LSU head coach Les Miles is leading his team into unfamiliar territory.
For the first time since 2010, when the Tigers were picked to finish fourth in the SEC West by media members at SEC Media Days, the Tigers are being vastly overlooked in the offseason.
The folks at NOLA.com compared the preseason ratings for LSU in five major preview magazines. The results weren't pretty.
All five have Alabama winning the BCS National Championship, and only one—Lindy's—has the Tigers in the top 10.
This isn't the new kid on the block or the team that is all sizzle and no steak. This is LSU, the same program that has posted three straight 10-win seasons and generally resides in the national championship discussion into the final month of the season.
The reason for LSU's absence from the national scene this summer is simple: There's a lot for Miles to replace.
Six players from LSU's 2012 defense declared early for the NFL draft, in addition to four other players off of the offense and special teams. With those numbers and a mediocre offense that finished 10th in the SEC (374.2 YPG), it's easy to see why the Tigers aren't getting preseason love.
That's incredibly lazy, though.
The biggest difference between last year's Tiger defense and this one is the power up front shifted from the outside to the middle. Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are fully capable of being forces on the defensive line who can free up LSU's talented but inexperienced defensive ends to make plays in the backfield.
Is defensive end Jermauria Rasco the second coming of Sam Montgomery or Barkevious Mingo? Probably not. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to look like it at times.
Remember 11 months ago, when the biggest question facing the Tigers was who's going to replace departed defensive backs Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu? Freshmen Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins did just fine and are back as sophomores with another offseason of work under their belts.
Is the secondary all of a sudden more of an issue without Tharold Simon? Please.
As long as Mills, Collins and safety Craig Loston are back there, the Tiger secondary will be stout again.
The loss of Kevin Minter hurts, but Lamin Barrow has played well for defensive coordinator John Chavis, and Tahj Jones is back after missing most of last season due to academics. Plus, Chavis' system allows his linebackers to freelance a bit more than other defenses, which allows players' athletic abilities to take over.
Does LSU have questions on offense?
Sure. But the Tigers also have experience, which is invaluable.
A veteran offensive line, a talented and experienced wide receiving corps, and an established quarterback should allow the offense to grow by leaps and bounds this offseason.
Did Zach Mettenberger struggle at times last season? Sure. But he also threw for 215 or more yards in each of the final four games of the 2012 season and has a big arm.
His big arm is key.
New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron likes to run the ball and stretch the field over the top. Even if suspended running back Jeremy Hill doesn't suit up, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard are proven commodities and should open up the field when Mettenberger is asked to sling it down field.
It seems like the consensus for the Tigers this offseason is that they'll take a step back. A step back doesn't necessarily mean a step down.
LSU will be a national title contender in 2013—just as it is every season.
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