LSU football: How can the Tigers make it to 2017 College Football Playoff? First steps begin now
Ed Orgeron celebrated LSU's Citrus Bowl win Saturday with some dance moves during a post-game locker room party.
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"Sort of a rhythmic movement," said a smiling J.D. Moore, LSU's starting fullback. "It was all out of joy."
LSU's celebration of the 29-9 win over No. 15 Louisville swallowed Camping World Stadium on Saturday afternoon, moving from the field, to the locker room and spilling out into a tunnel underneath the 65,000-seat structure.
Orgeron was doused in a post-game Gatorade bath. In an on-field celebration, players tossed lemons and oranges into a small, but roaring, LSU fan section, swiping the fruit from the bowl of the Citrus trophy and hurling them into the stands.
They danced in the locker room, their coach doing a jig that had players chuckling. They celebrated with fans during the walk from the locker room to the busses, and their coach, in the same tunnel, posed for photos with his mother, Coco, and other family members.
"Bayou comes to Orlando!" Orgeron yelled while hugging his mother.
All of it showed the magnitude of such a convincing victory over a team that possessed the Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Lamar Jackson. It's a springboard, players and coaches say, to what they're calling a new era of LSU football -- the Orgeron era.
"Coach O told us in the locker room," guard Will Clapp said, "'it's a great win, but next season, things are going to be different. We're going to be in it (College Football Playoff).'"
LSU's 32nd football coach is setting the bar high, especially for a squad that faces five Southeastern Conference road games in 2017 and loses, potentially, 12 of 22 starters.
Orgeron's road to a possible CFP berth began Tuesday, his first true day in office since the turning to 2017. There's plenty of work to be done over the next few days and weeks.
Orgeron continues his re-recruitment of draft-eligible juniors. For instance, the full-court press is on to keep receivers Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark, a pair of players who have not yet signed with an agent.
He'll need to solidify his staff, too. LSU assistants are off this week. Newly hired offensive coordinator Matt Canada is expected to start full time next week.
Also, Orgeron will welcome in six mid-year enrollees next week, incorporating several freshmen into the program who could immediately help next season. Lastly, he'll ready himself and his staff for the recruiting season's most pivotal stretch. The open contact period begins Jan. 12, allowing coaches to visit high school seniors and their families.
In other words, the next several weeks -- from staff evaluation to underclassmen retention, from the 2017 signing class to the progress of midyear enrollees -- will play a significant role in Orgeron's first full season as head coach.
It began Saturday in the best way possible, a nationally televised rout over a team led by the Heisman Trophy winner and coached by offensive guru Bobby Petrino.
LSU has been dominant when facing Heisman Trophy winners in bowl games. The Tigers continued that trend today. pic.twitter.com/HATiW1vJoE— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) December 31, 2016
"I see it as a step for next year. Feed off of this game for next season," defensive end Lewis Neal said. "They can win a national championship."
Staff decisions must be made, and some of them are already in the works.
Steve Ensminger is expected to remain on staff, potentially returning to his role as tight ends coach.
Dennis Johnson, a graduate assistant promoted to coach outside linebackers in an interim role, is expected to be retained on staff as the outside linebackers coach. Strength coach Tommy Moffitt is expected to be retained, as well. In fact, the program is in the process of extending Moffitt's contract, a source confirmed.
Receivers coach Dameyune Craig's status is unclear. New Oregon coach Willie Taggart several weeks ago reached out to Craig about a job on his staff. The two are close friends. Craig declined comment after Saturday's bowl game.
There's also plenty of work to do regarding draft-eligible underclassmen.
Dupre and Chark are squarely in Orgeron's crosshairs. Orgeron and staff members have spoken with the families of both players recently. The NFL Draft Advisory Committee handed "stay in school" grades to Chark and Dupre, a source told The Advocate.
The departures of Dupre and Chark could leave significant holes at a position that, beyond them, is inexperienced. Something similar unfolded after the 2013 season, when both juniors Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry left, leaving the position with sophomore Travin Dural and two freshmen, Dupre and Trey Quinn.
Fifth-year junior Greg Gilmore was handed a "stay in school" grade, he said. Gilmore said last month that he was leaning to return for his senior year.
Defensive lineman Davon Godchaux, despite receiving a "stay in school" grade, already announced his early departure, along with running back Leonard Fournette. Safety Jamal Adams will announce his decision during a news conference Friday, and most expect him to follow Godchaux and Fournette.
He's projected as a top-15 pick.
"Some guys have made up their mind," Orgeron said Saturday after the bowl victory. "I believe if a guy's a sure-fire first-round pick, he's going to go. That's just the way it is in college football."
Meanwhile, Orgeron and the team's general manager, Austin Thomas, are preparing for a busy next month. The open contract period beginning next Thursday is a precursor to the Feb. 1 national signing day.
The period is a crucial span in which coaches jockey to keep their commitments while solidifying their signing classes with last-minute verbal pledges. The stretch was made even more important with the de-commitment Monday from Alabama inside linebacker Monty Rice. Inside linebacker is an area of "need," Orgeron has admitted recently. LSU has only three scholarship inside linebackers on its projected 2017 roster.
As for current players, some are going in different directions. Those heading to the NFL will begin training for combines, pro days and college all-star games. Returning guys will rest up after a bruising season and then restart training later this month.
Neal, who will play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 21, will begin training in Florida soon, he said. Center Ethan Pocic, a Senior Bowl participant, will head to San Diego for training at EXOS, the same facility in which Jerald Hawkins trained.
Pass-rushing end Arden Key, a draft-eligible junior next season, said he will take two weeks off before preparing for what might be his final college season. Quarterback Danny Etling is looking to next season immediately.
He plans to immediately meet with Canada upon the coach's arrival to Baton Rouge next week -- all part of beginning the climb to reach those lofty expectations.
"Get back to work," Etling said when asked about his next move following the bowl game. "Got to get with coach Canada as soon as I can, hopefully as soon as I touch down back in Baton Rouge, learn that new offense and just compete."
This article is written by Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.