Today we review the twelfth SEC team in our series, the LSU Tigers. Other reviews so far:

Biggest Loss

Quite a few options here. Is it Heisman candidate Trent Richardson? All-Everything defenders Mark Barron and Dont’a Hightower? Pass rushing linebacker Courtney Upshaw? Is it Brad Smelley, whose turn as H-Back was only truly appreciated in retrospect? I’m going with what might be an unconventional choice here. The biggest loss for Alabama is Philip Sims. Alabama is a deep team at pretty much every position, and for the past few seasons have really demonstrated the “next man up” mentality as we witnessed player after player leave for the first round, only to be replaced by someone equally capable. Not so the quarterback position this season. If AJ McCarron went down, Sims was an adequate backup who could be counted on to come in without having to scale the offense back too much. He might not have the pocket presence of McCarron, but he has a strong arm and can make all the throws. Without him, the drop off is severe. Redshirt freshman Philip Ely and true freshman Alec Morris are battling it out to be the next off the bench, but most expect Ely’s experience and the desire to redshirt Morris to win out. Ely is not terrible for a player at this stage of his development, but he’s also not at a level you want to throw at SEC defenses, yet, either. It’s a good thing the Tide’s offensive line is considered the best in the country, because protecting McCarron is absolutely paramount without Sims on the roster.

Most Important Returning Player

As important as AJ McCarron is to the offense, and as huge as Barrett Jones‘ return for his senior year was, I’m going with a defensive player here: Robert Lester. Lester is an interesting story. In 2008, he was thought to be just an insurance offer — part of a package deal to get Julio Jones to don the crimson. In 2010, he was considered a placeholder in the spring while Robby Green worked out his suspension. In 2012, he’ll start his third consecutive season at safety and will be the most experienced player in the secondary. it’s that experience that makes him so important here, as it is what will separate this defense from what happened in 2010, his first season as a starter. In that season, the defense was still stellar — best in the SEC as a matter of fact — but would give up the occasional costly big play due to a lack of experience in the secondary, which was manned by three sophomores and a true freshman. Even though this season there’s a significant maturity difference over that one (Lester is a senior, the corners will be manned by juniors, and there is only one sophomore), the learning curve for the defense remains. Lester knows this defense and he knows how to get the players in front of him into the proper calls. If the defense remains stout — which is the hope tied to Lester’s experience — it can compensate for any potential production drop-off that might result from losing McCarron.

Highest Ranked Recruit

Landon Collins. The consensus five star recruit and top safety in the country is already seeing practice reps in the secondary, and it’s all but a certainty he’ll play on special teams this fall. He already has prototypical safety size and great speed. Expect him to fill the role that Vinnie Sunseri played last fall.

Most Important Off-Season Acquisition

A chip on the shoulder. Despite a dominant win in the national championship game, there are still people who actually believe Alabama had no business being there. Add to that the constant comparisons to 2010, plus the fact that no team has repeated for a national title during the BCS era, and that’s a lot of doubters to overcome. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Tide has is the fact that so many players from that 2009 team are still on the roster and they know how to identify the signs of entitlement and complacency that plagued the 2010 squad. That kind of leadership is invaluable. Having lost to LSU last year in the regular season is also a positive here, as it gives that requisite sense of unfinished business that seems to drive so many teams. Think Florida 2009, who came off a championship to go undefeated in the regular season, and likely would have won the national title had they not run up against an emerging titan in the SEC championship game. If the SEC East is unable to provide the type of team Alabama sent to Atlanta that year, the Tide could have a clear path to Miami.

Biggest Game

LSU, and I don’t think that really requires further explanation.

Projected Record

Michigan Wolverines – W

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers – W

@Arkansas Razorbacks- W

Florida Atlantic Owls –

Ole Miss Rebels – W

@ Missouri Tigers – W

@ Tennessee Volunteers – W

Mississippi State Bulldogs – W

@ LSU Tigers – W

Texas A&M Aggies – W

Western Carolina Catamounts – W

Auburn Tigers – W

Final Record – 12-0