When defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence signed with LSU in 2016 as a top-25 national prospect, he joined one of the most dominant position groups in all of college football.
The Tigers are continually menacing up front, as reflected by LSU producing at least one defensive lineman in 14 of the past 15 NFL drafts. LSU has provided five first-round selections from its defensive front during that stretch — Marcus Spears, Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingo.
Last season: 9-4 (6-2 SEC)
2018 opener: Sept. 2 vs. Miami in Arlington, Texas (7:30 p.m. on ABC)
Fun fact: LSU has posted 16 winning records in SEC play out of 18 opportunities since 2000, the most of any league program. The lone exceptions were a 3-5 league mark in 2008 and a 4-4 record in 2014.
COMING SUNDAY: Ole Miss
"There is a lot of pressure here, but it's a good pressure, because it's a great tradition to uphold," Lawrence said last week in Atlanta at SEC Media Days. "We don't want to let any defensive line group down or be known as soft. We want to be a dominant, aggressive group."
While Alabama and Georgia ranked 1-2 among Southeastern Conference teams in most defensive categories last season, LSU finished third against the run and fourth in both total defense and scoring defense. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Lawrence did his share to help the Tigers, tallying 32 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Lawrence compiled those numbers despite battling an ankle injury that forced him out of early-season games against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Mississippi State and Troy.
"He's a difference-maker, obviously," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "He leads by example. He plays with great technique. Rashard plays that four-technique, but we're going to put him in some three-technique, let him get up the field and be more disruptive and be even more of a dominant player this year."
Orgeron's first full season as LSU's head coach a year ago yielded a 9-4 record, which was highlighted by a comeback triumph over Auburn but soured by a 30-point shellacking at the hands of Mississippi State and an upset loss to Troy. LSU did bounce back from a seventh consecutive loss to Alabama with victories over Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M by the combined count of 108-41, but a 10-win season was denied by a 21-17 loss to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl.
LSU has just 10 of 22 starters returning, with holes at quarterback and running back, which is the primary reason the Tigers were picked at SEC Media Days to finish fifth in the SEC West.
"We respect the media and what they have to think," Lawrence said. "I can't blame them, but we can't control where we're projected. What we can control is our work ethic and what we do every game."
The Tigers have a star at every defensive level with Lawrence, junior linebacker Devin White and sophomore cornerback Greedy Williams, but they will enter preseason camp with quarterback as their most intriguing position. Myles Brennan is their only returning quarterback with experience, having thrown for 182 yards last season as Danny Etling's backup.
The favorite for the job is newcomer Joe Burrow, a graduate transfer from Ohio State.
"Joe Burrow can run the football and extend plays if he has to," Orgeron said. "He's very tough, and he's a leader. Overall, he's very smart, throws in anticipation and is accurate. We felt that he would add to the quarterback competition we already have."
Orgeron is hopeful a starter will emerge in August under new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
LSU will open its season against former Georgia coach Mark Richt's Miami Hurricanes in Arlington, Texas, before visiting Auburn 13 days later. The Tigers have to face Florida on the road for a second consecutive season, and their crossover game from the SEC East this year is Georgia, with the Bulldogs set to visit Tiger Stadium for the first time since 2008.
"They played with Alabama just like we played with them, and they dang near beat them," Lawrence said of the Bulldogs. "They're coming into our stadium, so it will be a great atmosphere."
Lawrence realizes there have been 6-6 forecasts for this year's team, which would result in LSU's worst record since 1999. The Tigers have been shut out of the SEC title game since 2011, but if a quarterback emerges and LSU trots out another stout defense, there is the potential for a much better division finish than fifth.
"I want our legacy to be a team that was, week in and week out, dominant," Lawrence said. "I want you to be able to tell that this team was hungry, and that it showed when they were in the SEC championship and when they were winning the national championship. It's not going to be easy.
"You have to take it a game at a time to get to those big dreams."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.