ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Tyrann Mathieu #7 of the LSU Tigers reacts after he returned a punt 42-yards against the Georgia Bulldogs during the third quarter of the 2011 SEC Conference Championship at Georgia Dome on December 3, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Of course, the easiest part of this preview to do is go ahead and talk about the biggest loss on offense for LSU. That would be starting quarterback Jarrett Lee. Or starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Kidding, of course. Actually, Lee and Jefferson were actually a lot better quarterbacks than they got credit for being, though that's a pretty low bar to clear given how good they got credit for being. The two also picked the most inopportune team to help the offense go full-scale sputter, including the debacle at the national championship game.
Still, LSU might be one of the teams most comfortable with losing their starting quarterback. Er, quarterbacks. And overall, the Tigers aren't losing that much, on either side of the ball. So if you're looking for one reason why they're given the edge in the SEC West by some preseason guides, it's that.
BIGGEST RETURN | DB Tyrann Mathieu
Was there really any doubt? Mathieu might not have been college football's most outstanding player last year, at least in the eyes of Heisman voters, but he was among the most dynamic. Mathieu had two punt-return touchdowns and two fumble-return touchdowns among his five recovered fumbles. He also forced six fumbles, picked off two passes and broke up nine more and recorded 76 tackles, 7.5 of them for a loss. There's a not-insignificant chance that Mathieu could make a return trip to New York City this year and maybe head back to Baton Rouge with some hardware this time.
BIGGEST LOSS | WR Rueben Randle
If there was a threat in the LSU passing game in 2011, it was Randle. Even with the turmoil under center, Randle snagged 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns. That was more than third of LSU's total receiving touchdowns -- no other player had more than four -- and just a shade under 43 percent of the the team's receiving yardage. With the potential for a more robust passing game this year, it would be nice for the Tigers to have a weapon like Randle back. But he's making quite a bit of money doing this football thing in New York.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | QB Zach Mettenberger
We've already talked about the redemption story that Mettenberger would be if he's able to have a successful season. Now let's look at why Mettenberger might be able to do it. During his single year at Butler Community College in Kansas, Mettenberger was 176-of-299 for 2,678 yards, 32 touchdowns and four picks. Of course, the SEC is a different kettle of fish altogether -- but so is the talent that will surround Mettenberger on the field. I never liked the argument that aspect x of a team can't get any worse, but with Mettenberger, it seems very likely that a sluggish passing game could get a lot better.