College football is back in Baton Rouge, as the LSU Tigers' spring game is set to kickoff on Saturday.
Coming off a 10-3 campaign in 2012 where the Bayou Bengals were edged out by Florida and Alabama within the SEC, LSU was basically 12 points away from earning a national title berth.
That's simply life in the nation's toughest conference.
By the same token, coach Les Miles must replace star defensive talents such as Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Kevin Minter and Eric Reid. Offensively, quarterback Zach Mettenberger must simply continue to improve.
As expected we'll catch a true glimpse of LSU's potential when its squares up this weekend.
When: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Listen: 104.5 WNXX-FM, Baton Rouge
With Mettenberger's strong arm the Tigers have the luxury to attack downfield. Receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are certainly the top two targets, and their impact will be needed to stretch the secondary.
One aspect that will help with Mettenberger's development, though, will be the smash-mouth physical approach from the running backs. The trio of Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue and Jeremy Hill will be fun to watch.
Collectively, they expand the playbook and bring a change of pace to the Tigers' offense. If anything, the defense must put an extreme emphasis on assignment discipline to slow the assault.
Unfortunately, that won't be easy given the aforementioned playmakers lost. Watch for the duo of Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, because winning the immediate point of attack is key.
Elsewhere in the front seven, other athletes to keep a close eye on are Kwon Alexander, Lamin Barrow, Ronnie Feist, Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen. Players to monitor in the secondary are Jalen Collins and Craig Loston. With Jalen Mills having surgery earlier this month (via Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com), we'll find more regarding the Tigers' depth in the secondary as well.
Key Position Battle to Eye: Linebackers
Above we briefly touched on other front seven defenders to eye during the spring game.
Well, more specifically, the linebacker position is quite interesting when you take into account the potential depth and talent. For the most part the unit brings great speed and acceleration between Alexander and Barrow, as well as Deion Jones and Lorenzo Phillips.
Barrow has excellent versatility and his nose for the ball is quite appealing. And Jones is capable of developing as a rusher, because he brings the quickness to make plays behind the line.
If LSU's linebackers can immediately fill open lanes and shell at the intermediate level, it will significantly assist the defensive line to control the trenches.
Senior to Watch: QB, Zach Mettenberger
Mettenberger is the key to LSU's offensive success in 2013. And what it comes down to is pre-snap reads, in-game adjustments and consistent accuracy.
The senior quarterback was sacked 32 times last season, which is a decent number given the Tigers' run-oriented attack. Entering the 2013 campaign, however, his cerebral approach must heighten as parts to the offensive line are gone.
Tackle Chris Faulk bolted for the NFL, and although Chris Davenport lacked game experience, his transfer to Tulane—per Randy Rosetta of NOLA.com—takes away veteran depth along the line. So, Mettenberger's ability recognize blitz packages and disguised coverage schemes will assist the entire offensive line before the snap.
In short, that generates balance to an offense with plenty of potential.
Underclassman to Watch: Tackle, Vadal Alexander
Possessing the great combination size, power and quick feet, it was not surprising to see Vadal Alexander enjoy a strong campaign in 2012.
Considering that he was a true freshman, Alexander displayed impressive development and maturity to the position. Factor in the overall speed, explosiveness and athleticism of SEC pass-rushers, and you can't ask much more from the youngster.
Obviously expectations are now increased leading into the spring game and 2013 season. Nevertheless, his consistency to anchor the perimeter and win one-on-on will help LSU find solid balance and ball control.
Ultimately, he'll be of great assistance to Mettenberger's production and establishing an edge running game.
Per usual, the expectations remain high for the Bayou Bengals.
Perhaps not on the national title level, though, because losing so much talent to pro football will require a brief period of rebooting. And every team undergoes this at some point, even if it's restricted to one season.
Factor in the SEC's general dominance and that only increases the difficulty.
Road games at Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama remain challenging along with home contests versus Florida and Texas A&M.