There will be three keys to continued success for LSU this season:
1. Matt Mauck has to get it done at quarterback. The 24-year-old sophomore doesn't have to replace Rohan Davey; that's way too much to ask. But he does have to show that he can be an SEC-caliber quarterback. He has plenty of talent around him, both at the skill positions and along the offensive line, so all he really has to do is not turn the ball over and move the offense.
Jimbo Fisher would like to have a balance between running the ball and passing but may likely emphasize the running game more until Mauck proves he can make plays. He also must avoid injuries, as the backups are unproven.
2. LaBrandon Toefield must stay healthy. Toefield is a bruising power runner with the speed to cut it outside and break for long gains. His SEC-record-tying 19 touchdowns last year were no fluke. But Toefield was often playing hurt and then tore his left ACL in the SEC championship game.
This year he'll be playing on two reconstructed knees (he blew out other one late in his junior year of high school) and will probably be facing more defenses out to stop him. Luckily Domanick Davis, Joseph Addai and the incoming freshmen all have the talent to spell him when needed. But make no mistake, a healthy Toefield makes LSU's offense a lot more potent.
3. The defense must improve. LSU gave up way too many big plays in the passing game. And while the secondary did improve down the stretch, there is still a ways to go.
Demetrius Hookfin must improve his concentration and anticipation in coverage, and either Randal Gay or Travis Daniels will have to step up at the other cornerback position.
Luckily, LSU potentially has one of the more talented front seven in the SEC. If Marquise Hill and Marcus Spears can provide a pass-rush threat from their defensive end positions, it will automatically help the secondary by not forcing them to cover receivers for as long. Too many times last year the Tigers were only able to bring the pressure on all-out blitzes. If Spears and Hill can generate a pass-rush from base defenses, it will give Saban and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp more freedom to blitz when they want to.
Also, players like Bradie James, Norman Lejuene, and Damien James must step into leadership roles in place of Trev Faulk and Ryan Clark.
Defending its Southeastern Conference title definitely won't be easy for LSU. While some pundits may say the Big 12 is the better conference, the bottom line is there is no tougher conference, week in and week out, than the SEC.
No team has been able to make it through undefeated since Tennessee's run to the national championship in '98. This year's conference race should be very tight.
In the East Division, look for Tennessee to repeat as division champs. Their offense will be explosive with Casey Clausen, Kelley Washington and tight end Jason Whitten.
Florida won't have too much of a drop-off without Steve Spurrier. They still have Rex Grossman and will still be running a wide-open attack.
Georgia and South Carolina will continue to improve, but both will be counting on young players to step up. Vanderbilt and Kentucky will be their usual selves.
The West Division is shaping up to be far more competitive. All of the teams have their strengths and weaknesses. Barring injuries or extreme ineffectiveness at quarterback, LSU will repeat as the division champion.
Auburn will ride Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and a good defense to the postseason, but they're still searching for a quarterback.
Ole Miss should have made a bowl last year and will definitely play in one this year. The offense was potent last year with QB Eli Manning and will look to incorporate running the ball, along with more downfield passing this year.
Arkansas is a wild card team, capable of making a run at the division but also capable of going nowhere. Quarterback Matt Jones is one to watch.
Mississippi State will try to expand its offense, while looking to regain their reputation as a tough defensive team. If Kevin Fant can be effective at quarterback, they might be tough.
Alabama will be able to run the ball but not much else. The defense was awful last year and will likely not improve too much. Either way they're banned from postseason play.
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