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 6'5", 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 says. 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
raduation 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.
What kind of development have you seen out of Zach Mettenberger this off-season?
He's more commanding, more comfortable and more demanding of his teammates. His commitment to his job is more evident.
How has new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron meshed with Zach?
Cam brings us NFL experience and a track record of developing quarterbacks. He will mentor Zach very well.
Do you feel like LSU is getting overlooked?
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.
Are you concerned about your depth given that 11 underclassmen left early for the NFL?
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.
Player to Watch
In 2012 the 6'2", 215-poundKwon Alexanderstarted two games at OLB 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.
STACY REVERE/GETTY IMAGES (HILLIARD)
SIMON BRUTY/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MILES)
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Zach Mettenberger
Pass: 2,735 yards, 19 TDs
Run: --125 yards, 0 TDs
RB Alfred Blue
Run: 840 yards, 11 TDs
Rec.: 135 yards, 0 TDs
WR Odell Beckham
Rec.: 750 yards, 5 TDs
Run: 65 yards, 1 TD
The young Tigers could struggle in their opener against No. 16 TCU in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas. After that, Florida visits Baton Rouge (Oct. 12), as does Texas A&M (Nov. 23), but road trips to Georgia (Sept. 28) and Alabama (Nov. 9) will likely determine LSU's BCS fate.
SI Power Ratings
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