Ready for a fresh start
When LSU has been mentioned this offseason, there are two enduring images that instantly come into fruition.
First, there's the nightmare that was the BCS Championship Game when they were absolutely embarrassed by Alabama to the tune of a 21-0 shutout loss. And then, there's Tyrann Mathieu getting dismissed by head coach Les Miles.
It's safe to say that no team in the nation is ready to get back on the field for a fresh start more than the Tigers.
And who better to lead the charge than quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He's a guy that came to LSU a year ago for a fresh start after disciplinary issues forced him to transfer from Georgia.
After sitting behind much-maligned quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee last season, he has finally been handed the keys to the Tiger offense.
Big things are expected--even with the loss of their biggest play-maker at receiver Rueben Randle.
Many people forget how good LSU's offense was last season because of the two putrid performances against Alabama. But when the Tigers weren't playing the Crimson Tide, they averaged 41 points a game.
On paper, the offense looks every bit as good heading into this season. It's hard to imagine the passing game ranking No. 106 in the nation like they did last year with Mettenberger under center.
The offensive line should be one of the best units in the country--returning four starters from last season.
And though they lose Randle in the passing game, they return tight end Chase Clement, Russell Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham looks to be their go-to-guy. The speedy sophomore had 475 yards receiving as a freshman and has looked very good throughout the offseason.
And on the ground, the Tigers feature one of the best backfields in the nation. The stable includes three guys who rushed for over 500 yards last season in Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue. They also return a runner that averaged 5.4 yards a carry in Kenny Hilliard, and former Redemptorist star Jeremy Hill makes his debut.
Another guy that may just make an impact in the running game is newly-acquired Penn St. transfer Rob Bolden. Bolden is a very quick and athletic quarterback that could be sent in for some option and wildcat looks.
Defensively, it's hard to imagine LSU equaling what they did last year when they gave up only 11 points a game and ranked second to only Alabama in total defense. However, the unit they bring back should be pretty stout.
The defensive line just might be the best in the country--even losing defensive tackle Michael Brockers to the NFL.
Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan all return as well as guys that saw plenty of action last year in Anthony Johnson, Josh Downs and Lavar Edwards.
However, as seasoned as the Tiger front is, the linebacking core is a concern. LSU lost three of their top four linebackers from a year ago. Only Kevin Menter returns.
And after Mathieu's recent dismissal, the secondary has introduced some question marks.
The Tigers have now lost two of their top three corners from last year. They lost a big-time shut-down corner in Morris Claiborne and a guy that was lethal in the blitz and his overall play-making ability in Mathieu.
One big relief is that Tharold Simon returns--a pure coverage-corner that had two interceptions last year, and former Dutchtown star Eric Reid comes back as one of the premier safeties in the country. And though losing Brandon Taylor hurts, Craig Loston comes in with a lot of experience at strong safety.
Special teams takes a big hit without Mathieu back returning punts, but the Tigers return a kicker in Drew Alleman that made 16 of 18 field goals a year ago. Also, punter Brad Wing returns. The Aussie was a Ray Guy Award finalist last year.
Like every season, the schedule is brutal for LSU; that comes with playing in the SEC.
They will have to go on the road to face Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas. And at home, they'll welcome South Carolina and Alabama for the mega-rematch on Nov. 3.
In the SEC, it's survival of the fittest. If the Tigers are able to withstand the gauntlet, they'll end up in Miami for another shot at that BCS crystal ball.