Analyzing the Opponent: LSU

LSU has received praise heading into the 2011 season but living up to expectations could depend on offensive playmakers stepping up. Nine returning starters make it easy for continuity on the offense, but quarterback Jordan Jefferson's play could define the Tigers' season. The seven returning starters on defense provide a nucleus that should be tough again.

WHAT THEY RETURN: The Tigers bring back quarterback Jordan Jefferson and most of his group of receivers. Terrance Toliver was lost to the NFL, but Rueben Randle showed signs of being a go-to target during his freshman season in 2010. Russell Shepard can take the ball to the end zone any time he touches it, and DeAngelo Peterson is a big, possession receiver that will provide a steady target.

Making it easier on Jefferson having the best season of his career is his offensive line. The Tigers return four of five starters from last season's offensive line.

On defense, linebackers Stefoin Francois and Ryan Baker will need to anchor the group. Baker was second on the team last season with 87 tackles.

Sophomore safety Eric Reid will anchor the defensive backfield. He had 32 tackles and two interceptions as a freshman that saw more playing time as the season went on. Senior safety Brandon Taylor is back after recording 44 tackles with five pass deflection and four tackles for loss.

WHAT THEY LOST: LSU was hit with multiple big losses after last season. Besides Toliver on offense, running back Stevan Ridley left early after rushing for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Offensive tackle Joseph Barksdale was a third round pick in the NFL Draft.

The defense lost key playmakers. Defensive tackles Drake Nevis, a first-round pick, and Lazarius Levingston are no longer on the team. Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who led the team with 116 tackles last season, graduated and moved on to the next level.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson might be the biggest loss. He was able to shut down half of the field by himself. The first-round pick recorded only four interceptions because teams stopped throwing to his side of the field. Peterson also played a big role in kick and punt return.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: On offense, this needs to be the year Jefferson has success. He created plenty of optimism when he completed 10-of-19 passes for 158 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a 41-24 Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M. He also rushed for 67 yards and a touchdown in that game.

If he doesn't produce, sophomore transfer Zach Mettenberger could get some time under center.

POSITION THAT NEEDS TO STEP UP: On defense, the defensive tackle position has to do something. It'll be tough to replace what Nevis brought to the Tigers. He was an automatic double team for opponents, yet he still created havoc and was capable of shutting down the running game by himself. Nevis dominated the line of scrimmage against Florida last season.

Michael Brockers, Dennis Johnson and Josh Downs will all be needed on the interior of the offensive line.

The LSU offense needs a productive running back to step up. Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Michael Ford should all see plenty of carries early in the season. Ford had the most productive 2010. He rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns.

Ware, a two-sport player after playing baseball in the spring, had 175 rushing yards and one touchdown in 2010, but he will challenge to see the field.

Fightin Gators Top Stories