A season after finishing 13-1, LSU carried with it into 2012 a world of talent and expectations. The Tigers ultimately took a step backward last fall, winning 10 games against three losses, including a Chick-fil-A Bowl heartbreaker to Clemson.
Now, after sending a school-record nine players to the NFL Draft, the question is: Can Les Miles' team bounce back in 2013 with new faces in key places all over the gridiron?
The newness will be most obvious on defense, where John Chavis must replace seven starters and an entire defensive line. Gone are Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan. In are Jermauria Rasco, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, a trio of juniors who've waited in line and have a chance to shine up front.
LSU's secondary will also undergo a facelift of sorts, lining up without cerebral free safety Eric Reid and rangy cornerback Tharold Simon for the first time in three seasons. Ronald Martin will step into Reid's shoes while Jalen Collins and true freshman Tre'Davious White will compete for Simon's role.
With so many first-year starters in the front and back four, the Tigers will be forced to round out their defensive two deep with freshmen. That's most true on the defensive line, where tackles Greg Gilmore and Christian Lacouture join ends Tashawn Bower and Frank Herron as instant-impact candidates. As exciting as that is for LSU's future, it reveals a lack of experienced depth for the present.
There will be no such problem at linebacker. The Tigers are as deep and talented at the position as they have been in Chavis' five years in Baton Rouge. Lamin Barrow, who notched 104 tackles last season, leads the group, which includes speedy Tahj Jones and three talented sophomores – Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis and Deion Jones, all of whom played as true freshmen. Linebacker will be the strength of LSU's defense.
On offense the biggest storyline is the hiring of coordinator Cam Cameron, a longtime friend and former staff mate of Miles' at Michigan. Cameron's impact began in the spring, when he installed a faster pace to LSU's offense and introduced new terminology. The power run game will still be a hallmark, but Cameron's influence will change how and when the Tigers pass.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger (photo at right) returns for his senior season, and he's adjusting to his third coordinator in three years. Mettenberger thrived under Cameron's tutelage in the spring, and he'll have lots of playmakers to make his job easier. The backfield is again full, with a bevy of backs set to follow senior fullback J.C. Copeland. At receiver Mettenberger will have Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and up-and-comer Travin Dural.
The offensive line returns right-side duo Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander as well as Josh Williford, who will switch sides to left guard. La'el Collins is making the move to left tackle, where he'll protect Mettenberger's blindside. The only real inexperienced starter is center Elliott Porter. The Tigers project to be stronger in the trenches, though maybe not as deep, as in 2012.
LSU has plenty of potential in 2013, but to make it back to the top, a number of unheralded players on the collegiate level will have to make their marks.
2013 SEC Football Preview: LSU
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