LSU Football: Tigers' 2012 Season Preview
Can you feel it college football fans?
The game that we love is here and one of the nation's best, the LSU Tigers, are set to kick off the 2012 season in less than a week at home against North Texas.
Last year, we saw LSU make an epic run to the National Championship before being embarrassed by SEC foe Alabama, 21-0 in the title game.
Does Les Miles' team have what it takes to flip the script in order to grab that title they were so close to last season?
Who are the players to watch on the offensive and defensive side of the ball this year and will that Alabama matchup be the Tigers' toughest contest in the upcoming season?
Let's break that all down as we provide a 2012 season preview for Les Miles' LSU Tigers football team.
It hasn't been a picture-perfect offseason for this LSU team by any means.
First, it began on the recruiting front, when five-star defensive back prospect Landon Collins, who played his high school football less than an hour away from Baton Rouge, shocked Tiger nation when he chose Alabama over LSU on national TV at the Under Armour All-American Game.
Shortly after, the Tigers received some great news when the nation's top pro-style quarterback prospect, Gunner Kiel, verbally committed to the Tigers and gave Les Miles his quarterback of the future.
But shortly after that, Kiel never showed up to camp and instead decided to enroll at Notre Dame, which sent Miles into an angry frenzy.
Things began to cool down after that as the Tigers put together a nice 2012 recruiting class and began fall practice with their roster in check. However, just last week, All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team following multiple failed substance-abuse tests.
The Tigers appear to be moving forward and ready to kick off this 2012 season, but it certainly hasn't been a dream offseason for Les Miles and his team.
Take a large sigh of relief LSU fans. Jordan Jefferson is gone. In comes Zach Mettenberger, a redshirt junior quarterback with a live arm.
Mettenberger is expected to bring new life to this LSU offense, which was often limited in the passing game with Jefferson behind center.
What's even better news for the LSU fanbase is that all four running backs from last season are back in 2012.
Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard lead a group of backs that combined to run for more than 2,300 yards and 30 touchdowns last season.
The Tigers' No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle is off to the NFL, but both Odell Beckham Jr. and Russell Shepard return this year, which should leave the Tigers' receiving corps in good hands.
As far as the offensive line goes, LSU must replace All-SEC performer Will Blackwell, but the rest of the starters return, making this one of the many strengths on this LSU offensive unit.
This should be the best defense not only in the SEC, but the entire country. Yes, even without Tyrann Mathieu, this unit is that good.
Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo anchor a defensive line that is simply dominant.
At linebacker, the Tigers are steady in the middle with Kevin Minter, but must work in two newcomers at the outside linebacker spots.
In the secondary, losing Mathieu will hurt, but Eric Reid is an All-American candidate at safety, and Tharold Simon very well could be better than Mathieu when this season is all said and done.
This unit is as talented as they come and should play a big role if LSU is going to make another run at a national title in 2012.
Special Teams Preview
There is no doubt that the Tigers special teams unit will be hurt with the loss of All-American Tyrann Mathieu, who was the top return man in college football last season.
Even without Mathieu on the field, this Tigers' special teams unit is still exceptional.
Brad Wing is arguably the best punter in the nation, earning All-American honors last year as a freshman. He was also honored as a Ray Guy Award semifinalist in his first season of college football.
On the other side, Drew Alleman enters his senior season as the most accurate kicker in school history. He was an honorable mention All-American last season and was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist.
The Tigers' top receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. will likely take over both the kick return and punt return duties. He has elite speed and is an exceptional athlete.
This should be one of the top special teams unit in the country.
LSU head coach Les Miles certainly has his critics, but when you post a 75-18 record (81 percent), it's certainly hard to find many weaknesses with this guy's coaching style.
Miles boasts a 5-2 record in bowl games at LSU, including three BCS bowl appearances and one national championship in 2007.
Entering his fourth season in 2012, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has established himself as one of the best in the game. The Tigers' defense has been among the best in college football, and should be again in 2012.
On the offensive end, Greg Studrawa enters his sixth season on the LSU coaching staff and his second as the offensive coordinator. His offense scored 40 or more points in nine of 13 games last season, an incredible mark for a first-year coordinator.
Look for this coaching staff to help lead the Tigers to another successful season in 2012.
LSU 2012 Football Schedule
September 1 vs. North Texas
September 8 vs. Washington
September 15 vs. Idaho
September 22 at Auburn
September 29 vs. Towson
October 6 at Florida
October 13 vs. South Carolina
October 20 at Texas A&M
November 3 vs. Alabama
November 10 vs. Mississippi State
November 17 vs. Ole Miss
November 23 at Arkansas
The Tigers have a pretty mild out-of-conference schedule, but they kick off the SEC schedule with a battle on Sept. 22 at Auburn.
The stretch of games from Oct. 6-Nov. 3 won't be an easy one either with four games against Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama.
LSU closes out the year at Arkansas, which could have not only major SEC Championship implications, but BCS National Title implications as well.
One Game the Tigers Will Absolutely Win
It's not fair to chose a non-conference game in this situation so we'll go with an SEC contest for the Tigers' guaranteed win.
That would would be LSU's Nov. 17 matchup against Ole Miss. Why is this a guarantee?
The Tigers defeated Ole Miss 52-3 last season and are expected to be as good, if not better this season.
With a dominant pass rush and an elite rushing attack, this is one game that you can chalk up for Les Miles' team.
One Game That's a Tossup
The tossup game could be the best game in college football...again. LSU meets Alabama on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge.
Remember, these two teams played in Tuscalossa last season in a game that resulted in a 9-6 Tigers victory. They met again in the National Championship, which was an ugly showing by LSU in a 21-0 shutout loss.
Both of these teams lost some stars this season, but they return plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.
This game should be an evenly-matched contest between the two best teams in college football.
One Game the Tigers Could Lose
November 23 at Arkansas.
Both ranked in the top 10, Arkansas and LSU meet at Arkansas in the final game of the regular season, making this matchup that much more intriguing.
The Razorbacks are loaded on offense and the Tigers are stacked on defense, which should make for an incredible showdown.
The Tigers are also strong on offense and the Razorbacks will struggle to stop Zach Mettenberger and that LSU four-headed rushing attack.
The fact that this game is played in Fayetteville also makes things interesting. As mentioned in a previous slide, this game will likely have major BCS implications.
If I was a betting man, I wouldn't pick the Tigers to lose. But they certainly could.
Offensive MVP Prediction
With such a dominant rushing attack, it's tough not to choose a back for the team's offensive MVP award. But with four backs, these guys are going to share carries, which is going to prevent one of them from standing out among the others.
That is why I believe the offensive MVP of this team will be sophomore wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
With a pro-style quarterback behind center now, this team will be passing more and Beckham Jr. is the top receiver on this LSU roster.
Russell Shepard has the speed to stretch the field, but Beckham Jr. does a little bit of everything. He is fast, has good size and has great hands.
Don't be surprised to see Beckham Jr. top 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in his first year as a full-time starter and be LSU's offensive MVP come season's end.
Defensive MVP Prediction
As good as LSU's defense was last season, this unit could be even better this year. And yes, that's without Tyrann Mathieu.
The secondary remains solid for the Tigers, but this defensive line is arguably the best in all of college football.
That dominant defensive line is led by a pair of exceptional defensive ends, with Sam Montgomery as the star of the group.
Montgomery had a breakout season last year as a sophomore, being named a First-Team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, and a Second-Team All-American by Sports Illustrated. He is on just about every preseason All-American list known to man heading into 2012.
Montgomery recorded nine sacks last year, fourth most in LSU history. One year later, this kid is bigger, stronger and hungrier.
Look for Sam Montgomery to have a monster junior season in Baton Rouge.
Newcomer of the Year Prediction
Lamar Louis was recruited to LSU as an athlete, but has found a nice niche at the outside linebacker position.
Louis enrolled early so he could participate in spring football with the Tigers and he worked his way into the linebackers group. He looks to be in place to receive playing time as a true freshman. With the graduation of both starting linebackers, Louis could play a big role this season.
At 6'0", 220 pounds, Louis has ideal size for an outside linebacker. He played running back in high school, in addition to linebacker, which lets you know what kind of versatility this kid has on the field.
We could see several true freshman play this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. With his versatility and the fact that he enrolled early, Lamar Louis should make an instant impact this season.
Best NFL Draft Prospect
Sam Montgomery may be the defensive MVP on this LSU team, but his defensive end mate, Barkevious Mingo is the best NFL prospect on this roster.
Mingo is an elite pass rusher who could play that rush end position at the NFL level, similar to a Mario Williams or Clay Matthews.
Mingo has great size at 6'5", 240 pounds. He also the speed and power of a running back, which is what makes him such an intriguing NFL prospect.
Don't be surprised to see Montgomery and Mingo get drafted in the top 20 in the next NFL Draft. Mingo going in the top five wouldn't be a big surprise at all.
He's that good.
What Does Vegas Say?
Opening Week Game
LSU vs. North Texas
SEC West Division Winner
SEC Odds to win
Odds to Win 2012-2013 BCS National Championship
*These lines are compliments of lasvegassportsbetting.com
Seeing two SEC teams play in last year's National Championship was certainly unexpected heading into the season. The fact of the matter is that Alabama and LSU may very well be the top two teams in college football again in 2012.
They will meet again on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge. That game should put one SEC team in top running for the BCS National Championship game.
LSU has a very tough schedule this season. With a new starting quarterback and four away games at Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas, in addition to that Alabama game, it is going to be very tough for this team to run the table.
I see the Tigers making another BCS Bowl, but an undefeated season and a repeat spot in the national title game is much harder than it sounds.
Prediction: LSU over Wisconsin in the Sugar Bowl.
LSU 2012 Season Record: 12-1 (BCS Sugar Bowl Champs)
This year's 2012 LSU football team has the makings of a National Championship caliber squad, but this SEC schedule is anything but easy.
On offense, this team features a dominant rushing attack and an experienced offensive line. Zach Mettenbeger's adjustment to his first year as starting quarterback will prove whether or not this team is a BCS Title team.
The defense is exceptional, even with the loss of Tyrann Mathieu. This unit will still be among the best in the country.
LSU will reach Les Miles' fourth BCS Bowl in his time in Baton Rouge, but a third BCS National Championship berth will be tough to do.