Rabalais: Going over or under with LSU football

What’s more fun — the actual football season or speculation about it?

OK, we’ll say the former, but we do spend so much more time doing the latter.

Four weeks from Saturday, we’ll start to get our answers about what kind of season the LSU Tigers will have. Until then, we just have speculation.

So while there’s time — lots of it — let’s play the Over/Under game as we inch toward the 2013 season:

Will Zach Mettenberger surpass all of last season’s major passing numbers: 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns, 58.8 completion percentage and seven interceptions?

PREDICTION: Take the OVER. You may be surprised, but Mettenberger’s season ranked fifth in LSU history in passing yardage and completions (207) and fourth in attempts (352), albeit while playing 13 games.

All of his major numbers should go up with a full year as a starter under him — especially the number of passing touchdowns, which team-wise was second-fewest in the Southeastern Conference. Three or four more interceptions are also to be expected.

Jeremy Hill led LSU with 755 rushing yards last season, and Odell Beckham Jr. led the team with 713 receiving yards. Will anyone surpass those marks?

PREDICTION: The unknown is whether Hill will play some or not at all because of the legal issues stemming from his offseason battery charge.

If he doesn’t play or is limited, it would be up to Alfred Blue or Kenny Hilliard to try to run past that number. Neither has rushed for more than 539 yards in a season before, so the prediction is the UNDER: The Tigers will have to do too much running back by committee for anyone to get to 755.

As for Beckham’s total, the Tigers had better hope someone gets past 713 as a sign of a truly souped up passing game. We’ll give a shaky OVER to this one, with the prime candidates being Beckham, Jarvis Landry or junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie.

Will LSU’s defense allow more than 307.6 yards and 17.5 points per game?

PREDICTION: While the Tigers’ rebuilt defense almost certainly won’t be as bad after the loss of seven starters as some fear it might be, take the OVER. But not by much.

Aside from his charity golf tournament, defensive coordinator John Chavis didn’t spend his summer on the links. He was trying to figure out ways to make the younger players he has work to maximum efficiency. And there still is talent — lots of it — on defense. It’s just young, and assignments are bound to be blown.

Kevin Minter had 130 tackles last season. Can anyone surpass that?

PREDICTION: The answer is no — so take the UNDER — but there is a man who can come close. Outside linebacker Lamin Barrow had the quietest 104-tackle season in LSU history, to a large degree because he was drowned out by Minter’s All-America caliber performance.

Look for Barrow to crack the century mark again, but Minter had a season for the ages — the fourth-most tackles in a season ever at LSU. Again, the bet is the Tigers’ defense will be better than expected, and Barrow won’t have to carry near the load that Minter did.

Will punter Jamie Keehn surpass Brad Wing’s average of 44.8 yards per punt last season, and can LSU do better than its 39.9-yard net average?

PREDICTION: It looked like Wing regressed from 2011, but his average actually went up 0.4 yards per punt to rank fourth in the SEC. The key is punts inside the 20 and touchbacks. Wing went from 27 and five in 2011 to 21 and 10 last season.

We’ll say Keehn, who averaged a respectable 43.7 yards on 12 punts, won’t get past 44.8 — take the UNDER — but will improve LSU’s numbers in the red zone and its net punting for the OVER.

Las Vegas has set the over/under on LSU victories this season at 8.5.

PREDICTION: The call here is for the OVER. The number in an earlier column was 9-3, though 10-2 is possible if the offense really is better under new coordinator Cam Cameron, the defense holds its own and the new kickers come through in the inevitable game when a field goal or field position is the difference.

But the schedule is so brutal — four preseason top-10 opponents and a fifth (TCU) in the top 20 — that LSU could wind up as the best 8-4 team in America.

BONUS QUESTION: Forget about this season. Will LSU’s 2014 recruiting class be No. 1 the nation?

PREDICTION: Absolutely it can be, if the Tigers can land most or all of their top targets. That’s a list that includes St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette, West Monroe offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, John Curtis wide receiver Malachi Dupre, Neville safety Laurence Jones, Edna Karr athlete Speedy Noil and defensive tackle Gerald Willis, Beaumont (Texas) Ozen cornerback Tony Brown and Plainfield (Ill.) South linebacker Clifton Garrett.

We’ve left out some key names, but these would put the Tigers well on their way to No. 1 in February.