LSU's 2012 season game-by-game

Countdown to kickoff: A look at how the Tigers will fare this fall as they hunt for another chance at winning the BCS Championship.

Part three of the "Countdown to kickoff," with my game-by-game prediction of LSU's 2012 campaign:

1. North Texas at LSU, Sept. 1:
After three years of high-profile, made-for-TV season openers, this one is a pretty big letdown. But it's hard to imagine with all the pre-season hype and attention the Tigers have gotten that they won't have plenty enough focus to manhandle the overmatched Mean Green. This is the biggest mismatch to start an LSU season since 2006 when UL-Lafayette provided the fodder for a team with national championship aspirations. The Tigers won that game 45-3 and North Texas won't provide much more resistance with the Zach Mettenberger era launching on the right foot with 250-plus yards and three passing touchdowns. … LSU 49, North Texas 7

2. Washington at LSU, Sept. 8:
A week later, here's the big-name opponent as the Huskies come to Baton Rouge for the first time since 1983. Washington's offense, led by junior quarterback Keith Prince (3,063 yards, 33 TDs in 2011), will be a great primer for the LSU defense leading into the SEC season. Prince guided the Huskies to a huge offensive day in a 67-56 shootout loss against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, but UW's porous defensive performance led to changes. Justin Wilcox bolted Tennessee for the Great Northwest and will have a blueprint to follow against the Tigers after facing them the last two seasons. But the Huskies don't have the talent to keep pace against an LSU offense that will find a new gear in Week 2, this time with Kenny Hilliard and Michael Ford anchoring a massive rushing day. … LSU 41, Washington 13

3. Idaho at LSU, Sept. 15:
As much of a mismatch as the season opener will be, this one could be exponentially worse. The Vandals lack the talent and manpower of North Texas and haven't beaten a BCS conference foe since 2000. With the league season looming, LSU will get a chance to rotate in most of the reserves in this one-sided rout, which means some meaningful snaps for backup QBs Stephen Rivers and Jerrard Randall and the host of freshmen linebackers and defensive backs who are basically auditioning for spots on the SEC travel roster. Another dominant ground attack is the foundation as the Tigers' offensive line humbles Idaho from start to finish. … LSU 63, Idaho 0

4. LSU at Auburn, Sept. 22:
With things getting real, the Tigers head to the Plains and Jordan-Hare Stadium, which hasn't been a barrel of fun for the most part since Les Miles arrived. But these two programs have gone in vastly different directions since Cam Newton plowed over Patrick Peterson for his signature moment of a Heisman Trophy and national championship season in 2010. AU is nowhere close to being back to contender status in the West Division and by Week 4 could be looking to avoid a third loss. There's uncertainty at the quarterback position and a talent dropoff on defense that led to a rocky 2011 campaign. Entertaining the steamrolling Bayou Bengals won't be a remedy for whatever is ailing Auburn by the end of September. AU's front seven might make running the ball a little tougher than the first three games, but that will simply open up the chance for Mettenberger to pick apart the Auburn secondary as he notches his first career 300-yard game. … LSU 38, Auburn 14

5. Towson at LSU, Sept. 29:
When this game was scheduled, there was a mild uproar about LSU playing an abysmal Football Championship Sub-Division team. Towson isn't so abysmal anymore, though. The Maryland-based Tigers blazed to the Colonial Athletic Association championship last season with a 7-1 record to punch a ticket to the national playoffs. Sophomore running back Terrance West led FCS with 29 rushing TDs last season and is a big reason why Towson wound up ranked No. 9 in the final polls and will start this season in the top 10. Talent-wise, Towson isn't on par with the Appalachian State teams that visited Tiger Stadium in the last seven seasons, but Towson won't be as much of a walk-over as once expected. Still, even though there figure to be some bumps and bruises from what is always a tough and physical showdown with Auburn, LSU will flex its muscle in the trenches as the defense carries the day – look for a breakout day from Tharold Simon or Craig Loston. … LSU 41, Towson 3

6. LSU at Florida, Oct. 6:
Similarly to Auburn, the Gators will enter this game hungry for a win after a rugged September stretch featuring road games at Texas A&M and Tennessee. The Florida defense supplies the chance to hang around in most games, but the problem will be a still unsettled quarterback situation for the Gators as they enter the tough middle portion of their schedule. That's not a good place to be against the Tigers' defense, which will be starting to round into form by October. Something about the Gators brings out the competitive juices in LSU and Miles, and the same is true of Florida. That should keep this one closer longer than most might expect, but a late touchdown caps a grind-it-out victory that keeps the Tigers unscathed. … LSU 24, Florida 14

7. South Carolina at LSU, Oct. 13:
In what sets up as the first potential top-10 showdown of the season at Tiger Stadium, this game will be a crossroads for both teams on a collision course for a rematch in the 2012 SEC Championship Game. Two unbeaten powerhouses, two of the more balanced teams in the country and a national TV audience poised to watch a game dripping with drama. Mettenberger finally shows some chinks in his decision-making armor and the Gamecocks offense – in a red-hot groove after sparking a major victory against Georgia the week before – catches LSU off-guard with Marcus Lattimore splashing into the Heisman Trophy discussion with a huge day on the ground. A late turnover seals the Tigers' fate. … South Carolina 21, LSU 17

8. LSU at Texas A&M, Oct. 20:
Somebody will have to pay the price for the Tigers' suffering their first regular-season loss since the end of the 2010 season and it happens to be an old rival that gets in the way. When LSU shows up at Kyle Field, the Aggies will be bracing for a treacherous three-game stretch of road games at Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama. You can't expect A&M to look past the Tigers in the first regular-season battle between the two old foes since 1995, but LSU will be totally refocused on the task at hand after stumbling to South Carolina. The Aggies offense will be stout under offensive guru Kevin Sumlin, but nothing the Tigers haven't seen in the first seven weeks. And the A&M defense will be beat up after six games and unable to put up much resistance. This one will be close for a half and then LSU explodes as Mettenberger gets back on track and Hilliard runs wild on the Aggies. … LSU 45, Texas A&M 14

9. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 3:
Just in case two emotional games weren't enough to fuel the Tigers' fire, they'll have two weeks to rest up and generate all the momentum they need for the game that is circled on every player's calendar and has been since Jan. 10. There won't be a more hyped game in the SEC or maybe the country all season, and both teams will take the field at Tiger Stadium with a loss – knowing full well another setback eliminates them from the national championship hunt. Defense will again rule, of course, and every inch of turf will be valuable. The two teams' strengths will cancel each other for the most part, but LSU's depth in the backfield and Mettenberger's momentum carries over as he quickly establishes himself as the best quarterback on the field and torches the Crimson Tide for a handful of long pass plays to spark a huge victory. … LSU 23, Alabama 13

10. Mississippi State at LSU, Nov. 10:
Back in the thick of the national title hunt, LSU doesn't let up against a Bulldogs' team that figures to be physically drained after back-to-back games against Alabama and Texas A&M. State will have enough of a pass defense to frustrate Mettenberger, but not enough bulk up front on either side to match up with the Tigers. LSU's defense will duplicate the performance it had against the Bulldogs last season and never let them find an offensive rhythm. Three LSU backs flirt with 100 rushing yards and a wave of State turnovers will turn this one into a rout early. … LSU 38, Mississippi State 10

11. Ole Miss at LSU, Nov. 17:
Last year's LSU-Ole Miss game was ugly. This one could be worse. The Tigers will score whenever and however they want to and the defense won't find much trouble against a Rebels team again playing out the November string. A main priority for Miles will be to keep as many key players healthy as possible for the regular-season finale, so expect an offensive performance similar to last year against Ole Miss, with several backs getting work and Rivers and Randall both taking snaps for most of a quarter to get some experience under their belts. … LSU 56, Ole Miss 7

12. LSU at Arkansas, Nov. 23:
Big stakes and LSU faces Arkansas in November. So what else is new? The Tigers will have a chance to sew up the West Division championship outright, while the Razorbacks will try to force a three-way bottleneck and gain a trip to Atlanta with the tiebreaker. LSU's balance will be the difference, with the league's top defense trumping the SEC's most potent offense. Arkansas will move the ball in the first half and feed off an energized Razorback Stadium crowd seeing its first LSU-Arkansas game in Fayetteville since 1992. A turnover late in the second quarter will flip momentum and the Tigers will unleash a suffocating second-half effort. Some special-teams lightning and an efficient offense are a perfect recipe as LSU makes back-to-back SEC title game appearances for the first time. … LSU 35, Arkansas 14

13. SEC Championship Game – LSU vs. South Carolina, Dec. 1 (Atlanta):
In the first rematch in Atlanta for the Tigers since 2003, they take out take out their frustrations on both sides of the ball from the mid-October meeting. Mettenberger is superb in his first start in his home state and helps LSU light up the scoreboard, while the defense stifles Lattimore and forces Carolina to lean on Connor Shaw – which backfires when the Tigers' secondary delivers its best performance of the season with four interceptions. LSU rolls to another SEC crown and snags a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. … LSU 41, South Carolina 13

14. BCS National Championship Game – LSU vs. Southern California, Jan. 7 (Miami):
Well here we finally are. Nine years after the fact, the Tigers and Trojans get together to settle a national championship, and it's fitting that neither team will have a home-field advantage this time. USC will barely break a sweat on the way to an undefeated regular season and Matt Barkley will bring the Heisman Trophy with him to South Beach. With the meltdown in New Orleans as motivation, LSU will come out focused and ready for another chance to surpass Florida and Alabama in the penthouse of college football with three BCS crowns under the current format. This one shapes up as a game for the ages with the outcome … TBD.

Countdown to kickoff: Predicting the West Division race

Countdown to kickoff: Predicting the East Division race

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