This year could be a lot like last year for the LSU Tigers. That's certainly not a bad problem to have; all the Bayou Bengals would need to do is make sure that their last game puts the capper on a perfect season.
Returning Starters: 7
The Tigers are going to be pegged to win almost every one of their 12 regular-season contests this fall. However, if anything limits the extent to which the Tigers will be favored, it's their offense. On this matter there is no doubt whatsoever. Last year, quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson struggled within a platoon system; the offense was repeatedly bailed out by the Tigers' defense and special teams. This season, a new signal caller will step into the breach for LSU. Zack Mettenberger will confront life in the SEC. Mettenberger threw eight passes last year in garbage time for the Tigers and rushed the ball twice. Now a junior, he is the team's clear No. 1 starter, a position which brings with it great responsibility. LSU was a great team even with balky, hesitant performances from Lee and Jefferson last season. If Mettenberger is up to the task, LSU could get back to the national championship stage and complete the job that went undone last season.
Returning Starters: 5
In the most-hyped regular-season college football game of 2011, the star of the show was LSU's defense. This was a team powered by defense and special teams all season long, never more so than in the 9-6 overtime win over rival Alabama on Nov. 5. The Tigers' secondary simply did not give up big plays. The front four contained runners and did not allow them to turn the corner. LSU was physical, yes, but it was also deep and resilient. Throughout the 2011 campaign, opposing offenses would often get to the Tigers' 35-yard line and then fail to finish drives. There were no real holes in this defense. West Virginia played well for two quarters against LSU's defense, and that's about it.
With the best ballhawking secondary in the country, spearheaded by Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu, LSU's defense made as many game-breaking plays as the offense. This year, the Tigers get Mathieu back alongside safety Eric Reid, whose interception against Alabama saved the Bayou Bengals in that Nov. 5 win at Alabama. LSU's defense will still be extremely formidable in 2012. The SEC West has some superb quarterbacks, but the Tigers will be equipped to stop them in their tracks.
The road game at Arkansas and the home game against Alabama will be the two biggest tests on the slate. If LSU can hold serve at home against Alabama, an 11-1 record should be good enough to win the SEC West title and then enter the SEC Championship Game, which it would probably be able to claim against an inferior SEC East squad. As Alabama showed last year, a one-loss SEC team can definitely get to the BCS National Championship Game. If LSU wins the SEC, it will be hard to keep the Tigers out of college football's title tilt.
Prediction: SEC Champions; will make the BCS National Championship Game