Athlon ranks LSU No. 18

It was the Play of the Year — the Bluegrass Miracle — a 75-yard Marcus Randall-to-Devery Henderson Hail Mary that won last year's Kentucky game 33–30 as time expired and stunned the college football-viewing nation.<br><br>Randall and Henderson both return in 2003, but Randall has company at quarterback in the person of Matt Mauck, who led the Tigers to a 5–1 record before a foot injury shelved him for the year.

Henderson is joined at wide receiver by Michael Clayton, one of the SEC's most dangerous. Shyrone Carey and Joseph Addai are expected to pick up at tailback where LaBrandon Toefield and Domanick Davis left off.

The Bayou Bengals' defense finished eighth overall in Division I-A last season, and seven starters return to action. Leading tackler Bradie James is gone, but All-SEC cornerback Corey Webster is back after notching seven interceptions last fall. Ends Marcus Spears and Marquise Hill and tackle Chad Lavalais return to one of the most ferocious front lines SEC foes will have to face.

Stingy: LSU fielded the No. 2 pass defense in the land last fall, allowing 152.7 yards per game.

Happy New Year: The Tigers have played in back-to-back New Year's Day bowl games for the first time since the '60s.

Instant field position: The 2002 Tigers averaged over 24 yards on kickoff returns, seventh-best nationally.

2002 results: 8–5 (5–3 SEC)

Bowl Game: Lost to Texas 35-20 in Cotton Bowl

Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense, punter

2003 Schedule:

A. 30 Louisiana-Monroe
S. 6 at Arizona
S. 13 Western Illinois
S. 20 Georgia
S. 27 at Mississippi State
O. 11 Florida
O. 18 at South Carolina
O. 25 Auburn
N. 1 Louisiana Tech
N. 15 at Alabama
N. 22 at Ole Miss
N. 29 Arkansas

Schedule Analysis: The Tigers are hoping for some magic at Tiger Stadium this fall. Georgia, Florida and Auburn visit Baton Rouge this year, making the Tigers home slate a challenging one to say the least. On the road, Alabama will be difficult, but Mississippi State, Ole Miss and South Carolina are three teams not expected to be in the thick of the SEC race. If the Tigers can survive the home slate unscathed, they should make it to Atlanta. Of course, that means winning the Battle of the Tigers with Auburn on Oct. 25.

Final Word: LSU saw some extreme highs and lows last year, beating Kentucky on the game's final play and losing to Arkansas in dramatic fashion. When the Tigers pounded Florida, they look like world-beaters. When the Tigers played Texas, they looked like they had some ground to make up on the elite teams in the nation. What will this year bring? If Matt Mauck or Marcus Randall are productive at quarterback, the offense will be solid, and if the linebacking corps finds a way to replace Bradie James, the Tigers will have a good chance to take the SEC West.

To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Sports Southeastern edition, click on the magazine icon below. The Southeastern and National editions are set to hit newsstands June 6.

#19 LSU

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