CFN Preview 2013 - LSU Tigers
LSU OT La'el Collins
The Tigers might have to rebuild a bit, but the talent is in place to come up with a huge year.
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By Russ Mitchell
Last year's team was loaded – beyond loaded – with top talent, and today many of the key parts to that very good, but ultimately disappointing puzzle, are off working in the NFL. Meaning once again, Les Miles has to rebuild a bit as well as reload.
Head coach: Les Miles
8th year: 75-18
11th year overall: 103-39
Ten Best LSU Players
1. OT La'el Collins, Jr.
2. DT Anthony Johnson, Jr.
3. RB Jeremy Hill, So.
4. QB Zach Mettenberger, Sr.
5. LB Lamin Barrow, Sr.
6. WR Jarvis Landry, Jr.
7. WR Odell Beckham Jr., Jr.
8. DE Jermauria Rasco, Jr.
9. SS Craig Loston, Sr.
10 CB Tre'Davious White, Fr.
8/31 TCU (in Arlington)
9/14 Kent State
9/28 at Georgia
10/5 at Miss St
10/19 at Ole Miss
11/2 OPEN DATE
11/9 at Alabama
11/16 OPEN DATE
11/23 Texas A&M
However, look a little deeper.
It's true the Tigers lost 11 juniors early to the draft, many of them defensive starters. However, it's not like this came as a surprise to Miles and his staff.
The majority of these players were redshirt juniors that were clearly ready for the next step. As a result, and as part of defensive coordinator John Chavis' usual coaching formula, LSU ran a full rotation of players throughout the 2012 season. So there's more experience in Tiger Stadium than might appear at first glance.
Let alone talent.
Still, while the offense should be better than it's been in years, particularly under the tutelage of new coordinator Cam Cameron, Chevis' defense must still absorb a lot of new parts and do it quickly with September road trips versus TCU and Georgia.
However, a more pressing issue for the Tigers might be simply putting the past two seasons – two almost national title seasons - behind them. It certainly is for the fan base.
LSU's 2011 team might have come up with the best regular season in college football history; soundly beating two conference champions, three BCS bowl winners, and the national champion Crimson Tide...in Tuscaloosa. Then last year the Tigers once again found themselves in the hunt, needing only to close out Alabama with seconds remaining for another shot at a national championship. But once more, the Bayou Bengals fell short on the doorstep.
That kind of disappointment tends to leave a mark.
Welcome to 2013. Unfortunately for LSU, while its nemesis, Alabama, was blessed by the scheduling genie, the Tigers must travel to Athens to face Georgia and deal with Florida, along with that unenviable road trip to Tuscaloosa.
Even with the return of senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger and doubts about star tailback Jeremy Hill - which might be resolved this Monday, the Tigers still return a backfield that would be the envy of most teams in the FBS.
On defense there's more speed than a locomotive, and it's possible the replacements at defensive tackle could be even better - some on the bayou swear that DE Jermauria Rasco has a faster first step than his predecessor, No. 5 overall draft pick, Kiki Mingo.
Still, the tough SEC beckons. Once again, this is a ridiculously talented team with all the parts in place to win a national championship. But as the last two seasons have shown, merely being ultra-talented isn't quite enough.
What to watch for on offense: The offensive line. This was supposed to be a strength for the Tigers last season, but early season injuries and defections led to two freshman playing most of the year on the right side. Right guard Trai Tuner and right tackle Vadal Alexander are back for their sophomore seasons, but there's plenty of talent and upside around them. If the line can stay healthy, and the younger parts can grow into big-time producers as the season goes on, this could be a dominant force.
What to watch for on defense: The defensive line. LSU has become college football's Defensive Line U, having had at least one lineman selected in the last ten straight NFL drafts - eight years in the top three rounds, and a first rounder in four of the last six. LSU rotated nine players religiously in 2012, and only three return. They might be talented, but none of them have material starting experience - 4 starts out of a possible 52 in 2012. The faster this group gels, the faster the LSU defense goes back to being dominant.
The team will be far better if … it can get a legitimate passing game. You remember Alabama's defense last season when Mettenberger had perhaps the best game of his career: it looked positively helpless. Clueless. LSU is throwing the ball - what do we do? It was only on obvious running plays that Bama's defense was able to be Bama's defense. Even with that prodigious game, the Tigers finished the 2012 season with the 92nd "best" pass offense in the nation. Counting backwards, they finished 106th in 2011, then 107th, 97th and 71st. You have to go all the way back to 2007, the Tigers' national title year with Gary Crowton running the offense, to find a decent passing offense. And even then it was only ranked 58th in the nation.
The schedule: The Tigers play UAB in the second game of the season and get Furman in late October. That's it for the breaks and breathers, considering TCU is going to be stronger this season in the opener in Arlington, and Kent State is still going to be decent after coming achingly close to getting into the BCS. Even so, 4-0 is more than likely with Auburn to kick off the SEC season after the date with the Golden Flashes, and then comes the problem.
With all due respect to South Carolina, the two teams no one wants to face from the East are Georgia and Florida, and LSU gets them both. Moreover, LSU's date with the Dawgs starts a run of three road games in four weeks. After going between the hedges, it's more cowbell at Mississippi State before hosting Florida and going to Ole Miss. The Tigers should be the better team in all but the Georgia game, but what kind of a state will they be in by the time they travel to Oxford? Fortunately, Furman and a week off should recharge the batteries before the showdown at Alabama, and another bye week is a godsend before hosting Texas A&M and Arkansas.
Best offensive player: Junior OT La'el Collins. The 6-5, 325 pound Louisiana native returns to his natural tackle spot after playing much of 2012 at guard. Rated as the best prep offensive lineman in the nation two years ago, he has tremendous upside and will be called upon to anchor this young line. It's up to him to keep Zach Mettenberger clean.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Lamin Barrow. This could be a toss-up with DT Anthony Johnson likely the best overall talent, but Barrow will be the star early on. Barrow will likely replace the Arizona Cardinals' Kevin Minter as the leader of this defense after starting all 13 games last season and finishing second on the team – and fifth in the conference – with 104 tackles. Minter was one of those rare linebackers who not only seemed to be in on every tackle, but never seemed to leave the game – even against the high-octane offenses of Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Clemson. Barrow has big shoes to fill, particularly given the inexperience around him.
Key player to a successful season: You could point to either line playing above expectations, but the dark horse here is the X receiver. Nothing helps out a line better than a potent passing offense. In 2011, LSU had the New York Giants' Rueben Randle spreading defenses with a deep threat. Last year the Tigers lost out to the Vols on the Cordarrelle Patterson sweepstakes, and the slight speedster Travin Dural missed his freshman campaign after a pre-season knee injury. As a result, LSU was forced to move Odell Beckham, Jr. from the Slot out to X, and the sophomore struggled to match his All-SEC freshman form, even if his yards per reception jumped. This season, Dural is back and is coming off a great spring. Also in the fold is ex-LSU All-American Patrick Peterson's younger brother, Avery, who like Dural benefited from a solid spring outing. Old mates Cameron and Miles look to spread the field more with the senior Mettenberger – watch if the X receiver keeps opposing defenses honest.
The season will be a success if … LSU wins the national title. Really, what's left? Alabama and LSU have been arguably the two best teams for the past three years, so the bar is set ridiculously high for the Tigers right now. Perhaps beating Alabama would make the season a success – however, beating Alabama likely means winning the West and the SEC. Outside of having to play Alabama in a national title game again, winning the SEC likely means a national championship. Therefore, even with a tough schedule and turnover on defense, it's BCS Championship or Bust.
Key game: Nov. 9 vs. Alabama. The road game against Georgia will likely be a loss, but it doesn't matter. Beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ole Miss in Oxford, and take care of their home slate, and LSU is almost certainly back in Atlanta. There's a chance this could be the true national championship game once again.
2012 Fun Stats:
- 3rd Quarter Scoring: LSU 92 - Opponents 38
- Punt Return Average: LSU 9.1 yards - Opponents 3.5 yards
- Penalties: LSU 94 for 753 yards - Opponents 72 for 524 yards
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