Zach Mettenberger needs a big season for LSU to contend in the SEC West.
LSU had national title aspirations in 2012 but losses to Florida and Alabama pushed the Tigers to a 10-2 mark at the end of the regular season.
Getting LSU to a spot in the national championship will be even more challenging for Les Miles in 2013, as the Tigers lost a handful of key contributors on defense, and the offense is still a question mark.
A schedule featuring a non-conference matchup against TCU, along with SEC games against Alabama, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida won’t be easy.
The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.
Athlon Sports’ college football top 25 countdown for 2013 is officially underway. To provide some insight into the selections and rankings for 2013, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May.
LSU ranks as Athlon's No. 12 team in the 2013 Top 25 countdown.
What Will LSU's SEC Record Be in 2013?
Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
LSU has the most questions of any of the big six teams in the SEC entering 2013. The offense is going through a change in coordinators, albeit a good change, and the offense’s best player in running back Jeremy Hill may not even suit up because of legal issues. And replacing six starters on defense, five of whom went in the first three rounds of the draft, will be very tough. The Tigers are still talented enough to compete for a championship, though, because Les Miles has recruited so well.
Then, we can throw in the schedule aspect: LSU has one of the toughest in-conference slates of any team. Not only do they play the yearly Alabama and Texas A&M, but when you toss in Florida and Georgia from the East, and it becomes a brutal schedule. Also, Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas will improve upon last year. Finishing .500 in league play isn’t out of the question, but LSU should win five SEC games.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I have major concerns about LSU being able to maintain its recent level of elite national championship contention. This roster has loads of talent on both sides of the ball but is 10-4 in it's last 14 games and just watched more than a dozen elite players depart the roster for the NFL. The game's most important position is still manned by Zach Mettenberger, who has done little to prove to me that he is capable of winning big-time football games in the nation's toughest conference. He has excellent receivers so there is no excuse for him to be so inaccurate and inefficient. And finally, this schedule is downright nasty. While LSU appears to be trending in the wrong direction, every other SEC team appears to be getting better. Road games at Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are all extremely difficult while home tilts with Florida and Texas A&M are no joke. Toss in a neutral site game with TCU in the season opener and always heated divisional rivalrly tests with Auburn and Arkansas and the Tigers have the making of a four-loss season. An 8-4 regular season may be the ceiling for a team that appears to be well past its best days.
The Tigers play Florida and Georgia, the top two teams in the SEC East last year. LSU will be fortunate to split those two games. Road games at Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will be challenging, and Texas A&M will be looking for revenge from last year’s loss in College Station.
There’s still a lot to figure out about LSU, which has to replace seven starters on defense. While coordinator John Chavis believes his starting lineup will be as good as any in the nation, he admits there are concerns about the defense’s depth. There is optimism on the offensive side of the ball with first-year coordinator Cam Cameron, but questions still remain. Is quarterback Zach Mettenberger ready to win big in the SEC? And how will the off-field issues involving running back Jeremy Hill affect LSU’s backfield rotation?
With questions on both sides of the ball and a challenging SEC schedule, a 5-3 finish in conference play should be considered a successful season for LSU. Of course, Tiger fans probably won’t see it that way at the end of November.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
LSU has one of the toughest schedules in the nation, so reaching double-digit victories for the fourth consecutive season will be a challenge. Making matters worse was the departure of several key players to the NFL Draft, leaving only 10 starters returning to Baton Rouge for 2013. The defense was hit the hardest by departures, with defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid all leaving early for the next level. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron could help spark a struggling passing attack, but the status of running back Jeremy Hill is a concern.
The Tigers have three guaranteed victories in non-conference play with UAB, Kent State and Furman. TCU will challenge LSU in the opener, but Les Miles’ team will eventually pull away from the Horned Frogs in the second half. While the Tigers should be 4-0 in non-conference games, there’s a good chance they go 4-4 in SEC play. Losses at Georgia and Alabama are likely, with home games against Texas A&M and Florida placed in the tossup column. The road trip to Ole Miss on Oct. 19 is another swing contest, especially after the Rebels nearly won in Baton Rouge last year.
Anything from 5-3 to 3-5 wouldn’t surprise me for LSU’s SEC record. However, I think the Tigers find a way to get to 4-4 and finish 8-4 overall this season.
With the exception of 2008 (3-5), Les Miles has gone no worse than 5-3 in SEC play in his eight seasons with the Tigers. Ironically, that also is the only season in which Miles' Tigers finished lower than a tie for second in the SEC West. While I do think there's a good chance this year's Bayou Bengals could finish third behind Alabama and Texas A&M in their division, I don't see that happening due to a below .500 conference mark.
LSU does have Florida and Georgia from the East on its schedule, but the Gators and aforementioned Aggies will both have to venture to Death Valley. Even with the questions surrounding the offense and the seven defensive players (eight if you include Tyrann Mathieu) that were taken in April's NFL Draft, Miles always seems to find a way to win a game (or two) that he has no business doing so. "The Mad Hatter" pulls out another one of those this fall (against the Gators? Aggies?), as the Tigers finish 5-3 in the SEC.
Related College Football Content
Texas A&M or LSU: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West?
Is Florida's Jeff Driskel a top-five SEC quarterback for 2013?
Georgia, Florida or South Carolina: Who Will Win the SEC East in 2013?
Will Missouri Make a Bowl Game in 2013?
Ranking the SEC Running Backs for 2013
Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2013
Will Tennessee Make a Bowl in 2013?
Ole Miss or Mississippi State: Who Wins More SEC Games in 2013?
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013
Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Assistant Coaches on the Rise for 2013
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013