LSU Football: 10 Important Storylines to Watch in 2012

Sean MerrimanCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Les Miles and the LSU Tigers celebrate their 42-10 win over the Georgia Bulldogs during the 2011 SEC Championship Game at Georgia Dome on December 3, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

College football is officially here and the No. 3 ranked LSU Tigers are set to kick off their 2012 season against North Texas this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET in Baton Rouge.

Les Miles' team has had quite the eventful offseason, from losing out on the commitment to top quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel, to the dismissal of All-Ameircan cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, there has certainly been a lot to talk about in Tiger country.

Now the team is set and ready to kickoff the 2012 campaign, what else can we expect this season?

Let's go ahead and break down 10 important storylines to watch develop throughout 2012.

Bleacher Report Style!

1. How will the defense do without All-American cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne?

LSU featured one of the top defenses throughout college football last season and a large part of that was because their secondary play.

It is certainly nice to have one All-American cornerback patrolling your defensive backfield, but the Tigers had the luxury of two All-American corners last season. One year later, both are gone, and the question of how LSU adjusts to breaking in two new corners will be an important storyline to watch develop.

Morris Claiborne is off to the NFL after being selected No. 6 overall in the 2012 draft by the Dallas Cowboys. His former defensive backfield mate, Tyrann Mathieu, was dismissed from the team earlier this month following multiple failed substance-abuse tests.

Tharold Simon and Jalen Collins are expected to be the two new starting corners and while both are certainly talented individuals, they both lack experience as Simon played situationally last season while Collins redshirted in his freshman season.

Keep an eye to see how this all plays out on the field in 2012.

2. How will Zach Mettenberger progress in his first season as LSU's starting quarterback?

Everyone loves to blame the quarterback for a loss and praise them for a big win, right?

Well, not so fast.

There wasn't another quarterback in the history of college football that got as much grief as Jordan Jefferson after posting a perfect 12-0 regular season, a SEC Championship and a spot in the National Championship game.

Now, Jefferson is gone and in comes Mettenberger, a talented redshirt junior with a live arm and plenty of confidence.

If Mettenberger can live up to the hype and continue to improve and get better on a week-by-week basis, then this LSU team could be special again in 2012.

3. Can the LSU backfield duplicate the success they had in 2011?

When it comes to depth, you simply aren't going to find a better backfield in the nation than what Les Miles has at his disposable at LSU.

The four-headed monster backfield of Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard combined to rush for more than 2,300 yards and an eye-popping 30 touchdowns last season.

All four backs return this season, but it will be interesting how their roles are defined. Ware and Ford took on that lead-back role last season, but all reports have said that Blue is having an outstanding offseason and should be in line for more carries this year.

Keep an eye on how this whole thing plays out. It is a great problem to have for Les Miles, but will it remain that way one year later?

4. Who will be LSU's starting left guard?

La'el Collins or Josh Dworaczyk?

The talented, unproven young kid or the wily veteran coming off a serious injury?

Both have plenty of skill at the position, but only one can be the starter.

Collins was a monster recruit for the Tigers but hasn't seen the field yet. On the other hand, Dworaczyk has been a staple on this LSU offensive line before going out last season with an injury. He missed the remainder of the year but was rewarded with an extra year of eligibility.

It will be interesting to see who wins this job when the Tigers' enter the thick of the SEC gauntlet.

5. Who will step up at outside linebacker?

While left guard is a position loaded with talent, the outside linebacker spots for LSU remain somewhat of an unknown entering the 2012 season.

Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francis are gone, as is Karnell Hatcher. All three were starters at some point last season.

Now, the Tigers will look to work in two younger options at linebacker. The leading candidates for those two starting outside spots are Lamin Barrow and Luke Muncie, both of who are juniors.

There are also several true freshman looking for playing time, including Lamar Louis, who has impressed the coaching staff since enrolling early last spring.

6. What will the Tigers do with their return game?

The best return man in the nation is gone, so what will the Tigers do now?

Tyrann Mathieu was an instant spark to this LSU team in the return game and his absence leaves a giant hole there heading into this season.

The leading candidate to return both punts and kickoffs is sophomore wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. We know he has good speed, but how will he adjust to the new role?

Can he handle doing both punt and kickoff returns?

We shall wait and see.

7. How will Les Miles and the coaching staff change the offensive game plan when the team faces Alabama again?

Although one game resulted in a win, LSU scored a total of nine points against Alabama's daunting defense last season.

Something has to change when the two teams meet again this year. It will be interesting to see what type of adjustments the coaching staff makes.

With USC entering the season as a favorite to get to this year's BCS National Championship Game, it's not likely that LSU and Alabama will square off more than once this year.

Les Miles and the LSU staff better have the Tigers' ready for another SEC showdown on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge.

8. What true freshman will make an impact on the offensive side of the ball?

The Tigers look pretty set at most skill positions, so the only spot we could see a true freshman make an impact on offense would be on the line.

As it stands right now, only one true freshman is listed on the two-man offensive depth chart: Vadal Alexander, a highly touted prospect who is slotted as a backup at left tackle.

Outside of Alexander, it's really not likely another true freshman will see the field on offense.

But, hey, there's always that small chance.

9. What true freshman will make an impact on the defensive side of the ball?

While we should expect plenty of redshirt possibilities on the offensive side of the ball for LSU this season, the same can not be said for the defense.

Les Miles and his LSU coaching staff made it a point to load up on the defensive side of the ball in this past recruiting class, and it could pay off in a big way.

Three true freshman are listed on the two-man defensive depth chart, including linebackers Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist. That list dosen't even include the top linebacker prospect for the Tigers, Kwon Alexander.

With a young, but talented defense in place, don't be surprised to see several of these true freshmen make an impact on the defensive side this season.

10. Can the Tigers run the table?

It's the question on every LSU fan's mind entering the 2012 season.

With a dominant running game and a relentless defense, this LSU team has what it takes to make a run at an undefeated season and a national championship?

Can they do it is the question.

With four away games at Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas, it won't be an easy task. That also includes home tilts against South Carolina and Alabama, two top 10 teams.

The talent is certainly there to do so.

Let's see if this 2012 LSU team can put it all together and make another run at a National Championship.


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