2011 overall record: 13-1
2011 SEC record: 8-0 (first, beat Georgia in SEC championship game)
Offense: 8; Defense: 5; Kicker/punter: 2
CB Tyrann Mathieu, S Eric Reid, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, DE Barkevious Mingo, RB Michael Ford, RB Spencer Ware, WR Odell Beckham, Jr., WR Russell Shepard, OT Alex Hurst, OT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, P Brad Wing, K Drew Alleman
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Michael Ford* (756 yards)
Passing: Jarrett Lee (1,306 yards)
Receiving: Rueben Randle (917 yards)
Sacks: Sam Montgomery* (9)
Interceptions: Morris Claiborne (6)
1. More aggressive passing game: LSU looked to throw more, and with less-conservative passes, with new quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Head coach Les Miles commented all spring that the passing game would be more efficient with Mettenberger, a junior college transfer, than it was with Jefferson and Lee, the starters for the last four seasons.
2. A deep, experienced O-line: When offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in the spring after missing all of 2011 because of injury, an already experienced LSU offensive line got that much older and wiser. Dworaczyk, a two-year starter, gives LSU the potential of starting players with significant starting experience at all five offensive line positions ... that is, if they can hold off up-and-comers like sophomore La'el Collins, who was the nation's top-rated offensive lineman coming out of high school in 2011.
3. A stable of backs: Miles loves a power running game featuring several running backs and LSU had it on display in the spring. Even with Ford out with injuries, Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill all took turns gobbling up yards in the spring against the rugged LSU defense. With the experienced offensive line, there's no reason to think that the arrival of Mettenberger will bring a halt to Miles' beloved power running game.
1. Replacing the defensive play makers: While the LSU secondary returns two potential first-round draft picks in Mathieu, the Heisman Trophy finalist, and Reid, it also must replace Claiborne, the first defensive back selected in the NFL draft, and third-round pick Brandon Taylor at safety. On the defensive line, the Tigers lose the production of first-round pick Michael Brockers at defensive tackle. While there are good candidates, replacing such lost quality is a tall order.
2. Mettenberger's experience: As exciting as his big arm may be, Mettenberger has still not taken a meaningful snap in a Division I college game. LSU has not been this inexperienced under center since 2007, when Lee and Jefferson were getting most of the snaps as freshmen. It doesn't help that LSU's best receiver, Randle, was a second-round NFL draft pick.
3. Linebacker quality: LSU was loaded with defensive playmakers in 2011, but its linebacker play was ho-hum. The Tigers will be looking to upgrade the position despite losing three seniors. Kevin Minter, who overcame senior Karnell Hatcher after the season's first three games to take over the starting middle linebacker spot as a sophomore last season, appears to be a solid centerpiece. Junior Tahj Jones was productive in limited snaps. True freshmen Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis had good springs. Louis returned an interception for a touchdown in the spring game.