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You can read the entire LSU Tigers team preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 SEC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Les Miles, 75-18 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Greg Studrawa | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Chavis
After four years of a confusing and often unproductive quarterback shuffle, LSU goes into a season with a clear-cut starter in junior Zach Mettenberger. The strong-armed junior, a one-time Georgia Bulldog, has a talent-laden offense all to himself after spending the 2011 season No. 3 on the depth chart. “We’re going to throw the ball more because we’re better equipped to do that,” coach Les Miles says.
You won’t find an All-American in the LSU backfield, but there also might not be a deeper or more talented crew in the country. Three Tiger tailbacks rushed for at least 500 yards last year — Michael Ford (756), Spencer Ware (707) and Alfred Blue (539) — and a fourth, Kenny Hilliard, gained 336 on a 5.4-yard average as a true freshman.
The loss of Rueben Randle, one of the most physically gifted wide receivers in the nation, is a blow to the LSU passing attack. Now, it’s time for the next wave of heralded recruits to take over. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, a pair of speedy yet physical sophomores, will be primary targets for Mettenberger. Beckham was a consistent weapon last season.
The strength of what should be a dominant offensive line is at the tackles, with Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst, and at center, with P.J. Lonergan. Keep an eye on La’el Collins, a 5-star recruit from the Class of 2011 who couldn’t get on the field last fall, and true freshman Vadal Alexander.
Is Les Miles One of College Football's Best Coaches?
Depth on the defensive line has been a hallmark the last few years for LSU, and 2012 will be no different, although there’s not as much experience along the front as in past years. The ends are potentially dominant, with Sam Montgomery back and Barkevious Mingo on deck to finally serve as a full-time contributor after being a situational pass-rusher for two seasons. The Tigers are four deep at tackle, even after the loss of Michael Brockers to the NFL.
For a 13–1 team to have a glaring weakness is strange, but that was definitely the case at linebacker last season. Kevin Minter is the only returning starter. Look for several true freshmen to play right away.
LSU has lost an elite cornerback to the NFL in each of the past two seasons, Patrick Peterson in 2011 and Morris Claiborne in ’12. Still, this is a position of strength thanks to the outstanding recruiting efforts of the staff in recent seasons. Tyrann Mathieu is the best-known member of this crew, but as was the case last year, he may not even be the best cover corner on the field. Junior Tharold Simon steps in as the lockdown corner, replacing Claiborne. Eric Reid is an elite safety.
Morris Claiborne, CB
Claiborne earned first-team All-SEC honors and picked off six passes last season. He was widely-regarded as one of the top cover corners in college football and was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Zach Mettenberger, QB There is not a more important player to LSU’s hopes for success than the strong-armed quarterback.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR Showed a knack last season for getting open and then doing something with the ball once he pulled it in.
Chris Faulk, LT Nobody has a bigger task: Keep Mettenberger upright and healthy.
Kevin Minter, MLB The Tigers need more from their linebackers in 2012, and it starts with the veteran Minter.
Eric Reid, FS Reid is the leader of a secondary stocked with talent. He makes plays all over the field.
|Sept. 1st||North Texas|
|Sept. 22nd||at Auburn|
|Oct. 6th||at Florida|
|Oct. 13th||South Carolina|
|Oct. 20th||at Texas A&M|
|Nov. 10th||Mississippi State|
|Nov. 17th||Ole Miss|
|Nov. 23rd||at Arkansas|
LSU boasts three of the best in the nation on special teams — punter Brad Wing, placekicker Drew Alleman, and Mathieu as the primary punt returner. Wide receiver Paul Turner, a former prep quarterback, is an option to replace Claiborne on kickoff returns.
LSU is well-stocked at every position on the field, though a lack of experience at linebacker and the loss of Randle at wide receiver are concerns. The staff believes Mettenberger will upgrade the quarterback position and allow the offense to be more balanced.
There are several potential landmines, but the Tigers are good enough to beat every team on their schedule. Another SEC title and a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game are the expectations in Baton Rouge.