Honey Badger hurt the Tigers, but better QB play could keep them in the chase

Key Recruit

KWON ALEXANDER It's not often that a top recruit from Alabama signs with LSU, but the 6'2", 215-pound Alexander did just that. The speedy linebacker missed most of his senior season at Oxford High with a knee injury, but Miles expects him to contribute immediately.

Breakout Player

SPENCER WARE The LSU coaching staff has great expectations for Ware, a 5'11", 225-pound junior who started 10 games in 2011. With an improved passing attack, Ware won't be facing as many eight- and nine-man fronts this season, which should translate into one big year.

The Skinny

IN 2010, Zach Mettenberger threw for 2,678 yards and 32 TDs at Butler (Kans.) Community College. Now, he takes over an amped-up LSU offense that will feature more mid- and long-range passes in an attempt to put more points on the board. If he succeeds, it will take pressure off the team's suddenly depleted D. Of course, the Tigers aren't exactly hurting for defensive talent. The line—led by junior ends Sam Montgomery (nine sacks in 2011) and Barkevious Mingo (15 tackles for loss)—could be one of the best in school history. And while Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal stings, the secondary will rally around junior safety Eric Reid, a potential top 15 draft pick next April.

Final Analysis

BESIDES METTENBERGER, the Tigers have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation, which includes five returning starters with a combined 102 starts. LSU's top four rushers from 2011 are also back, headlined by junior tailbacks Spencer Ware (who ran for 707 yards last season) and Michael Ford (756 yards). On defense LSU may be just as ruthlessly talented as it was last season, when the Tigers were ranked in the top five nationally in four categories. Still, that unit will miss Mathieu, and his absence will be the tissue-thin difference between a BCS bowl bid and the BCS Championship Game.

THE VITALS

Coach Les Miles (8th year)

75--18 (41--15 SEC)

2011 Record 13--1 (8--0, 1st in SEC West)

Final AP Rank 2

Returning Starters Offense 6, Defense 4

2011 STATS

Total Offense (FBS Rank) 355.1 YPG (86)

Rushing Offense 202.6 YPG (22)

Passing Offense 152.5 YPG (106)

Total Defense 261.5 YPG (2)

Rushing Defense 90.1 YPG (5)

Passing Defense 171.4 YPG (8)

TELLING NUMBER 6

First-half touchdowns the LSU defense, which has four returning starters, surrendered last season.

TOP PLAYERS

Offense

QB Zach Mettenberger

Jr., 6'5", 230 pounds

92 YDs, 1 TD

WR Russell Shepard

Sr., 6'1", 195 pounds

14 RECs, 190 YDs

RB Michael Ford

Jr., 5'10", 216 pounds

756 YDs, 7 TDs

Defense

S Eric Reid

Jr., 6'2", 212 pounds

76 tackles, 2 INTs

DE Sam Montgomery

Jr., 6'5", 280 pounds

49 tackles, 9 sacks

LB Kevin Minter

Jr., 6'2", 245 pounds

61 tackles, 1 sack

Special Teams

P Brad Wing

Soph., 6'3", 197 pounds

44.4 AVG, 45.8% inside 20-yard line

PHOTOTYLER KAUFMAN/ICON SMI (MONTGOMERY)Montgomery (above) will once again pair up with fellow DE Mingo to make life painful for opposing quarterbacks. PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (WARE)[See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)