Published July 22, 2012 - 10:30am
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SDS will be taking an early look at each SEC Championship contender and their chances of winning it in Atlanta by listing three reasons why they will win and three reasons why they will not.
The LSU Tigers are the preseason favorite to win the SEC, and they enter with a chip on their shoulder from last year’s loss to Alabama in New Orleans. With 13 returning starters, the Tigers look superb on both sides of the football, particularly on defense. The Tigers have the best defensive line in the country, booked by two ends who could be the fastest in all of college football. Finally, it looks like the Tigers have a quarterback who can stretch the field to add another level of potency to the running game.
Three Reasons Why
1. Defensive Line: The SEC is a line of scrimmage league. And when you are fortunate to have a dominant defensive line, the entire defense benefits. With linemen who have the speed and quickness to get up field, it allows the linebackers to attack and the secondary less time in coverage. It makes the whole defensive unit look better. With the bookends of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, LSU has one of the best one-two tandem of ends in the country. Montgomery and Mingo are both in the 240 to 250lb range and can run like linebackers. No further proof is needed when Mingo ran down Oregon’s LaMichael James from behind in last year’s opening game. Both guys are more like hybrid ends, which creates so much flexibility by John Chavis but can be susceptible, in some instances, to physical running games. Mingo and Montgomery combined for 17 of LSU’s 28.5 sacks last season. Three tackles will likely rotate, along with other underclassmen, but Bennie Logan, Anthony Johnson and Josh Downs will be crucial. Logan doesn’t get as much pub as he should and is emerging as one of top tackles in the conference, and Johnson looks like the second coming of Glen Dorsey, maybe better. This group is fast and physical and really elevates the play of the linebackers and the secondary. Opposing quarterbacks are in for a tall task when facing this group.
2. Special Teams: The Tigers boast one of the premier special teams units in the country. Three of the four major players return, with returner Morris Claiborne having gone on to the NFL. Punt retuner and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu will once again be a focal point for opposing special teams’ units. Mathieu returned one of the most memorable punts in the SEC Championship game last year that later sparked the Tigers’ onslaught. Mathieu averaged 15.6 yards per return last year. Mathieu can flip the field in a heartbeat, and if that’s not enough, the Tigers have the best punter in the SEC, too. The Aussie Brad Wing can boom the ball. Wing now owns the longest punt ever in the SEC Championship game last year with a 67 yarder, and he owns the run from any punter for a touchdown to be called back because of taunting. Place kicker Drew Alleman hit 16 of 18 field goals last year, with his longest of 44 yards. The Tigers will find one of their freak athletes to return kick offs to replace Claiborne’s production. This unit could prove to be tops in the country for 2012.
3. Zach Mettenberger: I know, I’m buying into the Mettenberger hype already. And he hasn’t even taken a snap yet in the SEC. I view Mett much like I viewed Tyler Wilson going into last year. He’s a very big arm who can reallly open things up on offense. He will prove to be the Tigers’ best pocket passer since Matt Flynn. Obviously, Mett provides the all-important ability to stretch the field, something that has been noticeably absent in recent years. With a big-play threat from the quarterback, it absolutely makes the physical running game that much more potent. Mett has the offensive line to protect him, a potent ground game and receivers who can run after the catch; I believe he’ll be the top breakout player in the SEC for 2012. The last few years the Tigers have really been a quarterback away. They just might have that player now.
Three Reasons Why Not
1. Arkansas: While I think Alabama probably has the best chance to win the West if the Tigers do not, Arkansas presents the biggest challenge to LSU this season. A road game in Fayetteville is always a tough place to play, and you know the Razorbacks and their fans are always primed for an upset over the Tigers. This game will be oh-so tough, matching the Tigers against a very potent Arkansas offense (assuming they’re healthy) and a defense that always seems to come to play against LSU. In fact, the home team has won the last four meetings. This could be November’s biggest football game, and one that could ultimately decide who represents the West in Atlanta.
2. The obvious choice: Assuming you ask a mild-mannered and tempered SEC fan (is there such a person?), the Tigers are thought to be the pick to win the SEC, and a favorite to win the national championship. It seems too obvious. Since 1992, only four teams (in 20 years) have won the SEC while being named the media’s favorite, a 20 percent winning chance. If being named the obvious preseason favorite is not enough, LSU will be a favorite in every single game they play this season. While I think the Tigers have the best shot at winning the national championship from any member in the SEC right now, it’s just so hard to run the SEC gauntlet with the target on your back each and every week. But it can be done and has been done before.
3. Linebackers: On paper, this team is stacked from top to bottom. However, the one position of concern is at linebacker, and it is indeed the biggest question mark on this roster. They replace two starters and a big contributor last year in Ryan Baker, Karnell Hatcher and Stefoin Francois. Between the three, they had just under 100 tackles altogether. It’s not a season breaker; I get that. But it is a position of concern. Kevin Minter returns to anchor this group, along with other projected starter Tahj Jones. The rest of the group, which consists of many freshmen and sophomores, will compete for that third spot. It’s not that they have a lack talent to fill this group, but more inexperience and youth.