Week 1 of the college football season doesn’t have a ton of marquee matchups, but there should be plenty of intrigue when LSU and TCU meet in Arlington, Texas on Saturday night.
Adding to the interest level for Saturday night’s game is a little gamesmanship between the two head coaches. LSU’s Les Miles has refused to indicate whether or not running back Jeremy Hill will be suspended for an off-the-field incident. And after announcing a two-game suspension for defensive end Devonte Fields earlier in the offseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson has indicated he will dress and appear on the sidelines during the game. Fields isn’t expected to play, but the mind games for a huge non-conference matchup were in full effect this week.
For the second time in three years, LSU opens a season with a neutral site affair in Arlington. The Tigers defeated Oregon 40-27 in 2011, which helped to key a run to the national championship.
Three Things to Watch
Casey Pachall’s return to the starting lineup
TCU coach Gary Patterson has remained coy on his choice to start at quarterback on Saturday night, but all signs point to Casey Pachall returning to the lineup. The senior missed most of last year due to a suspension and was pushed by backup Trevone Boykin for the No. 1 spot this offseason. Pachall is the better passer, but Boykin’s mobility could be an asset against LSU’s defense. How rusty will Pachall be in his return to the starting lineup? With plenty of talent at receiver and running back, Pachall doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards. But with a fast and athletic defense like LSU waiting to pounce, the senior has to be smart and efficient in his return to the lineup.
TCU’s pass rush
Although Fields will be on the sidelines for this game, the sophomore is not expected to play. And there’s no question TCU will miss his presence off the edge. Stansly Maponga left for the NFL after 2012, and with Fields suspended, defensive tackles Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter are the top returning sack men (3.5 last year) for the Horned Frogs. Senior Jon Koontz, junior Matt Anderson and sophomores James McFarland and Josh Carraway will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders as they try to generate a pass rush and replace Fields’ production for the first two games of 2013.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger
Mettenberger had his share of ups and downs in 2012, finishing the year with 2,609 passing yards and 12 scores. More is expected out of the senior in 2013, as former NFL coordinator Cam Cameron was brought aboard to improve the offense. Mettenberger showed signs of promise last year when he threw for 298 yards against Alabama but finished the year by throwing for just 120 yards in the bowl loss to Clemson. Mettenberger isn’t short on talent or capable playmakers at receiver, so there’s plenty of pressure on him to deliver in 2013. TCU’s pass rush will miss Fields, but the secondary is one of the nation’s best. Is Mettenberger ready to step up in 2013? Saturday night should give the LSU coaching staff a good idea of just how far along the senior has improved since last year.
Key Player: TCU’s offensive line
We will cheat just a bit here and list an entire unit instead of one player. TCU’s offensive line was shaky at times last year, allowing 2.2 sacks a game. Only two starters are back this season, and starting tackle Tayo Fabuluje decided to leave the team in fall practice. LSU’s defensive line will have four new starters but isn’t short on talent. Tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson will be a handful, and ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are athletic and fast off the edge. Can TCU’s offensive line give Pachall time to throw and open up lanes for its running backs?
Despite the new faces stepping into the lineup, LSU is still one of the top 10-15 teams in college football. TCU is one of the frontrunners to win the Big 12, but the Horned Frogs might be a bigger mystery than the Tigers in Week 1. How will Pachall perform? Can the offensive line match up against LSU’s defense line? TCU’s defense will make life difficult for Mettenberger and the rest of the Tigers’ offense. However, LSU does just enough on that side of the ball to edge the Horned Frogs.
Prediction: LSU 27, TCU 20