Most of America has put the Bayou Bengals in the number one position for the 2012 preseason. I honestly cannot blame them. Their being number two on my list has nothing to do with a lack of talent. When the smoke clears, it would not surprise me in the slightest if Les Miles' team is the last team standing in college football's race to a title.
However, before the anointing can begin, LSU must address their ongoing problem under center. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee's inconsistencies caught up with them in the national championship game. To combat that, newcomer Zach Mettenberger has been given the keys to the Tiger offense. Unlike Jefferson and Lee, Mettenberger has the potential to make LSU a threat with the vertical passing game. He is the unquestioned key to their 2012 season.
And the reason I say that is because everywhere else, the Bayou Bengals are stacked. On the ground, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford will power Miles' patient but potent ground-based offense. They will not need to score much because this is probably the best defense in the country.
Yes, the LSU defense. When people think of what they do defensively, it starts with, of course, The Honey Badger. The government knows him as Tyrann Mathieu, and the Heisman finalist is a jack of many trades for the Tiger defense. But he is by no means a force of one.
All-American candidate Barkevious Mingo leads a ferocious front line that stuffs the run and gets after the passer better than any team in the country. Players like Sam Montgomery and Anthony Johnson also will have the opportunity to shine like former star Michael Brockers, who is now in the NFL.
But the area that separates LSU from the few teams that are comparable to them is their dynamic special teams. Brad Wing is the best specialist in America, changing field position on a consistent basis. And of course, this is where Mathieu's other ability to shine comes into play. Averaging 16.1 yards per punt return, Mathieu returned two for touchdowns last season. No team in America has the special teams of LSU.
Ultimately, their path to the national championship on paper has one imposing obstacle: round three against the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. That game, to be played on November 3 in front of most of the civilized world, should serve as another elimination game to the BCS title. But unlike the previous two, this game will be played on LSU's terms, in raucous Death Valley.