Tigers' depth will wear down Beavers

Scouts, Inc., goes inside the LSU-Oregon State matchup and sees the Beavers giving the Tigers a minor scare.

Originally Published: September 2, 2004
By Todd McShay | Scouts, Inc.
For the second consecutive week, ESPN's Saturday Night Primetime College Football will cover a defending co-national champion from 2003. After watching USC (2003 Associated Press national champion) sweat one out against unranked Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in the nation's capital, ESPN travels south to Baton Rouge, La., to air the broadcast of defending BCS national champion LSU, as it begins its title defense against Oregon State.

Who: Oregon State vs. LSU (3)
When: Sat., 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
Coach Mike Riley and the unranked Beavers have their work cut out for them as nearly three-touchdown underdogs to Nick Saban's Tigers. However, don't expect Oregon State to roll over. An unranked Hokies team reminded the No. 1 ranked Trojans a week ago that defending a title is extremely difficult.

Saban is 39-13 since taking over in Baton Rouge. He has officially returned one of college football's most storied programs to national prominence with a national title year and LSU (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today) deserves its high preseason ranking. After all, it still has a potentially dominating running game with emerging star Justin Vincent and three starting offensive linemen returning, including two potential All-Americans in OC Ben Wilkerson and LOT Andrew Whitworth.

The Tigers also have some big-time talent returning on defense in DE Marcus Spears, MLB Lionel Turner, CB Corey Webster and FS LaRon Landry. Opposing teams can't afford to forget about Skyler Green and the return game, either. However, with everyone now gunning for the Tigers and several key players to replace, it's going to be difficult to repeat last year's magical run.

There are questions at quarterback, as Marcus Randall beat out the more talented though less-experienced JaMarcus Russell, creating major concerns about the passing game and overall balance on offense. Furthermore, the Tigers need to replace top top-tier defensive linemen Marquise Hill (Patriots, 2nd round) and Chad Lavalais (Falcons, 4th round), who both were selected in the 2004 NFL draft.

If the Beavers are to make things interesting in front of the sold-out crowd at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, they must limit mistakes and exploit some of the aforementioned Tiger weaknesses. QB Derek Anderson needs to emerge as a more consistent passer in his senior season without the help of his go-to-target from a season ago, James Newson. Making matters worse is the challenge of replacing Steven Jackson (Rams, 1st round), who led the Pac-10 with 1,545 rushing yards in 2003 before leaving school early.

While the Beaver offense could struggle to replace key starters at skill positions and along the offensive line from last year's eight-win campaign, the defense should be improved. DE Bill Swancutt, WLB Jonathan Pollard, CBs Aric Williams and Brandon Browner and FS Mitch Meeuwsen are all 2004 Pac-10 award candidates. They anchor a defense with the potential to give Randall and the Tiger offense its fair share of trouble in the opener.

Todd McShay

ESPN Senior Writer