While Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is the focus of most of the "will he play or won't he play" headlines leading up to Week 1, another SEC star is also drawing his fair share.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill.
Hill rushed for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns in essentially a half season last year, but he was relegated to the No. 3 spot on the Tigers' depth chart following an offseason arrest for simple assault.
Head coach Les Miles has been secretive with the status of the 6'2", 235-pounder, telling ESPN.com on Monday that "he will sustain discipline" and "wouldn't be surprised" if he made the trip across the border for LSU's opener versus TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Let's cut to the chase. Hill isn't going to play versus the Horned Frogs, and he probably won't see the field in the week or two following the opener.
The door is open for senior Alfred Blue and/or junior Kenny Hilliard to take the job and run with it, and that duo will be the roadblock that prevents Hill from ascending back to the top spot of the depth chart in 2013.
It seems like Blue's impact is getting lost in the Hill hoopla. The 6'2", 222-pounder won the job exiting fall camp last year before a knee injury ended his season last September. Prior to his injury in Week 3, he rushed for 270 yards and two touchdowns, and he topped the century mark twice.
"I knew I would have to come in and rehab really well, come out and practice and show the coaches that I’m still that guy that started off that season last year," Blue said at Monday's press day. "It feels great to be back in position to start again and just be out there ready for that first game.”
Blue is more of a home-run threat than Hill, but he lacks the size to handle the punishment between the tackles.
Luckily for Blue, Hilliard will gobble up some of those tough yards.
The 6'0", 233-pounder emerged as a bruiser late in the 2011 season in a similar fashion that Hill did in 2012, only to a slightly lesser degree. He rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown against then-No. 5 Arkansas late during his freshman campaign, scored three times in the Tigers' SEC Championship Game win over Georgia and topped the century mark twice during LSU's first three games of 2012.
As Hill's carries increased last season, Hilliard's decreased mostly because what the offense was doing was working. But if Hilliard proves early that he is back to his late-2011 and early-2012 form, it's going to be hard for Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to keep him off the field late in games.
The dropoff between Hill and either Blue or Hilliard at full strength is minimal, if it's even noticeable at all. If the combination of Blue and Hilliard proves that it can get the job done with Hill relegated to the back-burner, Cameron would be crazy to mess with what's working.
After all, LSU has used a running-back-by-committee approach in the past. Four running backs topped the 70-carry mark last season, and three accomplished the feat in 2011—along with quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
LSU's got the horses, so it might as well use them. Once Hill's internal punishment is over, don't expect him to be handed the top spot on the depth chart. If all goes according to plan, he'll just be another addition to a talented and deep running back corps.