What were the expectations heading into LSU's season? Were those expectations met?
LSU entered the 2012 season with the highest of expectations, coming off a national title game appearance the season prior and returning a host of experienced, talented players. But, the expectations bar dropped a bit lower after the Tigers lost 2011 Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu in Fall Camp and no less than five other regular starters during the team's first few games.
Given the attrition LSU experienced and the amount of young players pushed into full-time starting roles, I feel the Tigers at 10-2 probably exceeded expectations (and pushed their realistic limitations).
However, considering the South Beach trip many in Baton Rouge coveted in early August, you'd have to say this team didn't live up to the preseason hype and reach its ultimate goal.
What one player stands out as the Tigers' key factor to success this season?
Middle linebacker Kevin Minter stands out as the one LSU player who carried this team in a big way for much of the season. After splitting starting duties a year ago with Karnell Hatcher, Minter took over full-time duties in 2012 and racked up an amazing 111 tackles to go with 13.5 tackles for loss, both team highs. The junior from Georgia also amassed three sacks.
Minter was the heart and soul of the Tigers' stout defense, solidifying a group under John Chavis that tested out a lot of new parts in the back four and had problems with consistency along the defensive line. Minter brought it every game.
When did the momentum shift for LSU this season?
Ultimately, LSU's seasons of late hinge on the team's encounters with Alabama - at least when determining if the Tigers can make it to Atlanta.
It would probably be fair, though, to say that the South Carolina game was a big momentum-changer for LSU in 2012. The game with Steve Spurrier's bunch came a week after Les Miles' men had lost on the road to Florida. The Tigers were able to get back in the win column in a big way against the Gamecocks, beating a top-three team and then taking down ranked Texas A&M on the road before hosting 'Bama in what was a thriller of a game.
LSU may have lost the game, but the Tigers proved they were a few plays away from winning it and being in the driver's seat to get back to the national title. None of that's possible if the Tigers hadn't found their legs and confidence against South Carolina.
How has this season affected recruiting in the class of 2013?
This season for LSU has done relatively little to change the recruiting momentum the Tigers already had going from 2011.
Last year was the season that helped put LSU on the map a bit more nationally, getting wins at West Virginia and against Oregon in Dallas. The Honey Badger and that team mesmerized recruits. As as a result, LSU has compiled a fantastic out-of-state crop including Greg Gilmore, Christian Lacouture, Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig for 2013.
The one game that did really help the Tigers this year, though, was Alabama. Even in a loss, Tiger Stadium got to a place late in that ballgame it hadn't been - to that extent - in a few years.
What is your team's biggest Christmastime headline?
The headline for LSU is all about which juniors decide to declare for the NFL Draft in the upcoming weeks and months.
There's a lot of talent for the Tigers which seemingly might be heading pro, most of it defensive talent - from Sam Montgomery and KeKe Mingo to Bennie Logan and Eric Reid. Even Tharold Simon and possibly Kevin Minter might decide to forego their final years of eligibility in Baton Rouge. LSU fans are wary to learn just how many holes their team will have to fill heading into spring football and next season.
Thanks to Tiger Sports Digest's Ben Love for his in-depth contribution to this report.