5 juniors to watch

Countdown to kickoff: The biggest and arguably most talented Tiger class has plenty of players to watch.

Zach Mettenberger

Part nine in the "Countdown to kickoff," offers a look at five juniors who must have an impact this season for LSU:

1. Zach Mettenberger: Yeah, turns out this Mettenberger guy winds up on the top of a lot of these lists, and for good reason. There's so much talent on LSU's roster, it's hard to say one spot holds that much potential value even of it is QB. However, anybody else remember 2008? On offense, at least, LSU will go as Mettenberger goes when games are tight and come down to the wire. Yes, the Tigers will be a predominantly run-first team, but when they need or want to throw the ball, Mettenberger has to deliver and be the kind of efficient and consistent signal-caller a championship caliber team needs to have.

Craig Loston

2. Craig Loston: Nobody has ever doubted Loston's potential to be an impact player. It's just been increasingly difficult for him to stay on the field and be healthy in three years in purple-and-gold. Now, more than ever, the Tigers need the former five-star recruit to fight through bumps and bruises and be careful about injuring himself with a violent collision. The window of opportunity for Loston is wide open this season and next to carve out a chance to play professionally if he can shrug off three seasons of frustration, step in and fill the role that Brandon Taylor has the last few seasons as a wildcard on a very talented defense.

Tharold Simon

3. Tharold Simon: It's arguable that nobody has bigger shoes to fill than Simon as he steps into the starting spot vacated by Mo Claiborne. Simon has already shown he can handle be a solid cover corner, but now he has to step into the frying pan as the CB assigned to lock down the opponent's No. 1 receiver on a consistent basis. Unlike new starters at other positions, Simon won't have the luxury of easing into his new role. He'll get tested early and often and needs to quickly establish himself as a lockdown DB.

4. Spencer Ware: After blasting onto the scene in the final game of the 2010 season and carving a niche as a bulldozer back early last season, Ware's star faded midway through last season when he was suspended for a game after failing a drug test. LSU doesn't need the former go-to back to be spectacular, but they need him to accept what could be a new role as a backup or co-No. 1 in the backfield and not let that effect his productivity when he steps on the field. Ware is the Tigers' best receiver out of the backfield and the former high school quarterback might be a decent choice as a wildcat QB if LSU opts to try and attack a defense that way.

J.C. Copeland

5. J.C. Copeland: Toiling in anonymity for the most part, Copeland isn't a name that jumps off the page in most games. That's because unless you're watching closely, he's almost like background scenery – effective, hole-blowing open scenery as he contributes in a massive way to LSU's bruising ground game. While the ball carriers get the glory and Mettenberger looks good when he's unfazed by a blitz, it's often Copeland who is either clearing a path or picking off a linebacker and allowing the offense to click. If Copeland follows up his first two years with more improvement, and perhaps even adds a few receptions or short-yardage totes to his arsenal, the Tigers' offense could be lethal.

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5 defensive MVPs

5 offensive MVPs

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LSU's season game-by-game

Predicting the West Division race

Predicting the East Division race

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