<
>
Insider

Countdown to kickoff: Our predictions

8/31/2012

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, in the final countdown, Laney and Helman give their predictions:

GARY LANEY

12-1, first in SEC West: LSU will be better on offense but maybe not quite as good on defense.

I think it adds up to the Tigers not being quite as good as last year's team, but the record won't suffer much because of a favorable non-conference schedule. In fact, I think the Tigers will have a shot to have a better finish by having an offense that can win in the BCS title game.

Zach Mettenberger will make the offense better even though he won't have Rueben Randle to throw to. Having a quarterback who can sling it around will open up the running game a little bit more and actually make it better as well.

That said, we might not have known just how good the secondary was last year until the NFL draft when Ron Brooks was picked in the fourth round.

Think about it. Morris Claiborne, Brooks and Brandon Taylor headed to the NFL. It's widely assumed that Eric Reid and Tharold Simon will eventually join them, as will Tyrann Mathieu if he can come back from the issues that got him dismissed from the team this year.

Looking back, that means LSU was six deep with NFL-ready defensive backs.

That made it easy to play man-to-man ouside, then bring tremendous pressure up front. This year, the Tigers will have to play a little more honest in the back end, which might make them a little easier to block up front.

So I'm looking at a loss, probably on the road, and perhaps in a shootout. Maybe it's A.J. McCarron. Maybe it's Tyler Wilson. But there's a loss in this team.

I still think they are the class of the SEC and they'll be in Miami.

DAVID HELMAN

10-2, first in SEC West: I think LSU might have a better overall team than last year's No. 2 squad, but the odds are against them.

When was the last time a team reached two consecutive national title games? It was the 2004 and 2005 USC squads, and before that the 2001 and 2002 Miami squads. Those are three or four of the best college teams of all time. Reaching that stage in two consecutive years is a hard thing to do.

I think the offense will improve enormously with Mettenberger commanding the offense. The defense won't be the fire-breathing monster it was in 2011, but it will be a solid John Chavis defense. The Tigers should be favored in 10 or 11, if not all 12 of their games. But I can't see them going 3-0 against the highly-ranked trio of No. 2 Alabama, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 10 Arkansas.

On top of that, there are plenty of other tough opponents and tough locales LSU must go up against. Can the Tigers keep their focus for 12 straight weeks for a second consecutive season? My guess is probably not. It's a tough thing to do.