LSU looked like it was going to make history last season, knocking off many ranked teams, and steamrolling to the national championship game. They looked unstoppable, until the Tigers met the Alabama Crimson Tide and played the entire 60 minutes completely flat.
This season, LSU returns 13 starters, including eight on the offensive side of the ball. Some would say this year's squad is even better than last year's, which is why they open the season No. 1 in the new USA Today Coaches Poll.
Even with all of the hype and talent returning, the Tigers still have to go out on the field and take care of business. Here are five questions this LSU team must answer before the season is set to begin in September.
LSU put together a top 10 class in 2012, and many of those players are arriving on campus for the first time this fall. The class includes 24 talented players, many of whom are 4- or 5-star players. It is now up to Les Miles and company to decide who is actually going to see significant playing time this season.
Linebackers Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis seem to be the favorites for early playing time. They are both athletic players who are quickly turning heads in camp. Louis actually enrolled at LSU early, played in the spring game and ended up returning an interception back for a touchdown. Feist is a quick player, who is a sure tackler, terrific in run support and could play either linebacker or defensive end.
Other players who could see immediate action this season include offensive lineman Vadal Alexander, wide receiver Travin Dural and tight end Dillon Gordon.
We know the Tigers have the best backfield in the country, which includes four running backs who would likely be the starter on any other team. Although using all four of them throughout games has worked for the Tigers, head coach Les Miles says (via Dennis Lin of al.com) he would like a couple of them to take on a bigger role this season.
"It would be hard-pressed for me to tell you who the two are. I like Ware, I like Hilliard, I like Blue, I like Ford. I'd like to have two guys step forward and take the lead and really keep one in a position to keep his legs fresh, so late in the game we can put fresh backs in the game, or should someone get hurt. You end up with a real need for four backs."
Michael Ford led the team in rushing last season with 756 yards, despite having less carries than Spencer Ware. Meanwhile, Alfred Blue averaged nearly seven yards a touch and Kenny Hilliard scored eight touchdowns on just 62 carries. As a team, the Tigers finished 22nd in the country in rushing yards. It will be interesting to see which two backs step up and demand a larger workload in 2012.
Michael Brockers only started one full season at LSU and played so well that he was the No. 14 pick in the 2012 NFL draft. We all know this is one of the more talented defensive lines in the country, particularly at defensive end, but who is going to replace the big man in the middle?
Anthony Johnson, who played all 14 games as a freshman, and was a 5-star recruit in the 2011 class, didn't quite live up to expectations. He says he was a little overweight, which is something he has worked on during the offseason, but does that mean he will be fit enough to replace the seventh best tackler on the team a season ago?
Josh Downs is somebody who has played in 35 games throughout his career and is also pushing for a starting job in camp. Ego Ferguson is another player, who played in 13 games last season and is also looking for more playing time.
It is time that Johnson steps up and solidifies his spot on the defensive line.
The last time the Tigers were ranked in the top half of the conference in passing yards, Jarrett Lee was the starting quarterback and the year was 2008. The running game has been tremendous over the years, but the team has struggled to find a true quarterback capable of scaring defenses with his arm.
Things may have changed this season, as Zach Mettenberger is looking more and more like the starter. He has great size, a strong arm and is very accurate with the football. He is performing so well in camp that Les Miles is already a believer in the junior quarterback.
"He makes all the throws," Miles said of Mettenberger. "We're going to take advantage of those secondaries that crowd the front to stop the run," (via Jim Kleinpeter of nola.com).
The traits are certainly there for him to become one of the better quarterbacks in the country, but we have yet to see him play against an actual defense. We will see just how good this offense can be when the Tigers travel early in the year to Jordan-Hare Stadium or Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
We saw this LSU team jump over every hurdle last season. They gave the Oregon Ducks a beat down in week one, a matchup that was supposed to be the best contest of opening week. They went to Morgantown and beat West Virginia, destroyed the Florida Gators, won the game that was labeled the "Game of the Century" and made it to the national championship without a scratch.
Then everything fell apart for that Tigers team, as it seemed like they forgot to play the game of football. The offense couldn't get past the 50-yard line and the Tigers defense allowed 384 yards, which was the second most given up all season.
Can the Tigers overcome all of the pain and make another magical run in 2012? The schedule isn't nearly as difficult, but playing in the SEC West, there are many challenges that lie ahead. One of those main challenges is getting over last year and focusing on the season that begins in just a couple of weeks.