The 2012 LSU Tigers were one T.J. Yeldon screen pass away from toppling Alabama and playing Georgia for the SEC title for the second straight season.
But the 2013 edition of the Tigers will look remarkably different than the crew Les Miles coached in 2012.
Offensive lineman Chris Faulk announced on Wednesday that he will forgo his remaining eligibility at LSU and enter the NFL Draft, making him the 10th LSU player to leave Baton Rouge early for greener pastures in the NFL.
I'm not sure any coach in America is prepared for that kind of turnover.
Defensively, the Tigers will be losing defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid off of their starting defense in addition to senior defensive tackle Josh Downs.
That means players like rising junior Anthony Johnson, linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Jalen Collins will have to live up to their potential in 2013 while safety Craig Loston, cornerback Jalen Mills and linebacker Lamin Barrow will have to take on bigger leadership roles for the new-look Tiger defense.
The biggest issue for the Tigers will be at defensive end, where five of the six players listed on the end-of the season depth chart are either seniors or leaving early.
But, with so many top-tier recruits considering the Tigers, the available playing time will certainly be a plus if the Tigers can sway guys like No. 1 prospect Robert Nkemdiche to Baton Rouge.
Offensively, the Tigers will be fine. Which, considering it's LSU, is an admittedly relative statement.
Losing Michael Ford and Spencer Ware out of the backfield hurts, but that's the one place on the roster where they can withstand unexpected attrition.
Miles will get leading rusher Jeremy Hill back after a breakout freshman season that saw him rush for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns in essentially seven games as the feature back. He proved this season that he can handle the load in the SEC in a loaded backfield, and we can expect that to continue moving forward.
Rising junior Kenny Hilliard and rising senior Alfred Blue will also be back, which gives the Tigers plenty of depth in the rugged SEC West.
But with so much defensive upheaval, the Tigers will have to be more explosive offensively. That puts a ton of pressure on quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who didn't exactly set the world on fire in 2012.
Mettenberger completed only 58.8 percent of his passes for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but he threw for more than 215 yards in four of his final five games.
He's going to have to become more of a downfield threat for the Tigers and in a hurry, because the Tigers will square off against the always-tough TCU Horned Frogs in the Cowboys Classic to open the 2013 season.
The 2013 season is going to be more of a rebuilding year than Tigers fans are accustomed to, but that doesn't mean the Tigers will be out of contention completely. If Mettenberger can mature as a pocket passer, that will cure a lot of LSU's problems caused by inexperience.
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