5 keys to the Tigers' 2012 season

Countdown to kickoff: TSD takes a look at the themes that loom large in a 2012 season bustling with high expectations.

Part four of the "Countdown to kickoff:" The top 5 LSU storylines this season (descending order):

Beckham & the Tigers have to put that loss in the rearview mirror.

5. Get over it: By the time the Tigers tee the ball up against North Texas on Sept. 1, nearly eight months will have come and gone since the BCS Championship Game debacle in the Superdome against Alabama. If there is any lingering notion of what-might've-been with any players and coaches, it's vital that they flush those thoughts and move forward with a new goal. For the most part, that seems to be the case already, and the installation of Zach Mettenberger at quarterback is symbolic of a fresh start in a lot of ways. How completely the hangover has been flushed away will be key to watch as LSU gets the new season started.



Tharold Simon

4. Simon & Collins: With Morris Claiborne off to the NFL, there might be a perceived weak link in the LSU secondary – a spot that opposing quarterbacks will undoubtedly look to exploit. It's up to Tharold Simon and Jalen Collins to fill that gap, especially if Tyrann Mathieu shows he has taken a quantum leap as a cover corner. Simon will start in place of Claiborne, although it remains to be seen if new secondary coach Corey Raymond will leave the CBs on specific sides or match them up with top-notch receivers. When LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis opts for a five- or six-DB set, Collins is slated to slide in as the other corner to free Mathieu up to rove. A lot of the menu Chavis and the Tigers have at their fingertips will be predicated on whether Simon flashes the same kind of lock-down skills he did at times last year and if Collins can be the next man up in the talented wave of LSU cornerbacks.

Jarvis Landry

3. Who makes the big WR plays?: There isn't a home-run threat on the receiving corps to match Rueben Randle, or at least anyone who has shown he can stretch the field that way yet. That can – and needs to – change quickly in order for LSU to balance out an offense that will be built on the running game. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will both get their opportunities as the penciled-in starters and both have the speed and explosiveness to make them the strongest candidates to generate some electricity. Russell Shepard, James Wright, Kadron Boone and James Wright are cut more from the possession receiver mold. That quartet, and perhaps one or two of the talented newcomers, have to be reliable threats underneath to free up Beckham and Landry as down-field targets.

Les Miles and his coaches will have to keep the Tigers from jumping too far ahead in their schedule from week to week.


2. Staying focused: Once the 2012 party gets started, all the pre-season hype of the offseason – combined with a talent-laden roster, of course – has ratcheted up the expectations for this season to lofty heights. It's hard to say anything short of a national championship would be a disappointment, but for LSU, with everything that happened last season and the emergence of a budding star like Mettenberger, that's essentially how this season shapes up. Tied squarely into that, the Nov. 3 showdown against Alabama again looms as the game for both teams, but there is a lot of football between now and then. The LSU players know that, so navigating each week of the season will require focus and attention similar to the first two months of last season when the Tigers' superior talent allowed them to blaze to an 8-0 start with hardly a ripple. Much of that talent is still there, but the schedule isn't nearly as challenging with the tougher tests coming at home before Alabama comes to Baton Rouge. That makes the possibility of a letdown more acute, and it's vital that the LSU players consistently grind through each week – before and after the showdown with the Tide – and make steady improvement instead of reaching a plateau too early.

Low experience and high expectations put Mettenberger in a unique spot entering the season.

1. The rise of Mettenberger: It's been a while since an LSU quarterback has gone into the season with the blend of little experience and sky-high expectations as Mettenberger will this fall. Thing is, if that fazes the strong-armed Georgia native at all, he sure hides it well. After four years of most national pundits saying the Tigers were a solid quarterback away from being the best team in the country, Mettenberger steps into the void with the chance to lead LSU back to college football's penthouse. He is the best pure passer the Tigers have had since JaMarcus Russell and, from what LSU coach Les Miles has said in the offseason, will get the chance to show those skills off. There's no question the Tigers will remain a run-first offense, but when defenses are geared to taking that aspect of the offense away, Mettenberger should give them much more of an opportunity to attack through the air. If that plays out as projected, then LSU's offense won't be the weak link it has been at times in the past.

Countdown to kickoff: LSU's season

Countdown to kickoff: Predicting the West Division race

Countdown to kickoff: Predicting the East Division race

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