THREE THINGS WE KNOW
If the Tigers win the SEC West, they'll have earned it. The complaints that LSU has about its schedule aren't valid year-in and year-out -- but this season isn't just the average year. In addition to playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers have to go to Athens to take on the SEC East favorite and host a Florida team that is also likely to be in the mix for the SEC title. Oh, and there's the whole season-opening game against TCU in Arlington. In other words, the Bayou Bengals have a good case this year for having the toughest schedule among the SEC West contenders, regardless of what you think about Les Miles' griping in other seasons.
The defense is far more inexperienced than the offense this year. The number of returning starters gives you an idea of the carnage on the defensive side of LSU's rosters: There are four by the school's count. (If you're curious, they are LB Tahj Jones, LB Lamin Barrow, CB Jalen Mills and SS Craig Loston.) The offense has at least six and as many as seven if you count Jeremy Hill. But even all returning starters don't affect a team the same, so here's another number you might have forgotten: Eight active LSU players were drafted in April. Seven of them were defensive players. Tyrann Mathieu was also among them, but that's another story entirely. First the first time in a while, LSU might be at least more settled on offense than it is on defense. Better? Well, let's wait before we go quite that far.
They won't be SEC West favorites until at least November. Barring a completely unforeseen series of events, it's incredibly unlikely that the Tigers end up in the driver's seat before at least the Alabama game on Nov. 9, and maybe not until the clash with Texas A&M two weeks later. The reason is simple enough: If the Tide beat the Aggies on Sept. 14, it would take a sizable upset to them from front-runner status. And if the Aggies win, even LSU defeating Alabama would only show that the Bayou Bengals can beat a team that A&M did. Given that TAMU is already ranked higher in both polls, they would then be viewed as the second-best team in the division unless the Aggies had been upset somewhere along the road. It's not much of a problem, though; the only time the division favorite matters is when it's the team that's going to Atlanta.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
Whether they'll remain invisible. There's a chance that this season's SEC West could end up in the one-loss vs. one-loss vs. one-loss circle of death that the Big 12 South landed in five years ago. And that could mean that visibility could be a critical factor, as the pollsters end up deciding who goes. Of course, the SEC tiebreaker has the provision that the Big 12 didn't have -- if the second team is within five spots of the first team, it's based on head-to-head. How might that affect LSU? If the Tigers don't get enough credit for wins against Georgia and Florida and end up in that three-game deathmatch (we're speculating here), they could end up the third highest-ranked team, with A&M and Alabama likely to be within five spots of each other. Pollsters can be stubborn folks, and LSU could face as few as three bowl teams counting Georgia and Florida between the opener against TCU and Nov. 9. Alabama and A&M aren't much better, if any, but they won't have to hope the pollsters either abandon normal voting patterns or drop the A&M-Bama loser below them to clinch the needed spot in the polls. LSU is already kind of seen as the third wheel in the SEC West this year, and that could become an issue if they need the voters.
How much we'll see of Jeremy Hill. The LSU running back is going to be punished, according to Les Miles, but the terms of suspension are being treated like a state secret in Baton Rouge. Will he be sidelined for a quarter? A game? Several? Hill's fate has been up in the air for a while after his arrest, until a "team vote" cleared the way for his return to the field. In one sense, the loss of Hill even for an extended period of time might not be that big a deal; after all, he only had slightly more than a quarter of LSU's carries last year and about a third of the team's rushing yardage. But only one other returning player -- Kenny Hilliard -- had more than 50 carries in 2012. Alfred Blue did have 78 carries in 2011 and began as the starter last year. Still, losing a 755-yard rusher is losing a 755-yards rusher.
What the Hat will do. There is only one thing that's ever certain with Les Miles: Nothing is certain with Les Miles as head coach. It's hard to remember a season that has gone by without something bizarre or unexpected from the nation's most unconventional coach. It's one of the reasons why I like Miles. It's also one of the reasons that he can sometimes drive fans or sympathizers crazy; sometimes, when you take questionable gambles, it backfires. The question this season is whether that signature Miles moment will give LSU a victory or cause a Tigers loss.