The calendar has officially turned and it’s game week, and we are blasting off the college football season. Man, has it been a long summer, but we have had our share of college football news along with some extremely hot weather. We continue counting down our Rant Sports 100 teams in 100 days, as we take a look at the number three team in our Top 25, the LSU Tigers.
LSU returns a wealth of talent in 2012. The Tigers are coming off a 2011 campaign that saw them hoist the SEC Title in Atlanta, but come up short in their bid for the BCS crystal ball. They will also be without, do-it-all playmaker, Tyrann Mathieu, who was dismissed early on in fall camp due to a violation of team rules. Most have speculated Mathieu failed his third drug test, which was grounds for immediate dismissal.
As bad as the departure of Mathieu may sound for Tiger fans, this 2012 LSU squad has plenty of talent, and even more great leadership that starts at the top with Coach Les Miles.
The Tigers will be breaking in a new quarterback when they take the field on September 1 versus the North Texas Mean Green. Zach Mettenberger will now be the man that can hopefully lead this LSU team to a BCS Title. Mettenberger has a strong arm and more of a pocket presence than last years combo of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. He should be able to make some plays down the field, something we didn’t see in 2011.
The running game will again, be the staple of this LSU offense. Four running backs return and they even add a fifth in newcomer, Jeremy Hill, that could eventually work his way into the rotation. 2011 leading rusher, Michael Ford, will split the carries once again with fellow junior Spencer Ware. Ford put up 756 yards in 2011, while Ware finished the year with 727. The Tigers will also throw into the mix, junior Alfred Blue and sophomore Kenny Hilliard, who combined for 883 yards. The wildcard in this Tiger backfield could be the freshman, Jeremy Hill. Although the Tigers are deep at the running back position, don’t be surprised if Hill is in the mix come mid-season.
As strong as the running game is for LSU, the offensive line is what makes the running game go. The Tigers return four of five starters up front. Right tackle Alex Hurst is the leader of this unit, as he comes off a 2011 season in which he was chosen First Team All-SEC by the coaches.
If there is a question mark on the offensive side of the ball, it could be the wide receiving corp. There is talent, but the Tigers must have Russell Shepard return to the form that made him one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school. Odell Beckham Jr. returns for his sophomore season, after a freshman campaign that saw him catch 41 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore, Jarvis Landry, should be the third receiver for the Tigers. Landry spent his freshman season knocking heads on LSU’s kickoff team.
Nasty is about the best word you can use to describe this LSU defense. In 2011, they stifled opponents by bringing pressure from all angles. A huge part of the Tigers success was Tyrann Mathieu’s ability to play multiple positions. And although his loss will be felt, I still expect this 2012 LSU defense to be among the elite in college football.
It all starts up front for the Tigers, as defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo both return to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Inside, Bennie Logan and Josh Downs will once again draw double teams, which will allow these speedy defensive ends to really get after the passer.
At linebacker there is some concern. Not because of the level of talent, but because of inexperience behind the top three. Middle linebacker Kevin Minter returns after a 61 tackle 2011 season. He will be joined by Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow, both of who saw significant action in 2011. Here is where the concern lies. Behind the starting trio, there isn’t a lot of experienced depth. Freshmen Deion Jones, Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis, Ronnie Fiest and Lorenzo Phillips are already drawing praise from coaches and other players. These young guys will need to learn on the move to contribute in 2012.
The secondary will once again be solid. Junior Tharold Simon should once again add to the Tiger’s history of lockdown defensive backs. He will be joined in the secondary by safeties Eric Reid and Craig Loston. Now to the question everybody wants to know the answer to. Who is going to replace Mathieu? Well the answer is no one, but Jalen Mills looks like he’ll get the first opportunity to be the man opposite Simon. Mills is a 6’0″, 185 pound freshman from DeSoto, Texas.
LSU will have a tough non-conference home tilt versus the Washington Huskies on September 8. Other than that, it’s business as usual in the SEC. Road games at Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas highlight the 2012 Tiger schedule. The home games include a visit from the South Carolina Gamecocks, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and the huge November 3 showdown with the Alabama Crimson Tide.