The LSU football program is at a crossroads.
The 2013 season will go a long way in determining whether the Tigers will remain near the top of the mountain or if they will drop a few steps and return to the middle of the pack in a loaded Southeastern Conference.
With an anemic offense and what feels like 100 juniors leaving for the NFL, it surely seems like it’d be a good time to sell LSU stock.
But before you reach into your drawers and scramble to find the nearby panic button, let me be the voice of reason – the Tigers will be fine going into the future.
Even with all of the departures, LSU has a roster loaded with talent – easily among the deepest in the country.
I’m well aware that the Tigers are losing Michael Ford and Spencer Ware – so what.
I’ll see your two reserve halfbacks (who combined for 759 yards rushing and four touchdowns in 2012) and raise you Jeremy Hill (who alone had 755 yards and 12 scores).
So Eric Reid is going to the NFL and he will be joined by Tharold Simon, who is also skipping his final year of eligibility, eh?
That just means more playing time for blue chippers like Jalen Mills, Jalen Collins and Corey Thompson, who LSU coaches have stated is among the best athletes on the entire roster.
Losing two top-notch players like Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery would be crippling to most programs.
But LSU is D-Line U.
They will replace the duo with Jermauria Rasco, Justin Maclin and Jordan Allen. Sure, you don’t know who these players are right now.
But you didn’t know who Montgomery was when he was being redshirted as a true freshman either.
I remember fans panicking when defensive linemen of yesteryear like Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey and even Marcus Spears went to the NFL Draft.
Did LSU suffer mightily with them gone?
They regrouped and reloaded. That’s what elite programs do.
And LSU is an elite program.
No one is saying that losing a ton of guys to the NFL makes you a better team.
But there’s still a ton of talent on the Tigers’ roster. That talent will embrace their opportunities to shine and will do a more than serviceable job carrying the torch into the future.
Offensively, LSU has nowhere to go but up.
The team’s sometimes awful offensive line will benefit from the return of Chris Faulk, who missed almost all of the season with a torn ACL.
Oh wait – nevermind – Faulk is now going pro, too. His loss will hurt the team’s front.
Regardless, LSU’s depleted front in 2012 will be experienced in 2013 with players like La’el Collins, Josh Williford, Chris Davenport and Vadal Alexander back in the fold.
Zach Mettenberger will return for his final season with the team and will take the momentum he built in the back-half of the season into the new year.
His learning curve should mirror that of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who was near-embarrassing at times in his first season as a starter. He’s now blossomed and is one of the most reliable signal callers in America.
Mettenberger’s cause will be aided in that he will return every, single one of his receivers from last season. That chemistry should allow for more precision in the passing game.
Then there’s Hill – arguably LSU’s best shot at a Heisman Trophy winner since Billy Cannon himself.
With less clutter on the depth chart poaching carries, Hill should be able to have a monstrous season for the Tigers.
Defensively, the departures will hurt the Tigers – especially early in the season.
But in John Chavis, I trust.
You can overcome a lack of talent and experience by having players in the right position at all times to make plays.
With a dominant coach like Chavis on board, I have no doubt that LSU’s tacklers will be in the right spots most of the time.
Just that alone is more than half of the battle won.
Now, with all of this said, LSU will have to endure a brutally tough 2013 schedule to get back to the top of the mountain.
The Tigers will open play Aug. 31 against TCU – a neutral site game that will be played in Arlington, Texas at Cowboys Stadium.
After that game, LSU will breathe more easily with three-straight home tilts against cupcakes.
Then the SEC grind gets under way.
In the 2013 conference schedule, LSU will play Georgia, Mississippi State, Florida and Ole Miss in a span of four weeks. Three of those games are away from Tiger Stadium.
After a homecoming tilt with Furman, the Tigers close viciously with Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
But under Miles, the Tigers seem to play their best football when the stakes are at their highest.
Remember 2011? LSU overcame Oregon, West Virginia and Alabama – all in games away from Tiger Stadium. They also beat (handily) the rest of the SEC schedule.
Getting back to the promised land will not be easy – a lot of hard work remains for LSU.
But I still contend that LSU is far closer to the top than they are to the bottom.
Move over early departures.
It’s time to let some new blood show why they were recruited to play major college football.