Special teams MVPs

Countdown to kickoff: TSD looks at the five players set to have the biggest impact in the kicking games.

Part seven in the "Countdown to kickoff," offers a look at the five most important players on special teams this season for LSU:

1. Tyrann Mathieu: Wanna bet nobody from Arkansas or Georgia will haggle with this pick? As valuable as Mathieu is to LSU's defense, he has proven a game can turn on any kick when he's on the field, and that's a weapon that is huge in so many ways. Besides the threat of a return – last year that equated to 15.6 yards a punt return and two game-changing touchdowns – Mathieu won't get the ball kicked his direction all the time, and unless it's Wing on the other end of that foot, most punters struggle sometimes with directional, keep-away punting. That could lead to shorter punts and improved field position for the offense. As good as Mathieu is on punts, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him try his hand on kickoffs as well at some point. And as Oregon can attest to, the Tigers' junior playmaker is also demonic on coverage teams. Would you want to see him in the open field if you were a return man?

Brad Wing

2. Brad Wing: There was more than once last season a realistic argument could be made that Wing was that day's MVP because of how miserable he made life for the opposing offense by pinning the ball deep over and over and (27 times inside the 20-yard-line, 13 inside the 10) making the field seem a lot longer against a stout Tigers defense. Not only does he boom the ball – averaging 44.4 yards an attempt last season with 20 kicks of 50-plus yards – he doesn't kick many balls that can be returned and, as mentioned above, is uncanny at directional punting that frustrated teams with a Mathieu-like threat at returner. With the LSU defense as potent as it appears to be, every yard will be tricky for offenses to scratch out to begin with and if Wing is making them have to drive 80-plus yards every time he puts his foot into a ball, that adds to the difficulty. Another thing that can't be overlooked is the soft hands he has shown as a holder, which could come into play even more with a new deep snapper this season. The chemistry between Wing and Alleman is impossible to sell short.

Reid Ferguson

3. Reid Ferguson: Quick – when was the last time LSU was burned by a bad snap? If you're struggling to remember, you know exactly why Ferguson will be so important this season. Joey Crappell was as reliable as it comes when it came to long-snapping the last few years, an art most football fans take for granted because it happens so quickly and is forgotten … unless there are problems. As good as Crappell was, Ferguson shows up at LSU with even more impressive credentials, the No. 2-ranked snapper in the country. Whether that translates to a successful run at the college level remains to be seen, but it certainly doesn't hurt Ferguson to have the talented and athletic Wing on the receiving end of his snaps on both kicks and punts.

Drew Alleman

4. Drew Alleman: If ‘steady' is the best word you can use to describe a kicker, then Alleman certainly has his role down pat. The senior was 16-of-18 on field goals last year and was automatic from 35 yards in and on extra points. He showed the flair for being clutch against Alabama in the regular season and was 3-for-3 from 40 yards out as well. Alleman may be more of a factor on kickoffs this season after abdicating those responsibilities to James Hairston last season. Because of the new kickoff rules and results of touchbacks, LSU coach Les Miles may opt for Alleman, who like Wing, is able to directional kick very well.

Odell Beckham Jr.

5. Odell Beckham Jr.: Beckham is brimming with potential to bring to the kickoff team what Mathieu supplies in the punting game. One of LSU's best open-field runners on offense, Beckham has the kind of speed and instincts a kickoff return man needs and is a little more explosive – although not necessarily as fast – than Morris Claiborne was in that role last season. Beckham, who averaged a robust 24 yards on five returns last season, will share the job initially with Russell Shepard and possibly Paul Turner, but most of the kicks will be handled by No. 3 as the season goes on, and he has a chance to consistently put the Tigers' offense in slid field position. If Mathieu battles the problems with cramps that have plagued him at times or punt returns become too much of a burden, don't be surprised to see Beckham jump into that role as well. He hauled in eight punts last season to get his feet wet and was a home-run threat at Newman High, returning a pair of punts for touchdowns as a senior.

5 defensive MVPs

5 offensive MVPs

5 keys to the season

LSU's season game-by-game

Predicting the West Division race

Predicting the East Division race

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