s play-caller. Kelly cleaned house — literally, coordinator Matt House and the rest of the staff were fired — on defense and made Missouri DC Blake Baker the highest-paid assistant ever to fix the unit. 

While Daniels & Co., will be missed, the Tigers should be fine offensively in 2024. Garrett Nussmeier has a high ceiling and has waited patiently for his opportunity. LSU has the best offensive line in the country and remains flush with receiver talent, particularly with the transfer additions of CJ Daniels from Liberty and Zavion Thomas from Mississippi State. There’s optimism Joe Sloan is ready to be a play-caller, too. 

But the Tigers look — at best — a real work in progress defensively, and you have to really squint to even get there. 

They lost incumbent tackles Maason Smith and Mekhi Wingo, who even on a terrible defense, were easily their top two defensive linemen. There remains uncertainty with how potential phenom Harold Perkins Jr. will fair inside after his sophomore slump season. The secondary, one in which allowed the most 15+ yard gains in the SEC in 2023, is likely to feature at least one freshman in the starting lineup (corner PJ Woodland) — and maybe more. 

LSU saw 27 players transfer out of the program this offseason, and after two years of using the portal more aggressively, the Tigers added just seven newcomers — just four defensive guys. 

Thus far, the Tigers’ lone spring add was Wisconsin defensive lineman Gio Paez, a sixth-year senior who graded out as a plus run-defender last season, per PFF. 

Paez is a solid supplemental piece, but Kelly had promised more, and regardless of the why or how, much like the Battle of the Alamo, the reinforcements never arrived. 

LSU hosted multiple tackle targets, yet TCU‘s Damonic Williams (Oklahoma), Michigan State‘s Simeon Barrow (Miami) and Michigan State’s Derrick Harmon (Oregon) all ended up elsewhere. 

Now, the Tigers remain paper-thin at defensive tackle. They’re counting on pair of blue-chip freshmen (Ahmad Breaux and Dominick McKinley) to immediately provide rotational snaps. They’re crossing their fingers that former 5-star DaShawn Womack will assert himself as a major presence at edge/end.

That’s a lot of uncertainty for a defense that allowed 6.1 yards per play last season and lost a game where their offense scored 49 points in regulation. 

LSU’s 2024 schedule is not terrible, particularly by the new-age SEC conference realignment standards. The Tigers do open the SEC against USC in Las Vegas, but their conference road games are at South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida — all winnable. They get Ole Miss, Alabama and Oklahoma at home. 

Still, when you do the behind-the-napkin math, I see some natural offensive regression + continued concerns defensively – a schedule that still features plenty of potholes that = no CFP spot in 2024. 

Considering LSU’s preseason odds of making the 12-team field sit around 50% currently, that coin flip looks weighed in the wrong direction after Kelly and the Tigers totally whiffed on addressing their defensive depth issues at tackle and corner.