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Prediction: LSU will reach New Year’s Six bowl game

It has been five years since LSU reached the Southeastern Conference game, won the SEC title or played in one of the upper-tier bowl games.

Here’s a prediction that the Tigers will snap their drought in one of the three aforementioned areas in 2016.

LSU defensive lineman Davon Godchaux (Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports)

LSU will be the SEC representative in the Sugar Bowl where its opponent will be Oklahoma State, the school where Les Miles began his head coaching career.

Now, the Tigers could advance to the SEC title game with a little help.

LSU will finish the regular season with a 10-2 record, including a 6-2 mark in the SEC. The Tigers will defeat Alabama, but will lose two of their four league road games. Florida and Arkansas loom as the two road opponents to beat LSU.

So, if the Crimson Tide would drop another SEC game, the Tigers would have the tie-breaker and advance to meet Tennessee for the title. Reaching the SEC championship game would give LSU a chance of reaching the College Football Playoffs.

Regardless of what Alabama does in its other seven conference games, the Tigers will do enough to qualify for a berth in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games.

With less than one week before the season-opener against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, LSU’s biggest question mark involves the offensive line. Replacing last season’s two tackles – Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander – has proven to be more difficult than expected.

Three players are still competing for those two spots – K.J. Malone, Toby Weathersby and Maea Teuhema. Most observers felt that Teuhema would be the starting left tackle. But, an ankle injury has obviously affected his work in August practice.

It seems like Malone, a fourth-year junior with no career starts, will win the left tackle job. Teuhema, who started at left guard in 2015 as a true freshman, and Weathersby, who started one game at right tackle last season, are competing for the spot on the right side.

The effectiveness of the LSU offense will still come down to the production of quarterback Brandon Harris and the passing game. With a year of starter’s experience under his belt, Harris should be better as a junior. He needs to complete more than 60 percent of his passes.

Don’t put the entire spotlight on Harris. Wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural must be big-time playmakers. Both Dupre and Dural must help out Harris by making the clutch catch as Jarvis Landry did for Zach Mettenberger in 2013. Moreover, the offensive line must adequately protect Harris.

There are few doubts about the running game. Even if Leonard Fournette doesn’t reach the 1,900-yard mark as he did in 2015, the Tigers will have an efficient ground attack. Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, along with Fournette, give LSU the top running-back trio in the SEC, if not the country.

What the Tigers defense will look like is still an unanswered question. New defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has a completely different system than his recent predecessors – John Chavis and Kevin Steele. One plus is that Aranda will have a veteran group of players to execute his defense.

There are three-year starters at each level of the defense – end Davon Godchaux, inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith and cornerback Tre’Davious White. The secondary should perform much better than last year when it was plagued by mental mistakes.

How dominant the defense will be depends upon the performance of the guys up front. The projected starters in the 3-4 base defense are Greg Gilmore at nose tackle and Godchaux and Lewis Neal at the ends. Outside linebacker Arden Key should benefit the most from Aranda’s scheme.

Predicted order of finish in the Southeastern Conference:

Eastern Division

Tennessee

Georgia

Florida

Missouri

Vanderbilt

Kentucky

South Carolina

Western Division

Alabama

LSU

Ole Miss

Arkansas

Texas A&M

Auburn

Mississippi State

Championship game: Alabama beats Tennessee


Predicted New Year’s Six bowl game matchups:

Semifinal: Peach Bowl (Atlanta) – Clemson vs. Alabama, Dec. 31

Semifinal: Fiesta Bowl (Glendale) – Florida State vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 31

Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens) – Michigan vs. Miami, Dec. 30

Cotton Bowl (Arlington) – Houston vs. Iowa, Jan. 2

Rose Bowl (Pasadena) – Stanford vs. Ohio State, Jan. 2

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans) – Oklahoma State vs. LSU, Jan. 2