When most talk about LSU in anticipation of tonight's BCS National Championship Game, the discussion on defense largely centers around the secondary. That comes rightly so with cornerbacks like Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne — the latter of whom will be a first-round pick this year.
But it's a group of defensive lineman filled with sophomores who should give Tigers fans enough reason to think LSU will beat Alabama again tonight but also keep them as contenders next season. That is, of course, if none of them enter the draft following tonight's game.
Defensive end Sam Montgomery is the flashiest of the bunch and had two sacks in LSU 9-6 win over Alabama in November. He's already said he won't enter the draft this year, but anything could happen before the Jan. 15 declare deadline. Montgomery is a lean 6-foot-4, 245 pounds as a redshirt sophomore. If he can bulk up to the 255-pound range, he's good enough to be an early first-round pick. If he plays his junior year at a bigger size, he could stay at end in the NFL to play the run game better. But he's also athletic enough right now to move outside on a 3-4 defense.
Perhaps even better suited for a role in a 3-4 defense is fellow end Barkevious Mingo. The former high school track star is the fastest of LSU's linemen and reportedly runs the 40-yard dash in the low 4.5 range. With this length and first step, expect ridiculous comparisons for Mingo when he chooses to go pro.
Shockingly, neither Montgomery nor Mingo is LSU's best sophomore defensive lineman. That would be tackle Michael Brockers. If he went pro after tonight's game (which is merely a slight Internet rumor, at the moment) he would be a top 20 picks this year. Brockers' game compares favorably to Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Like McCoy, Brockers is a long, strong tackle who can penetrate gaps with ease. But it's his underrated run defense that makes Brockers ready for the NFL right now. If he decides to return for his junior season, Brockers could blossom into a top 10 pick in 2013. A key for tonight is how Brockers plays against short Alabama center William Vlachos. The senior used leverage against Brockers to help neutralize him some the last time they faced off.
Fellow tackle Bennie Logan is as versatile as he is underrated. With Mingo and Montgomery on the outside, Logan lines up mainly at tackle. His first step is good enough, though, to play left end in the right 4-3 system in the NFL. Ideally, Logan will end up on a 3-4 team as an end. He'll be able to hold the edge against the run and take up blockers.
Of course, Alabama's line in their 3-4 set is no slouch either. Senior tackle Josh Chapman is one of the better nose tackle prospects in this year's draft. Junior college transfer Jesse Williams perfectly plays the part of a five-technique and does everything a 3-4 team would want in an end.