Camp start: Thursday
Opener: North Texas in Baton Rouge (Sept. 1 on ESPNU at 7 p.m.)
Fun fact: Coach Les Miles has led LSU to the best seven-year mark (75-18) in school history, and he is the first coach ever to take the Tigers to seven straight bowl games.
Sunday's preview: Ole Miss
Until their collapse against Alabama in the BCS championship game, the LSU Tigers crafted a highly enjoyable 2011 college football season.
The Tigers went 13-0 using two quarterbacks, twice that many tailbacks and by getting defensive contributions everywhere from ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, who combined for 28.5 tackles for loss, to the cornerback combination of Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Even the special teams sizzled, with punter Brad Wing averaging 44.4 yards a kick and Drew Alleman making 16 of 18 field-goal tries.
Winning the Southeastern Conference title was an absolute blast, though the receivers occasionally felt overlooked.
"Last year, the running game was so dominant," sophomore receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said at SEC media days. "It was almost like there was no need to pass. We could pass the ball when we wanted to, but it was easier to hand off to the five or six running backs that we have and let them do what they do."
Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard return to give LSU the most proven quartet of tailbacks nationally, but the receivers have good reason to be excited as well. New starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger is a pocket passer whose arm strength dwarfs what Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson could provide.
Since March drills, LSU receivers have had an obvious pep in their step.
"It really could be different for us this year," Beckham said. "The arm that Zach has is just phenomenal, and he can really throw that ball around. He's going to have the opportunity to spread the ball around, and us as receivers have to step up and make plays. I think we will open it up a little more this year."
Coach Les Miles said the Tigers will throw more deep balls this season and that his new quarterback is very comfortable in doing that.
"I think Zach Mettenberger is going to give us a really nice quarterback," Miles said. "The things that he has done in leadership and the approach he has taken with this team has been very obvious. I think that if he stays that way and as long as he improves, we will like his play."
Beckham had 41 catches for 475 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman last season and replaces Rueben Randle, a second-round pick of the New York Giants, as the go-to receiver. The son of LSU's starting tailback in the early 1990s wasted little time in making an impact a year ago, amassing eight receptions for 61 yards in his first SEC game at Mississippi State.
The 5-foot-11, 183-pounder from Isidore Newman in New Orleans had a 52-yard touchdown reception at West Virginia and a 51-yarder against visiting Kentucky.
Russell Shepard, James Wright, Kadron Boone and Armand Williams comprise the rest of a receiving group that has been self-dubbed the "Fab Five." Shepard had 14 receptions for 190 yards last season and decided to leave early for the NFL before changing his mind.
"It's not that we're imitating the whole Michigan thing," Beckham said. "It's more the dream about the five-wide set and having five receivers you can spread the ball around to."
LSU had three defensive backs taken in April's draft -- Claiborne, safety Brandon Taylor and cornerback Ron Brooks. Back are Mathieu and Tharold Simon at cornerback and Eric Reid and Craig Loston at safety, so there is never a shortage of secondary stars in which Beckham and his receiving mates can compete against in practice.
"Coming from a smaller school and going up against those kind of athletes every day, it can do nothing but get you better," Beckham said. "Plus, I just love that kind of competition. The coaches have looked to me to step up and be a leader, and I'm just trying to play that role."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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