EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the seventh in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Checking them out
There is talk of another national championship run in Baton Rouge this summer, which would be news if, well, there wasn't always talk about a national championship run in Baton Rouge. And the fact of the matter is, there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
There are, however, just as many question marks, beginning with the loss of one of the best defensive and special teams players in the country and the continuing struggle to develop any kind of consistency at quarterback. Toss in a schedule that includes Auburn, Alabama and Florida - the three national champions since LSU's last title in 2007 - and non-conference games away from Tiger Stadium against Oregon and WVU and there are plenty of potential landmines along the way.
Then again, this is an LSU team with plenty of talent returning from a team that was 11-2, beat Florida on the road and crushed Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
First, though, the sticking points. That quarterback play has been a huge disappointment. Senior Jordan Jefferson has as often been atrocious as dazzling, but if he slips up this year there could be a quick hook. Junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger - who began his career at Georgia - went through spring practice and Jarrett Lee, who often relieved Jefferson last season, is also back.
And then there's the loss of cornerback and punt returner Patrick Peterson, the fifth pick in the NFL draft. Losing a lockdown corner and game-breaking return man (his punt return against WVU was the difference in a 20-14 LSU win) is not an easy fix.
Still, look what's back. There are four returning starters and a bunch of experienced backups on the offensive line (and eight returning starters overall on offense), receivers Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard combined for 66 receptions last year and sophomore Spencer Ware appears more than capable of replacing running back Stevan Ridley.
On defense, seven starters return and Peterson is the only loss in the secondary, so that will help. Middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard will be hard to replace, but Ryan Baker is a stud and there is plenty of athleticism at the position. And up front if a deep group of experienced lineman wasn't enough add 5-star freshman Anthony "Freak'' Johnson to the mix.
Another sore spot for the Tigers could be special teams, where not only is returner Peterson gone, but both the kicker and punter must be replaced . . . Perhaps the most promising change for the offense was at the top, where Steve Kragthorpe was hired to replace Gary Crowton (who went to Maryland with Randy Edsall) as coordinator. Yes, Kragthorpe was a huge failure as the head coach at Louisville, but the man did crank out some offenses at Tulsa.