Tide schedule preview: LSU

Les Miles had no answers in the title game, but the Tigers, like the Tide, are capable of a return trip. AP Photo/Tom Hauck

The rundown

2011 overall record: 13-1

2011 SEC record: 8-0 (first, beat Georgia in SEC championship game)

Record all time against Alabama: 25-46-5

Starters returning

Offense: 8; Defense: 5; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

CB Tyrann Mathieu, S Eric Reid, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, DE Barkevious Mingo, RB Michael Ford, RB Spencer Ware, WR Odell Beckham, Jr., WR Russell Shepard, OT Alex Hurst, OT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, P Brad Wing, K Drew Alleman

Key losses

CB Morris Claiborne, S Brandon Taylor, LB Ryan Baker, DT Michael Brockers, OG Will Blackwell, QB Jordan Jefferson, QB Jarrett Lee, WR Rueben Randle, TE DeAngelo Peterson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Michael Ford* (756 yards)

Passing: Jarrett Lee (1,306 yards)

Receiving: Rueben Randle (917 yards)

Tackles: Eric Reid* (76), Tyrann Mathieu* (76)

Sacks: Sam Montgomery* (9)

Interceptions: Morris Claiborne (6)

What they're saying:

“We’ve always had the opportunity to throw. Now, we may turn to those weapons more readily because this offense fits [Mettenberger’s] style of play more pointedly. ... Zach has been through a lot in his short career and understands the need for leadership and making a difference. He’s holding himself to a tall standard, as we are. I think our quarterback play will improve with each snap because of the way he’s approaching his role in our offense," Les Miles told ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low in late April.

Three things to watch:

1. Another year of Bama-LSU running the SEC?: It's eerily similar to the 2011 season. Both Alabama and LSU appear primed to have the run of the roost in the SEC West. While the rest of college football figures out the winning plan, the Tide and Tigers continue following the championship blueprint. Both have capable quarterbacks, strong running backs and are brutal up front along both offensive and defensive lines. LSU was helped when senior guard Josh Dworaczyk (6-6, 301) was granted a sixth year of eligibility, giving the Tigers five experienced starters.

2. Getting the most out of the offense: Jordan Jefferson couldn't do it. Neither could Jarrett Lee. With both now gone, can Zach Mettenberger get the LSU offense moving in the right direction? (Toward the end zone, that is). By all accounts, Mettenberger has the arm and the confidence to compete at the position. How he handles the SEC's best defenses remains to be seen, though. One thing is certain; he'll have plenty of weapons to throw to. Odell Beckham Jr. is a home run threat at receiver. So is Russell Shepard. For that matter, don't be surprised if another target steps up. Lee and Jefferson did nothing to generate big plays or help their receivers develop over the last two years. Maybe Mettenberger is capable of doing that and along the way, bring a few more offensive weapons to the forefront.

3. Tiger defense getting stronger?: LSU has to replace Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers and Brandon Taylor. Ryan Baker is gone, too. But does anyone really believe the LSU defense won't be elite again this season? John Chavis is a mastermind calling plays and finding roles to fit his players' strengths. How he uses Tyrann Mathieu is going to be a thrill to watch. Pair him with safety Eric Reid and you've got a secondary with few passing lanes. The defensive line will be tougher to replace, but considering the number of high-caliber players produced at end and tackle over the years in Baton Rouge, expect a few players to step up and make a name for themselves. Having Barkevious Mingo back will help free up some blockers. Keep an eye on sophomores Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, and remember Sam Montgomery's name. He was a first team All-American in some polls, but not all. Expect that to change his junior season.