- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
Each week at TideNation we will speak with a writer who covers one of Alabama's 2012 opponents. Today we spoke with David Helman, who covers all things LSU for GeauxTigerNationESPN.com.
Scarborough: What is the mood around the LSU campus in the aftermath of losing to Alabama in the national championship game? Is there a sense of revenge?
Helman: I'm not sure the word "revenge" completely encapsulates what LSU fans want out of 2012. Sure, any and every Tigers fan wants to beat the Crimson Tide on Nov. 3. But it wasn't just a big rivalry game Alabama won last January -- Nick Saban and Co. completely tainted what had been one of the most impressive single seasons in college football history. Beating Bama would be huge, but for many LSU fans, a national title might be the only way to wash Jan. 9 away.
Scarborough: Tell me about Zach Mettenberger. What has struck you about him in the early-going? Can he take this offense to another level?
Helman: The kid doesn't lack for confidence. He showed that in New Orleans when he said he'd take ownership of the team, and he followed that up in the spring by taking on the lion's share of attention and expectations. Luckily for Mettenberger, he doesn't have to be great to be effective. LSU returns four starting offensive linemen and four running backs from a ground game that averaged more than 200 yards per game in 2011. If he can prove himself a threat as a passer, it will make the Tigers pretty tough to stop.
Scarborough: The Honey Badger is back but Morris Claiborne is not. How does the secondary change in 2012? Can it possibly be better?
Helman: Well, we saw how much the Tigers missed Patrick Peterson in 2011 -- which is to say, they didn't. Even with Morris Claiborne off to the NFL, LSU still returns three heavily experienced starters in Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon and Eric Reid, and there's plenty of talent to plug the remaining gaps. More importantly is that the Tigers feature future NFLers Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan all along their defensive front. Opposing teams probably aren't going to have an abundance of time to find the secondary's weaknesses.
Scarborough: LSU-Alabama version 3.0 will be an overhyped mess to be sure. Is there any way it can live up to the previous two matchups?
Helman: Tide-Tigers 3.0 can absolutely be better. Lost in all the hype of the first two games is that while dramatic, neither contest was what I'd call great football. The Nov. 5 meeting had its share of memorable moments, but at the end of the day it was a game that didn't feature a touchdown. And while Crimson Tide fans were no doubt thrilled by the outcome of the rematch, to the impartial observer it might have been the most boring title game of the BCS era. I think we can do better.
Scarborough: Give me your argument for LSU beating Alabama.
Helman: It's common knowledge that Alabama holds a massive stockpile of recruits, but can that translate into production right away? After the Tide's 2009 national title the defense was gutted by the NFL draft. Alabama surrendered almost 300 yards a game in 2010 before those players matured into 2011's fire-breathing monster. If history repeats itself, LSU shouldn't have a problem moving past midfield this fall. The game is also in Tiger Stadium and is guaranteed by CBS to be a night kickoff. It's not smart to read too much into statistics, but Les Miles is 31-2 in night games at Tiger Stadium during his tenure (11-2 in SEC night games).
Scarborough: And, now, what are some obstacles that might keep that from happening?
Helman: For all of Mettenberger's promise, the Tide still have the game's most experienced quarterback -- one who already proved he can beat the Tigers' secondary. Much like LSU, Alabama lost plenty of talent but seems to have the right replacement ready in most cases. It looks like a pretty even matchup in most spots, and when that's the case coaching usually decides it. Miles has proven he can outcoach Saban before, but after last winter you have to give the nod to Saban as the guy with the upper hand in that department.