The biggest what-if of the successful 2022 LSU season is how much better it could have been with Smith, the Tigers’ best player. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound sophomore defensive tackle was poised to be the breakout star of college football this fall before tearing his ACL in the season opener against Florida State. Maybe it doesn’t change the result of any one game (maybe Texas A&M), but LSU’s defense could have been even more of a strength than it was at times this fall.
Smith will be healthy by next season. Now he has another All-American defensive tackle next to him in Mekhi Wingo and one of the other most disruptive stars in the sport in linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. The trio can cause havoc, and the person who stands to benefit most is the freak athlete that is Smith.
Smith controls the run game and takes up two to three blockers with his massive body, but he’s also a swift-moving athlete who was arguably LSU’s best pass rusher as a true freshman in 2021. Defensive coordinator Matt House can get creative with him, and by December, he might be talked about the way Georgia stars Jordan Davis, and Jalen Carter has been the past two years.
Cornerback was supposed to be a mess for LSU this past fall, with the starting unit entirely made up of transfers. Thanks to good scheming and good performances, very few teams had major success attacking LSU on the outside. LSU will have to field a makeshift cornerback unit primarily built on newcomers.
I will preface this prediction because LSU’s cornerback situation looks promising. LSU wanted to ensure it gets younger there so that it doesn’t have to add heavily from the portal every year. It added three high school signees and freshman Texas A&M transfer Denver Harris and Southeastern Louisiana transfer Zy Alexander, who should have two years of eligibility. Well done, LSU.
But it’s worth remembering that LSU’s transfer cornerbacks in 2022 were all veterans. At safety, Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Greg Brooks, and even Joe Foucha were all multi-year Power 5 starters. Mekhi Garner had plenty of experience in winning Louisiana teams, as did Colby Richardson at McNeese. It was all new, but none were new to playing college football.
LSU will arguably be more “talented” at the corner this year, but it might take more time to jell. Harris is a star talent, but he’s played five college football games. Top-100 signee Javien Toviano might start, but he’s a true freshman. Laterrance Welch primarily played special teams in 2022.