Youth will be served in 2013 for the LSU Tigers.
After losing eight defensive players to the 2013 NFL draft, the Tigers are plugging positions with true freshmen, talented ones at that.
But that's not the only obstacle standing in the way of the Tigers' fourth national championship. No sir, the Tigers must overcome offseason injuries, valuable losses in personnel and a daunting schedule to win the crystal ball.
Will the talented youngsters bring LSU good fortune in 2013? Here is a full preview of LSU's upcoming season.
The 2012 season exhibited Les Miles' coaching style at LSU to a tee.
There were celebrated decisions, such as riding Jeremy Hill in the fourth quarter of the South Carolina game. There was dominant play from the defense, dominance in the run game and solid special teams play. Not to mention there was a classic press conference that showcased Miles' unparalleled disposition.
That was the good. The bad—well, Miles had his usual blunders.
A blown fake field-goal call against Alabama surfaced, which ended up hurting the Tigers in LSU's 21-17 loss, and there were consecutive passes in the fourth quarter on 2nd-and-2 in the 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl when Jeremy Hill averaged 10 yards per carry. A first down would have allowed the Tigers to milk the clock. "If I could turn back time..."
The Tigers finished the season going 10-3 with some impressive triumphs (24-19 over Texas A&M and 23-21 against South Carolina). Victory was all but LSU's in games against Clemson and Alabama, until the Tigers lost both of those games in the last minute of the fourth quarter.
While LSU was defensively sound for most of the season (third in the SEC in total defense with 307.6 yards per game against), the Tigers had rocky times on offense, sporting the 10th-best total offense in the SEC. Vanilla play-calling and inconsistency at the quarterback position led the struggle.
It was truly a season of ups and downs, frustrations and celebrations. Quite frankly, it was just another season under The Mad Hatter.
Note: Returning starters have a **
1. SR **Zach Mettenberger 6'5", 235 pounds
2. FR Anthony Jennings 6'2", 211 pounds
1. SR **Alfred Blue 6'2", 222 pounds
2. JR Kenny Hilliard 6'0", 233 pounds, SO **Jeremy Hill 6'2", 235 pounds
1. SR **J.C. Copeland 6'0", 270 pounds
2. JR Connor Neighbors 5'11", 239 pounds
1. JR **Odell Beckham Jr. 6'0", 193 pounds
2. RSFR Travin Dural 6'2", 182 pounds
1. JR **Jarvis Landry 6'1", 195 pounds
2. SR Kadron Boone 6'0", 202 pounds
1. SO Dillon Gordon 6'5", 286 pounds
2. JR Travis Dickson 6'3", 230 pounds
1. JR **La'el Collins 6'5", 315 pounds
2. JR Evan Washington 6'4", 334 pounds
1. SO **Vadal Alexander 6'6", 342 pounds
2. SO Jonah Austin 6'6", 324 pounds
1. JR Elliot Porter 6'4", 300 pounds
2. FR Ethan Pocic 6'7", 301 pounds
1. SO **Trai Turner 6'3", 316 pounds
2. JR Fehoko Fanaika 6'6", 348 pounds
1. RSFR Jerald Hawkins 6'6", 301 pounds
2. FR Andy Dodd 6'4", 322 pounds
1. JR Jermauria Rasco 6'3", 262 pounds
2. JR Justin Maclin 6'4", 242 pounds
1. JR **Anthony Johnson 6'3", 294 pounds
2. SO Mickey Johnson 6'1", 307 pounds
1. JR Ego Ferguson 6'3", 309 pounds
2. FR Christian LaCouture 6'5", 298 pounds
1. JR Jordan Allen 6'6", 254 pounds
2. SO Danielle Hunter 6'6", 241 pounds
SAM (Strong-Side Linebacker)
1. SR **Tahj Jones 6'2", 205 pounds
2. FR Kendell Beckwith 6'3", 246 pounds
Mike (Middle Linebacker)
1. JR D.J. Welter 6'1", 226 pounds
2. So Lamar Louis 6'0", 216 pounds
Will (Weak-Side Linebacker)
1. SR **Lamin Barrow 6'2", 232 pounds
2. SO Kwon Alexander 6'2", 218 pounds
1. SO **Jalen Collins 6'2", 195 pounds
2. FR Tre'Davious White 5'11", 177 pounds
1. JR Ronald Martin 6'1", 218 pounds
2. FR Rickey Jefferson 5'11", 199 pounds
1. SR **Craig Loston 6'2", 205 pounds
2. SO Micah Eugene 5'11", 190 pounds
1. SO **Jalen Mills 6'1", 189 pounds
2. RSFR Dwayne Thomas 6'0", 181 pounds
1. SO Jamie Keehn 6'4", 218 pounds
2. RSFR Trent Domingue 6'0", 165 pounds
1. RSFR Colby Delahoussaye 5'10", 169 pounds
2. JR James Hairston 6'1", 218 pounds
1. JR **Odell Beckham 6'0", 193 pounds
2. FR Tre'Davious White 5'11", 177 pounds
1. JR **Jarvis Landry 6'1", 195 pounds
2. FR Jeryl Brazil 5'10", 189 pounds
The biggest injury this offseason came when starting left guard Josh Williford suffered yet another concussion.
Williford missed significant action last season with a concussion suffered against Florida, and on the verge of starting his senior season, another concussion haunted Williford.
Williford's injury may cost him his career, and it's forced the Tigers to move Vadal Alexander to starting left guard and place Jerald Hawkins in a starting role at right tackle.
Other notable injuries during camp include Avery Peterson breaking his ankle and minor injuries to Alexander and DeSean Smith. Alexander and Smith should be fully recovered by the season opener.
Jermauria Rasco is still recovering from shoulder surgery this past offseason and has sported a green (no contact) jersey the first two weeks of practice.
On offense, look out for Travin Dural.
Heading into fall camp, many expected junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie to steal the show and earn a significant role within the offense. That storyline was correct, but the casting was nixed.
Dural has done nothing but impress since he's been in fall camp, making incredible leaping catches, like the one embedded on this slide. Other notable names to watch are true freshman Smith at tight end, Melvin Jones at either fullback or tight end, Ethan Pocic at center and John Diarse at wide receiver.
On defense, there are too many to keep track of. Kendell Beckwith, Tashawn Bower, Lewis Neal, Christian LaCouture, Ricky Jefferson, Jeryl Brazil and Tre'Davious White have all shined and expect to see the field at some point this season.
Beckwith should find a role at linebacker, while Bower, Neal and LaCouture will rotate in on the defensive line. Jefferson, Brazil and White should all help keep DBU's reputation in check.
Head Coach—Les Miles
Offensive Coordinator—Cam Cameron
Defensive Coordinator—John Chavis
Running backs coach/recruiting coordinator—Frank Wilson
Tight Ends Coach—Steve Ensminger
Defensive Line Coach—Brick Haley
Wide Receivers Coach—Adam Henry
Special Teams Coordinator—Thomas McGaughey
Defensive Backs Coach—Corey Raymond
Offensive Line Coach—Greg Studrawa
Strength and Conditioning—Tommy Moffitt
The Mad Hatter is still at the helm.
Les Miles, whose record at LSU is 85-21, seems a bit more relaxed this season, though. That's because he has a true offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron leading things.
Watching him at practice, the former Baltimore Ravens coordinator is a fantastic teacher. From pinpointing Mettenberger's stance, knee-flexing and follow-through to coaching up Rob Bolden's wavering feet, he is a quarterback's coach through and through.
That's exactly what LSU needed. The Tigers needed a coach to develop quarterbacks, and with Cameron, that's what LSU inherited. In fact, Joe Flacco credited Cameron for success last season.
This is a huge upgrade for the Tigers offensively.
As for the defense, "The Chief" John Chavis is still doing his thing.
Note: Conference games are in bold.
Aug. 31 vs. TCU (Cowboys Stadium)
Sept. 7 vs. UAB
Sept. 14 vs. Kent State
Sept. 21 vs. Auburn
Sept. 28 at Georgia
Oct. 5 at Mississippi State
Oct. 12 vs. Florida
Oct. 19 at Ole Miss
Oct. 26 vs. Furman
Nov. 9 at Alabama
Nov. 23 vs. Texas A&M
Nov. 29 vs. Arkansas
The Tigers' most important games will be against Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M.
Alabama and Texas A&M will be the Tigers' toughest competition in the SEC West, and victories over them will likely put the Tigers in the SEC championship game.
The game against what many expect to be a Top 10 team in Florida will be extremely tough to win because of the Tigers' wear and tear caused by four straight SEC games with no byes. Playing Florida immediately after playing Georgia and Mississippi State could be trouble for the Tigers.
This is starting to look a lot like the LSU offenses of old. With incredible depth at wide receiver and running back and a quarterback who can sling it, big plays are sure to come for LSU.
But don't get it twisted—the Tigers will still feature that lovely ground-and-pound that has been LSU's signature for the past decade.
What fans can expect is that ground-and-pound to set up more explosive plays. With talent like Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Dural and many others behind them to go along with Cameron's offensive ingenuity, the Tigers will set up big plays with the running game.
In other words—it's still going to be your same ol' physical offense, but Cameron's "twist," as Mettenberger and Cameron called it at LSU media days, will allow this offense to move the ball through the air more in 2013.
The Tigers might not have a wealth of experience returning on defense, but the few returners they have are fantastic leaders.
You couldn't ask for three better than Anthony Johnson, Lamin Barrow and Craig Loston. During fall camp, Johnson and Barrow said all of the right things. They said it didn't matter what the outside views are of the program, but they admitted that they feel disrespected and love the underdog role.
Expect this attitude to feed the defense. Johnson, Barrow and Loston have a combined 10 years of experience in an LSU uniform.
With a leader on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary, the Tigers will have three quarterbacks on defense. With a team trying to replace eight players who were shifted to the NFL, their leadership will be essential.
It's all on the quarterback in Baton Rouge.
John Chavis' scheme should put the defense in position to succeed, inexperienced players or not. Miles' ability to recruit physical football players will allow LSU to run the football.
So now that brings us to the passing game. The Tigers have to set up their running game with the passing game, and if Mettenberger can progress as a quarterback under Cameron, the Tigers could have a magical year.
Can Hill stay out of trouble and be the running back LSU fans know he can be?
Both Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard are capable of getting the job done. Heck, both backs combined for 573 rushing yards in the first three games before Blue suffered a season-ending knee injury.
However, it's a hard-knock life for a running back in the SEC, and fresh legs and depth are warranted.
An opportunity will arise for Hill to carry the football this season at some point. If he can remain on the right track and seize the opportunity when it is presented, he should be a focal point of the offense against Alabama and Texas A&M. He rushed for over 100 yards in each contest last season.
The New Guys
You know the veterans Johnson, Barrow and Loston will produce, but how will the new players on defense fare?
If names like Beckwith, Bower, White and Brazil become household names in 2013, the Tigers have a shot at knocking Nick Saban off of his pedestal. If the new players don't play well, which they are being counted on to do, LSU could lose four to five football games.
The Tigers' Chip on the Shoulder
Oh so disrespectful.
The Tigers are behind five other SEC schools in the preseason USA Today coaches poll. When I asked Barrow and Johnson about it, they were anxious in their response.
Fidgeting with their hands, both players said they love the underdog role and can't wait to prove everyone wrong. This has to be echoing in LSU's locker room.
Similar to the Tigers' swagger in 2011, look for the 2013 squad to come out with an enormous chip on its shoulder.
The Health of the Offensive Line
The offensive line is getting rather sparse.
This was one of the biggest fears entering the season. The Tigers' advantage of having so much experience return on the offensive line took a blow with Williford's injury, and now, LSU's starting right tackle has no playing experience.
The men who are likely to jump in behind the starting line—Andy Dodd, Ethan Pocic and Fehoko Fanaika—all present zero experience at this level as well. For the Tigers to make a run in 2013, the starting offensive line must remain intact. The Tigers cannot afford an injury.
Mettenberger's Ability to Grow
Mettenberger threw for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2012. That's not bad, but that's not exactly lighting up the scoreboard either.
Consistent accuracy is something that Mettenberger needs to show in 2013. Cameron has fine-tuned some of his mechanics in order to do so.
At LSU media days, Cameron said Metteneberger is more compact and has his feet underneath him more, which should make him more accurate. Now, it's up to Mettenberger to put the finished product on the field.
The Tigers will lose two games in 2013.
Considering the losses on defense and the uphill battle that is LSU's schedule, that will be an incredible feat.
The Tigers will enter Athens, Georgia undefeated on Sept. 28 against one of the tougher teams on the schedule. Because Mettenberger will be hyped for his homecoming at Georgia, he will play his best game of the year and lead the Tigers to a huge (unexpected by many) road victory.
The first loss of the season will come two weeks later in a likely afternoon game in Tiger Stadium. After playing three straight SEC teams, the Tigers will be worn down and facing off against a gritty Florida club. Disaster will follow, and Florida wins a close contest.
The second and only other loss of the season will come at Bryant-Denny Stadium, when Alabama beats LSU in another defensive classic. The Tigers will go on to beat Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M at home.
With a 10-2 regular-season record, the Tigers will receive a bowl bid to the 2014 Cotton Bowl, where the Tigers complete their two-loss season with another victory. With the expectations lowered for LSU in 2013, a two-loss season and top-10 finish will be well received.