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Countdown to kickoff: Three calls

8/30/2012

GeauxTigerNation writers Gary Laney and David Helman get you ready for the season with a daily breakdown throughout August of what LSU is facing in the fall -- from its opponents to its road trips to who it's recruiting. Today, Helman and Laney make three calls about the upcoming season:

GARY LANEY

1. Barkevious Mingo gets 12 sacks: Here's my logic:

LSU has a young secondary and will, as a result, get tested a lot. Mingo can rush the passer and had eight sacks last season even as a non-starter. This year, he's a starter.

Add the two up and what do you get? Gaudy stat numbers.

2. Zach Mettenberger throws 25 touchdowns: Similar logic applies.

Teams will gang up to stop the run and Mettenberger can pass the football. As a result, he'll get some single coverage and beat it for some big plays. And by the goal line, defenses will pile up to stop the physical run game with backs like Kenny Hilliard and Spencer Ware. So there will be chances to run play-action for some easy short-yardage touchdown passes.

3. Odell Beckham becomes a star: He already shined as LSU's second-leading receiver as a freshman.

This year, Beckham will emerge as one of the big-play men in the SEC. With Mettenberger slinging it and Beckham as his main target, he'll put up huge numbers as a receiver. And, he has the tools to be a big-time return man for the punt team. The combination will make him a highlight-reel player, possibly a 1,000-yard receiver and a double-digit per return punt returner.

DAVID HELMAN

1. The Tigers will average 250 rushing yards per game: It's not exactly a bold prediction. LSU averaged 202 yards on the ground per game last fall, and the team returns four starters along the offensive line and all of last season's primary ball-carriers.

On top of that, Mettenberger should force defenses to respect the passing game more than last year. If opposing defenses aren't packing the box, there will be even more running room for this devastating ground game.

2. LSU will lose a game it has no business losing: I'm a big believer in statistics, and statistics don't favor the Tigers' chances of a return trip to the BCS Championship Game.

Crazy things happen in college football, but LSU seemed to dodge all that craziness in a dominant season last year. There are too many good teams on the schedule -- No. 2 Alabama, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 10 Arkansas -- and too many treacherous road trips -- at Auburn, at Florida, at Texas A&M -- to expect it to happen again.

Les Miles' teams have a habit of delivering in big situations -- last January not withstanding. It's the harsh road games against the likes of the Gators and Aggies, or maybe a trap game against a sneaky-good Mississippi State team, that worry. The Tigers are clearly better than most of the teams on their schedule, but the odds indicate that won't be enough. Ask yourself if you really thought LSU would lose to Kentucky or Arkansas in 2007?

3. The young secondary won't drop off: After the loss of Tyrann Mathieu, the dominant storyline of August has been an inexperienced and shallow defensive secondary.

A freshman will start at one of the two cornerback spots, and the strong safety spot isn't especially experienced. Where the Tigers had a wealth of experienced depth in the secondary last year, they have a stockpile of unproven talents for this go-around.

All that said, I don't think the drop-off will be too bad. There's still first round talent in the secondary, and LSU boasts a pass rush that few offensive lines will be able to contain. The Tigers might not rank in the top 10 in pass defense this year, but they won't plummet down the rankings either.