For every big expectation the LSU football team has going into this season, there are some big numbers the Tigers will have to eclipse along the way.
It starts with last season’s record.
The way LSU’s season ended left the Tigers and their fans feeling hollow, but LSU did go 13-1 and finished No. 2 in the final polls. In the big picture, aside from the three national championship seasons of 1958, 2003 and 2007, it was arguably the fourth-best season in school history.
We’ve selected some key numbers from last season, and we’ll predict whether the Tigers will go over or under them during the 2012 season. Let’s start at the team’s most valuable position:
OVER/UNDER: Zach Mettenberger will eclipse all of last year’s passing numbers — 2,135 yards, 21 touchdowns, 62.0 completion percentage and, yes, even five interceptions.
Considering LSU’s total passing yardage figure from last year worked out to a meager 152.5 yards per game over 14 contests (ranked 106th nationally), it would be a sign of utter failure if the Tigers’ don’t rack up more frequent flyer miles.
Some of the rest of the numbers bear closer consideration, however.
Twenty-one combined touchdowns works out to 1.5 per game — again, a number LSU is likely to eclipse, but not entirely a given.
But the interception column is almost certain to experience some hyper-inflation. LSU had only five interceptions last season, and a 4.2 to 1 TD-to-interception ratio is exceptional. If Mettenberger and Co. combine for say, 30 touchdown passes, 10 to 12 interceptions wouldn’t be out of line.
Then there’s the matter of completion percentage. LSU’s 62.0 mark last season (173 of 279) was the fourth-best season in school history in that category.
PREDICTION: Take the over on total yardage, touchdowns and interceptions. Take the under on completion percentage. If LSU is indeed going to emphasize the vertical passing game more this season, it’ll lead to more scores and yards but also to more incompletions.
OVER/UNDER: Will LSU’s ground attack top last season’s mark of 202.6 yards rushing per game?
Considering how rarely opposing defenses showed even a modicum of respect to LSU’s spotty passing game last season — resulting in routinely stacked decks against the run — it’s remarkable that LSU finished No. 2 in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards.
A more prolific passing game could result in fewer carries and fewer yards for LSU on the ground, but the opposite could be just as true.
LSU’s running game should benefit just as much from defenses being forced to play more honest (picture fewer stacked boxes) and an experienced offensive line.
The running back corps also remains exceptionally deep with Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue and the emergence of Jeremy Hill. In other words, one lengthy injury (maybe even two) shouldn’t put much of a dent in the ground game.
PREDICTION: Take the over. We’ll peg LSU’s yards per game rushing at about 215.0 (the press likes a nice round number).
OVER/UNDER: Will Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo top last year’s combined total of 17 sacks?
Montgomery, who had nine sacks last season, was only half serious chatting after interviews earlier this week when he said a sack a game is his target for quarterback takedowns in 2011. That’s a tall order but not impossible – Oliver Lawrence set the school sack record of 12 in 1999 in an 11-game season.
Montgomery probably has a few more sacks in him, as does Mingo (eight sacks last season). There will be enormous pressure on them to get 18 or more (a defensive version of Tiger Woods’ pursuit of golf’s major championship record), but they should be up to the task.
PREDICTION: Take the over. Montgomery and Mingo are poised for a monster year.
OVER/UNDER: How many players will it take to match Tyrann Mathieu’s eight forced turnovers and four touchdowns?
Mathieu will likely be adequately replaced at cornerback by Jalen Collins or Jalen Mills, and on punt returns by Odell Beckham Jr. But Mathieu’s contribution to LSU’s winning effort far eclipsed the ability to backpedal. The master of the big play, Mathieu led the team with six forced fumbles, tacked on two interceptions and scored twice on defense and on special teams. While Mathieu had his defects as a cornerback, there isn’t anyone at LSU, or perhaps the nation, with his knack for the game-changing turnover or score.
PREDICTION: It may not take a village to replace Mathieu, but it will be unfair to expect the same number of big plays from just one man.
We’ll say LSU will need a new cornerback, nickel back and kick returner. We’ll set the over/under at 3.5.
Give us your thoughts
We’ve had our say. Now tell us what you think. Go to http://www.theadvocate.com/sports and give us your vote on the Over/Under questions in today’s story.