The LSU Tigers will be looking to challenge for the SEC Championship again in 2013 as they are coming off a wild 2012 that was full of close games. LSU's two regular-season losses to Florida and Alabama came by a combined 12 points, making for the distance from a potential national championship.
A less optimistic person could also say that the Tigers narrowly avoided a disastrous season as five of their six SEC wins came by one possession or less, including two-point victories over Auburn and South Carolina.
Close games come with the territory at LSU, where defense and the running game dominate, along with Les Miles' voodoo. The passing attack did show some signs of life late, but overall the Tigers didn't have the scoring prowess to pull away from conference opponents. However, with plenty of returners on offense and a new, experienced coordinator, things could be looking up in 2013.
Of course, the SEC isn't getting any easier. Alabama is coming off another national championship and will be tough to contend with again. Texas A&M is on the rise, while Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina loom over in the the league's East division.
Spring practice start date: Mar. 14, 2013
Spring game date, location: Apr. 20, 2013, Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
Approximate returning starters: The Tigers should have eight returning starters on offense, but just five on defense. Zach Mettenberger returns as the starter for the second-straight season after mixed results in 2012. Mettenberger completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,609 yards and just 12 touchdowns. He should get plenty of help from a stacked backfield including sophomore Jeremy Hill and senior Alfred Blue.
The top returner on the defensive side of the ball is safety Craig Loston. The 2012 All-SEC honoree will be called upon to lead a likely young and inexperienced defense.
Biggest addition: Cam Cameron steps in as the new offensive coordinator after the Baltimore Ravens let him go late in the 2012. Cameron replaces Greg Studrawa, who was relieved of his coordinating duties but remains on as the offensive line coach.
Biggest loss: The Tigers have 10 players leaving early for the NFL Draft, and the best of the bunch is likely outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. The junior posted 29 tackles for loss and 14 sacks in three seasons with LSU, and is considered to be a potential top-10 pick.
Punter Brad Wing is the biggest surprise of the players leaving, as he is the first specialist to declare early for the NFL Draft since 1991.
New players? LSU has eight 2013 recruits already on campus, including six 4-star prospects. Offensive tackle Ethan Pocic and Fehoka Fanaika, wide receivers John Diarse and Avery Johnson, quarterbacks Hayden Rettig and Anthony Jennings, defensive end Christian LaCouture, and tight end Logan Stokes are all enrolled and will be participating in spring practice.
With limited experience at the defensive end spot returning, LaCouture could find himself some playing time next fall. He's already got the size at 6'5, 265 pounds. The Lincoln, Neb. chose LSU over his hometown Huskers. Here are some highlights from his senior year:
New coaches? Just Cameron.
New schemes? Cameron's offense is a Dan Coryell descendant, meaning a vertical passing game will certainly be in the mix. He also knows how to coach good running backs, as he helped LaDainian Tomlinson become one of the NFL's best. LSU blog And the Valley Shook has a preview of what things may look like for the Tigers:
Cameron comes from the Norv Turner branch of the Air Coryell offense family tree. The Coryell style (for those that don't know, named for longtime coordinator/head coach Don Coryell of the San Diego Chargers in the late 70s and early 80s), of course, was defined by the development of what we now know as the "NFL route tree" consisting of nine basic patterns, a play calling system built around those numbers (ex. "525 F Post Swing" -- the numbers indicate routes for the 2 WRs and TE) and an offense built around high-octane, downfield passing outside of the hash marks while using tight ends and backs underneath and over the middle of the field.
Miles certainly grabbed a quality coordinator who would have found a job in the NFL otherwise. It will be interesting to see if he can work with Mettenberger to improve a meager LSU passing game.