|LSU's 2013 schedule|
The SEC title game is Dec. 7 in Atlanta.
Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.
The case for
Despite losing 11 underclassmen who left early for the NFL -- thought to be the most ever for a team in a single season -- the Tigers will be a threat to knock off Alabama in the SEC West because of the maturation of one player: senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. A year ago, in his first season as the starter, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Mettenberger struggled with his accuracy on intermediate-length passes and often appeared as slow-footed as a lineman. But working with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron this spring, Mettenberger tweaked his throwing mechanics. "It was little things, like where I put my [right] big toe when I throw and always trying to keep my eyes looking down the field," Mettenberger said. He also spent dozens of hours performing speed drills on the LSU practice fields. The play of the new and improved Mettenberger, who possesses an NFL-caliber arm, will lift a young team looking to maintain its place near the top of the SEC pecking order.
The case against
Graduation and early departures crushed the defensive line, where four starters must be replaced. Breaking in two more starters in the secondary (sophomore cornerback Jalen Collins and junior safety Ronald Martin) makes it harder to stop high-powered SEC offenses.
A young team could struggle in its opener against TCU in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas. After that, LSU hosts both Florida (Oct. 12) and Texas A&M (Nov. 23). Road trips to Georgia (Sept. 28) and Alabama (Nov. 9) will likely determine the Tigers' BCS fate.
2,609: The number of yards quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for in 2012. Mettenberger is the first LSU quarterback since Jeff Wickersham in 1984 to return to Baton Rouge after passing for more than 2,500 yards.
LB Kwon Alexander: In 2012, the 6-2, 215-pounder started two games at outside linebacker as a freshman before breaking his right ankle. In the games he did play, he forced one fumble and recovered two others. He'll see time at outside or inside linebacker this season.
Freshman to watch
CB Tre'Davious White: When pressed on which freshman he was most excited to see in summer camp, coach Les Miles didn't hesitate giving a response: defensive back White. Widely considered a five-star recruit, the 5-10, 170-pounder needs to add weight, but he flourished as a dual-threat quarterback and shutdown cornerback at Green Oaks (La.) High. "We've played defensive backs early a lot here and I don't expect to change this season," Miles said. "If you're good enough, you'll play early here. And White has got a chance to be very good."
The backfield situation: After starting running back Jeremy Hill pleaded guilty this summer to misdemeanor simple battery stemming from a fight in April, Miles suspended him from the team indefinitely. Hill was reinstated with the Tigers after a recent team vote, and he's set to share carries with senior Alfred Blue, who missed the last 10 games of last season after tearing his ACL against Idaho. "People forget that Alfred was our starter and off to a great season last year," said Mettenberger. "He brings explosiveness and experience to the position. We'll be fine at running back."
2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)
QB Zach Mettenberger: 2,735 passing yards, 19 TDs; -125 rushing yards
RB Alfred Blue: 840 rushing yards, 11 TDs; 135 receiving yards
WR Odell Beckham: 750 receiving yards, 5 TDs; 65 rushing yards, 1 TD
Coach speak: Les Miles
SI: What kind of development have you seen out of Zach Mettenberger this offseason?
LM: He's more commanding, more comfortable and more demanding of his teammates. His commitment to his job is more evident.
SI: How has new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron meshed with Zach?
LM: Cam brings us NFL experience and a track record of developing quarterbacks. He will mentor Zach very well.
SI: Do you feel like LSU is getting overlooked?
LM: We've won more conference games in the last eight years than any other team in the SEC. And in the past eight drafts we've had 51 guys drafted. So considering all of that, it's difficult for us to take on that underdog role.
SI: Are you concerned about your depth given that 11 underclassmen left early for the NFL?
LM: No. We recruit good players, we teach them, they invest time to get better, and then they can achieve a dream of playing in the NFL. I'm proud of that. Sure, I'd like to have those guys back, but we have a bunch of talented kids on the roster.