1. Zach Mettenberger: Under the "no-brainer" heading, this is as clear-cut as it gets. Mettenberger is arguably the biggest name to step into a starting role at any position for LSU since Ryan Perrilloux filled in for Matt Flynn in the 2007 SEC Championship Game. The Tigers have grappled with mediocre and erratic quarterback play for four years and now Mettenberger gets a chance to erase some of that bad taste. The offense will again and always be run-based under Les Miles, but if Mettenberger can exploit play-action opportunities like Jarrett Lee was able to early last season and balance the attack, the Tigers' stable of running backs could find even more room to roam. All Mettenberger needs to do is be good – not great – and limit turnovers to ensure that LSU remains in the thick of the national championship hunt.
2. Chris Faulk: All that stuff about Mettenberger above? Sure would help if he is exposed to as few hits as possible from his blind side, and that makes Faulk's impact this fall mammoth. He was rock-solid last season and was a big reason why the LSU quarterbacks – Lee in particular – had confidence that they'd have to time to be effective in the pocket. Faulk needs to have that same kind of season, perhaps even better, because Mettenberger won't have the elusiveness of Jordan Jefferson or the quick release of Lee to compensate for a missed block coming from that side. It won't take long for Mettenberger to establish what kind of time and protection he needs when he's in the pocket, but until then, Faulk is invaluable to his QB and by proxy, the offense.
3. Kenny Hilliard: There will be a lot of carries to spread among 4-5 backs, but Les Miles said last week the goal is to establish the top two and ride them as much as possible. Hard to imagine with Miles' affinity for big powerful backs and Hilliard's emergence last season that he won't be in that mix. Regardless of what Hilliard's specific role is, he figures to be the short-yardage back off choice and that should lead to plenty of carries with first downs and touchdowns at stake. Those are the yards and carries that win championships, especially for a unit that figures to regularly set the tone with the ground game. Hilliard has to show some consistency and be adept at doling out punishment, a la Charles Scott, Stevan Ridley and Jacob Hester. He could work into the mix as a fullback now and then to give LSU a more versatile and damaging backfield.
|Odell Beckham Jr.|
4. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry: Mettenberger won't have Rueben Randle to play catch with, but he has plenty of speed at receiver with these two – both of whom made an impact at times last season. Neither is as big a target as Randle, but both have better hands and more explosive speed once they get the ball in their possession. How effective Mettenberger can be will tie into how fully these two embrace their roles as go-to receivers and how difficult they make it for opposing defenses to try and frustrate one or the other. LSU and Mettenberger need contributions from an older set of receivers more adept as possession guys because that will free Beckham and Landry downfield. If both sophomores wind up in the 40- to 50-catch range and score 6 TDs or more, the Tigers could be awfully tough to contain.
5. Josh Dworaczyk and/or La'el Collins: With starters back at every other offensive line spot, these two will battle it out for the left guard job and whoever wins will be on notice to make sure there's not a weak link up front, especially in the running game. The other side of that equation is that whoever does not win the starting job will fill the sixth man role like T-Bob Hebert did last season, playing ether guard spot and, in this case, also the tackle positions. Depth was a luxury last season when Dworaczyk went down before the season and wound up missing the campaign and petitioning for a sixth year. That led to chemistry up front, which is something the Tigers would welcome again with a veteran team.