By now we've all heard about Tyrann Mathieu's suspension from the LSU football team. After a 2011 season in which he was a finalist for the Heisman trophy, he would have surely been on the watch list in 2012.
As fans, it's a shame to lose such an electrifying player. But even though he was one of the best players in all of college football last season, his absence from LSU this season will not be as much of a loss as most are expecting.
LSU's starting quarterback situation was a mystery all season long last year. Aside from the four games Jordan Jefferson was suspended to start the season, the Tigers never had a clear cut No. 1 at the position. Lee had the better statistics on the season but often fared worse in big games, while Jefferson put up very average statistics all season long but did a better job of managing the game in matchups versus teams like Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama.
The quarterback situation should be more clear cut this season as former Georgia quarterback commit Zach Mettenberger is expected to take over for the departed duo, and many experts believe he will be a better QB than either of his predecessors.
At running back, the Tigers still have the four-headed monster of Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue. Each of those guys ran for at least seven TDs last season. That's as loaded a backfield as you will ever find in college football. Any one of those guys would be a starter at 90 percent of all D-I schools. And that doesn't even include a couple of young studs in Jeremy Hill and Terrance McGee.
The defense returns its two starting defensive ends from last year in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. It returns possibly the best safety in the nation in Eric Reid. It brings back freshman All-American Anthony Johnson at defensive tackle. And Tharold Simon—who would have been a starter on just about every team last year—fills the void vacated by Morris Claiborne.
Is LSU still a top five team without Tyrann Mathieu
If that's not a reason for optimism, maybe this will be. Jalen Collins, the guy tabbed as Mathieu's backup was just awarded the Most Improved Player in spring practice. And according to a tweet from CBSSports' Bruce Feldman, his teammates have labeled him as the most athletic player on the team.
There is no doubt that Mathieu's impact will be felt on special teams. Not only was he one of the best return men in the country last year, he was also one of the best at getting down the field and covering punts. It is pretty rare for a player to have an impact on both sides of the ball on special teams, but he definitely had one.
However, in looking at the roster, there is speed and athleticism everywhere. They will find players to return kicks and cover punts. Will anyone have the same sort of individual impact on the game that Mathieu had? Probably not. But will one of the best teams and one of the best staffs in the country be able to find guys to fill those vacancies? Absolutely.
LSU's 2012 title chances did take a small hit over the past couple weeks with the loss of the Bayou badger. But in looking at the roster, it is loaded with future NFL draft stars. There are future first-round picks at nearly every position. Somehow, I think the 2012 title is still well within reach.