Schedule aside, LSU is going to be a BCS Championship contender this year

One thing that has struck me this offseason is the lack of confidence by many college football prognosticators toward LSU’s chances of getting to the BCS Championship Game this year. Most of the predictions I have come across place the Tigers’ win total around eight to 10 games.

I understand the reason for the cautious prognostications. LSU has a very brutal schedule. I just disagree with them.

The Tigers start the season with a neutral-site game against TCU in Arlington, Texas. That is followed by home games against UAB, Kent State, and Auburn. Despite Gary Patterson’s comments directed at Les Miles regarding the team vote to keep Jeremy Hill on the Tigers’ team, I don’t think the Horned Frogs will be able to knock off LSU this year. With the game in Tiger Stadium, I don’t think Auburn will be able to pull the upset either.

Then comes the meat of the schedule. LSU will travel to Athens, Ga., and Starkville, Miss., in two consecutive weeks. Those are followed by a home game against Florida and a trip to Oxford. I actually think the trickiest two games in that stretch are the trips to Mississippi. If the Tigers can weather this four-game sequence, then they are going to be set up for a special season.

After the Ole Miss game, the schedule gets more manageable. Furman is up next on October 26, followed by an off week. That sets up the always important early November contest between the Tigers and Alabama.

I think the LSU/Alabama game will be, as it so often is, for the SEC West title. I also think LSU has a very good chance to win that game. The series has been dominated by the visiting team in recent years, and this year’s game will take place in Tuscaloosa. As you might have read, I ranked it as the most consequential SEC game of 2013.

The home stretch for the Tigers is not easy, but it is manageable. They get a breather after the Alabama game with another off week. Then they finish with Texas A&M and Arkansas. Both of those are in Baton Rouge.

The fact that the schedule is so challenging could be a blessing for the Tigers. LSU is in a unique position; if they lose a game during the tough stretch, it should not eliminate them from contending for a BCS title. That is the upside of playing a lot of quality opponents.

I know it’s clichĂ©, but the Tigers’ success will rise and fall with the quarterback position. Senior Zach Mettenberger has shown flashes of greatness. But, he has also been guilty of making some dreadful decisions in crucial moments. Two big questions are how much will he improve, and how much will new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron impact Mettenberger’s play.

The running game will lean heavily on Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue, but LSU has been known to rotate a large amount of backs. Receivers Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Kadron Boone should be Mettenberger’s top targets, along with the aforementioned running backs and fullback J.C. Copeland.

The defensive side of the ball is where many analysts have predicted LSU to struggle. Experience is hard to find in the defensive corps. Senior safety Craig Loston will need to be a leader. Look for linebacker Tahj Jones and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson to become key contributors.

While the defense is young, it is very talented. I think the talent is going to keep LSU in the BCS conversation late in the season. The program that has won two of the last 10 BCS Championships is going to be a major contender for the title throughout the 2013 season.

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