The LSU Tigers have wrapped up spring practice and have already begun preparing for the regular season with hopes of returning to the national championship.
Before the season actually begins, polls are released that rank the top 25 teams currently in college football. Before the official polls are released, ESPN has decided to put out a preseason top-25 poll that ranks the top 25 teams in their opinion.
Did ESPN get this correct?
Returning starters: 12
Of course you could make an argument as to why they don't belong in the top three of the poll. They were destroyed in the national championship game. How in the world are they ranked so high, and not just No. 2, but above Alabama, the team that dominated them in the national championship.
This team also lost two senior starting quarterbacks and will start a junior in Zach Mettenberger, somebody who we're not quite sure of. Sure, he has all of the traits to be a great quarterback in the SEC, but he has little to no experience actually playing in a game. Learning on the fly, especially against SEC defenses, could provide some growing pains throughout the year.
The playmakers at the receiver position are also questionable. Sophomore Odell Beckham and James Wright are the projected starters for the Tigers this season. While Beckham had a very promising freshman season, Wright has seven combined catches in two years. And has anyone seen Russell Shepard lately?
This team also remains very talented defensively, but did lose a shutdown corner in Morris Claiborne, an NFL defensive tackle in Michael Brockers and a few other key pieces to this championship-caliber squad. Along with the losses in the secondary, you also have a new secondary coach in Corey Raymond.
Despite how many players are no longer on this team, this is still a ridiculously talented group of guys.
The offensive line is about as solid as there is in the country, with mostly returning starters and almost nothing but upperclassmen. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger is really gaining confidence and impressing his teammates, along with head coach Les Miles. He has all of the tools to succeed and could provide this LSU offense with a passing game, something they haven't seen in a very long time.
Then of course you have the running back position, which is about four or five deep. There likely isn't a true No. 1 at this position, but between Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hillard, this will easily be one of the top rushing teams in the country once again. That alone makes them a team to pay attention to and once again a national championship favorite.
The Tigers simply replace key defensive contributors every year; they don't rebuild. Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu is still on the roster, along with All-SEC player Eric Reid at the safety position. Barkevious Mingo also returns for his junior year on the defensive line. He finished with seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season.
It's safe to say that the defense is in great hands.
I have said it before; I'm a believer in the champion beginning the season No. 1, so LSU above Alabama to start the season is something I don't agree with. But there are only a couple of teams that would likely be able to knock off Alabama from their throne and the Tigers are one of them.
This team may be more talented than last year's team was, especially if they can develop a passing game. Don't be surprised if the Tigers return to the national championship this year and take care of some unfinished business.