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

Biggest Loss

Had I written this a week ago, I would say it was Michael Brockers, but now, I think it’s apparent the biggest loss is Tyrann Mathieu. There is a lot of criticism after the BCS Championship that he wasn’t a good cover corner, and that’s a fair criticism, but it overreaches a bit. He was tenacious in coverage, but taller receivers could take advantage of his small stature and lack of real leaping ability. But he’s not going to be missed strictly for his ability to play off a receiver. He was a vicious pass rusher, was solid in run support, and was a dangerous return man (though I would argue that Joe Adams was better but was relatively ignored because of the hype around Mathieu). He allowed the defense to be more dynamic and he had a knack for creating turnovers that can’t be taught. Consider this: LSU scored touchdowns in six games when they were trailing. Of those six, Mathieu scored half of them without ever taking a snap on offense. He scored four TDs total in 2011, and set up several more with dynamic returns and timely turnovers. That’s irreplaceable.

Most Important Returning Player

It’s easy to say that the most important returning player here is Zach Mettenberger. He saw no real action last season (his only passing attempts were in garbage time against mediocre FCS Northwestern State). He’s in an odd position where he’s not bringing back experience, but he’s expected to resurrect a position that actually wasn’t that bad last year, but left Tiger fans with a bad taste in their mouth after a total collapse in the BCS Championship Game. So it would be easy to say Mettenberger is the most important — except he isn’t. Tharold Simon is. Simon wasn’t technically a starter last year, but he saw significant game experience, which is more than can be said for the corner who will be starting opposite him next season. Simon is a special talent who may not be Patrick Peterson or Morris Claiborne … but then again, he might. Given the lack of depth in the secondary — Mathieu’s replacement as well as the second string is expected to be comprised of freshmen — Simon’s talent and experience are critical to the success of this defense.

Highest Ranked Recruit

By LSU standards, 2012 was not a great year for recruiting. 247sports.com ranks their highest commitment — Jeremy Liggins — as only the 96th best player in the country, and that’s made worse by the fact that he never enrolled. He’s currently in limbo, having decided not to go the JCUO route this fall, and could be headed for his hometown favorite Ole Miss as early as January. That makes the next man up Kwon Alexander, the linebacker from Oxford, Alabama. LSU played a very high level of defense in 2011, so the lack of quality by the linebackers is relative, but it was certainly the weakest aspect of the squad. Still, there’s experienced depth there, which leaves Alexander as third string on the outside. He was not an early enrollee so he could move up quickly, but I would expect his biggest contribution as a freshman to be on special teams.

Most Important Off-Season Acquisition

Given the amount of depth at LSU right now, it’s hard to say they’ve added a game changer to the roster, but there is a new coach. Adam Henry will take over wide receivers from Billy Gonzalez who left to take a co-coordinator position at Illinois. He joins the team after five years with the Oakland Raiders, the last three spent coaching tight ends. Odell Beckham Jr is the leading returning receiver, but there’s not a lot of quality experience behind him.  Russell Shepard returns to try one last time to make something of a disappointing career, but there’s little evidence from the past three seasons to indicate he will. No other returning receiver has so much as ten career receptions. That would be less troubling if the projected starters weren’t already junior and seniors. Henry will have his hands full if he’s going to provide the kind of receivers Mettenberger will need to live up to his own hype.

Biggest Game

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

Projected Record

North Texas Mean Green – W

Washington Huskies – W

Idaho Vandals- W

@ Auburn Tigers-

Towson Tigers – W

@ Florida Gators – W

South Carolina Gamecocks – W

@ Texas A&M Aggies – W

Alabama Crimson Tide – L*

Mississippi State Bulldogs – W

Ole Miss Rebels – W

@ Arkansas Razorbacks – W

Final Record – 11-1

* I’m sure I’ll be afforded the chance in the comments to defend this pick. Just like with Auburn, I don’t really believe this will be the final record, but I can’t decide the unconventional loss so I’m going consensus picks here.