You’re only as good as your last game. And, unfortunately for LSU, that mantra seems to hold true in college football. Also, unfortunately for LSU, their last game was the most watched game of the football season and by far their worst of otherwise spectacular 13-1 campaign. The Tigers were shutout by SEC West-rival Alabama 21-0 in the BCS National Championship game.
LSU supporters will point out that simply evened the series at 1-1 considering the Tigers won an overtime slugfest, 9-6, against Alabama on the road during the regular season. But the fact is, when the lights shined the brightest, Jan. 9 in the Superdome in New Orleans, the LSU offense came up with exactly zero points and the vaunted defense allowed 21 points.
The disappointment from January lingered into the offseason, but by the time spring practice came around that disappointment turned into high expectations, even considering the Jan. 9 outcome and a new face under center.
In his seven years in Baton Rouge, Les Miles has established himself as one of the premier coaches in college football. The little-known coach from Oklahoma State who went 28-21 in four seasons and never finished better than third in the Big 12 South has found a gold mine at LSU. The Tigers are 103-39 under Miles, they have won the vaunted SEC West three times, been to two National Championship Games, winning one, and have finished ranked in the Coaches and AP Top 10 five of his seven seasons.
The hype machine around new quarterback Zach Mettenberger is almost too much to believe. No first-year quarterback in college football is dealing with the expectations that have been placed on Mettenberger’s shoulders. Some of that has to do with the frustration LSU fans had with the offense last season despite a 13-1 campaign. Others have to do with his track record and early comparisons to Matt Flynn.
In Baton Rouge, the goal is simple, win a National Championship. That might seem like a lot for the former Georgia Bulldog recruit, but Mettenberger has already played in a National Championship Game, albeit the JUCO National Championship while playing his one season at Butler Community College.
Mettenberger, a 6-foot-5, 220 pounder, with a cannon for an arm, has never started a game at LSU. Last season he attempted a total of 11 passes, but you wouldn’t know any of that with the way he is being anointed as the key to getting the Tigers back to the big stage.
It might not seem like it in the offseason with the all cameras and microphones on Mettenberger, but once the ball is snapped he will have plenty of help in shouldering the offense led by a trio of running backs in Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard. The three-headed rushing monster will run behind an absolutely loaded offensive line that returns four starters, including all-conference tackle Alex Hurst and second-team preseason all-conference guard Chris Faulk. Mettenberger’s top receiving target appears to be sophomore Odell Beckham Jr., who showed promise last year in catching 41 passes as a freshman including five in the National Championship Game.
Whether fair or not, nobody is expecting the LSU defense to skip a beat from last season’s unit that ranked second in the nation in points allowed per game (11.3). And, at least on paper, this unit looks better than last year's group, as hard as that may be to believe.
The Tigers have four of the 11 players named to the SEC preseason first-team defense and considering the conference that is quite a statement. Those players are junior defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery and junior defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid. Montgomery had a team-high nine sacks last season while Mathieu and Reid tied for the team lead in tackles with 76. Junior defensive tackle Bennie Logan landed on the preseason third-team as did junior defensive back Tharold Simon, who could end up being the most talented player in the secondary, and that is saying something.
With Mingo and Montgomery on the ends, the Tigers have arguably the top pass rushing combination in the country, and Mathieu aka "Honeybadger" is one of the most exciting players in college football. Mathieu is listed at 35/1 to win the Heisman Trophy; he is the only defensive player with Heisman odds listed on Bovada.
If there is any weak link it may be at linebacker, where two starters need to be replaced. However, they do have returning starter Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and plenty of talent waiting in the wings.
2012 LSU Football Schedule Analysis
LSU will be challenged this season, but only sporadically. It opens the season with three consecutive Saturday primetime games in Baton Rouge with North Texas, Washington and Idaho visiting, all as decided underdogs. The Tigers then hit the road to open SEC play when they visit Auburn. After a breather against Towson at home, LSU hits the road in SEC play again at Florida. A home game against South Carolina and a visit to College Station to play Texas A&M will be followed with a bye week, and then the college football game of the year takes place when LSU hosts Alabama on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m. The Tigers close the season with home games against both SEC Mississippi schools and a visit to Arkansas on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The schedule breakdown favors LSU with nice breaks in the form of Towson between visits to Auburn and Florida and a bye week before the Alabama showdown.
2012 LSU Tigers Futures Odds
LSU and Alabama share the same odds to win the SEC West (8/5) and SEC (11/5) on Bovada, but when it comes to the National Championship the Tigers are the favorite to win it all at +350 ahead of USC (+450) and Alabama (+625).
According to future college football point spreads on 5Dimes, the Tigers will be challenged multiple times during the regular season. While they will be decided favorites against Texas A&M (-9.5), Auburn (-9.5), Mississippi State (-17), Washington (-22) and Mississippi (-27.5), the point spreads are much tighter against Alabama (-2.5), Arkansas (-3) and Florida (-5).
On 5Dimes the LSU season win total is listed at 10 with an “over” at –145 and “under” at +125 and it is listed at 10.5 with the over at +110 and the under at –150.
2012 LSU Tigers Football Predictions
The Tigers return a loaded squad from a team who went 13-1 last year. Their defense might be better while their offense has an upgrade at quarterback, albeit an unproven one. And all of that says nothing of their special teams, which is the best in the country with punter Brad Wing, kicker Drew Alleman and Honey Badger handling returns.
But there is very little value in wagering on a team to win a National Championship in the offseason at +350. For the Tigers to go over 10.5 wins they could only afford one loss during a regular season that features road trips to Auburn, Florida and Arkansas and a showdown with the Crimson Tide. That is asking a lot out of a first-year quarterback.
Duplicating last year's run is a tall task for Miles and company, the play here is under 10.5 wins.
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