LSU has the ingredients to be much improved this season – lots of returning players, a highly-rated recruiting class, a few transfers at key positions and a revamped coaching staff.

But the returning players contributed to an average team last season, freshmen are freshmen, a few transfers are only a small part of the equation and this new coaching staff is mostly unproven.

So there’s a lot of uncertainty.

And then there is the uncertainty of injuries. LSU already lost Myles Brennan to a broken arm and it cannot afford to lose Max Johnson – at least not until Brennan recovers, presumably sometime during the middle of the season.

Additionally, the Tigers can’t afford to lose right tackle Austin Deculus. In fact, the loss of any offensive line starter could be problematic because the line features minimal experience among its backups. Nor can they afford to lose star cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.

LSU is a consensus preseason Top 25 pick and there is reason to believe it can live up to that expectation.

But if a few things don’t turn out as well as the Tigers hope, a much less satisfying result is very realistic.

Here are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for LSU:

Best-case scenario 1: One heartbeat on defense

Head coach Ed Orgeron likes to talk about his team having “one heartbeat,” meaning everyone on the team is in perfect sync with one another.

That certainly was not the case on defense last season.

The staff led by former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini was not in rhythm with the defensive players. It was difficult to count whether the Tigers had more mental or physical breakdowns on defense, but they had way too many of both.

Orgeron selected Daronte Jones to replace Pelini and added line coach Andre Carter and linebackers coach Blake Baker to improve communication and teaching. The players seem much more comfortable with the new staff and system.

If the defensive players are comfortable enough in their knowledge of the system to play fast and instinctively, and they trust each other well enough to focus on their individual responsibilities and not freelance, the talent and depth are significant enough for LSU to be significantly improved on defense.

Best-case scenario 2: Max Johnson stays on an upward trajectory

Johnson bided his time as Brennan started the first 3 games last season and as TJ Finley was up and down while starting the next 5.

When Johnson’s chance came at the end of the season, he was ready. He was clutch in the huge upset win at Florida and he was nearly unstoppable as the Tigers won a shootout against Ole Miss.

But those 2 performances are on tape and defenses will be better prepared for Johnson when this season begins. Each week the book on him will grow.

Johnson will have to be better to start this season than he was at the end of last season, and he’ll have to keep evolving from one week to the next.

If he does that, the LSU offense will be efficient and explosive.

Best-case scenario 3: Happy New Year!

The Tigers develop into a complete team.

They give defenses fits with their pass-run balance as Johnson develops into one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC.

A deeper, more confident defense thrives under new leadership so LSU doesn’t have to get into a shootout in order to win, although it’s capable of doing so.

Kicker Cade York and Stingley the punt-returner lead an outstanding special-teams unit.

In the end, LSU doubles its win total from last season and busses down to New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl game on New Year’s night.

On the other hand …

Worst-case scenario 1: The new defense isn’t transformative

The Tigers can improve on defense and still be terrible because they were one of the worst defenses in the country last season.

There is more talent, experience and depth, but the defense has to be much, much better if this is going to be a turnaround season.

Jones looks like a solid hire, but he has never been a coordinator at this level and he spent the past 5 seasons as a position coach in the NFL.

If he has growing pains in implementing a new scheme and learning how to defend the high-powered offenses in the SEC, the players again could be plagued by confidence and confusion issues.

Worst-case scenario 2: The dynamic playmakers are a small group

Orgeron wants this offense to resemble the record-shattering 2019 offense. That’s why he hired 2 coaches who worked under Joe Brady with the Carolina Panthers last season – offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas.

But nobody expects Max Johnson to be Joe Burrow. None of the running backs look ready to become Clyde Edwards-Helaire, though it could be a productive group.

Kayshon Boutte is a big-time receiver, but the Tigers are counting on several other receivers to break out or immediately be dynamic as true freshmen.

That’s a lot of skill players that LSU is counting on to emerge at the same time. If 1, or 2 or 3 or more fall short, the offense will look less like the 2019 version and more like the productive but inconsistent 2020 version – or worse.

Worst-case scenario 3: Another slow start, another .500 record

LSU’s defensive woes were exposed in a shocking season-opening loss to Mississippi State last year and the Tigers never found their confidence.

This season’s opener is more challenging as they travel to the Rose Bowl to face a UCLA team that already will have played a game.

If the Tigers stumble in this opener, rebuilding the players’ psyche will become more challenging.

Losses to Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M are easy to envision. The Mississippi State and Kentucky games are on the road.

Only marginal improvement on defense, continued inconsistency on offense and a slow start that saps the players’ confidence leads to a 6-6 record.