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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The Times' college football countdown: No. 4 Louisiana State

The Tigers have talent, speed and ability and are motivated to rewrite last season's ending in which they lost the Bowl Championship Series title game to Alabama.

August 25, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Tryann Mathieu went from LSU hero to the sidelines after a second failed drug test.
Tryann Mathieu went from LSU hero to the sidelines after a second failed… (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images )

Perched first and 10 at midfield in the last Bowl Championship Series title game, Louisiana State quarterback Jordan Jefferson darted 18 yards to the Alabama 32.

It was then, midway through the fourth quarter, that LSU crossed midfield for the first time.

Please, though, hold your applause. From there, a three-yard loss preceded a five-yard penalty, two incomplete passes and a fumble that gave Alabama possession at LSU's 40.

These are the seared images of LSU's 21-0 whitewash defeat at the Superdome. How could a team so good all season look so inept?

"We answered the bell 13 times," Coach Les Miles said this summer.

We also know for whom the 14th bell tolled. Alabama outgained LSU, 384 yards to 92.

Nick Saban coached Xs and O's around Miles, who failed to adjust to Alabama's swarming defense. Miles refused to sub out a struggling Jefferson for Jarrett Lee, who started LSU's first eight games and won them all.

Miles' Tigers are highly motivated to rescript last season's ending. "They recognized the things they accomplished and what they left on the table," Miles said.

LSU could easily be this year's preseason No. 1. The Tigers might have the most returning talent.

They are one of the few teams that can shake off the loss of their top two quarterbacks and the "Honey Badger," Tyrann Mathieu, the Heisman Trophy finalist defensive back recently dismissed from the team.

The quarterback position actually could improve with Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger, a big-strike thrower on a team with speed and ability.

"Very talented guy," Miles said of Mettenberger.

The backfield is an embarrassment … of riches. The Tigers' top four returning tailbacks — Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard — combined for 2,338 yards and 30 touchdowns last season.

The defensive line will miss Michael Brockers but is anchored by two of the nation's best ends, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. The loss of Morris Claiborne and Mathieu puts a definite dent on the secondary, though the unit returns free safety Eric Reid.

The team's most valuable player might be punter Brad Wing, who kept his team in last season's BCS title game by averaging 46 yards on nine punts.

LSU isn't preseason No. 1 because its title-game defeat remains perplexing. LSU won the Southeastern Conference last year but lost the larger, psychological war to its West Division rival. How deep has Saban gotten into the head of The Hat?

Preseason rankings won't be what stops LSU from reaching this season's BCS title game. The undefeated and/or one-loss SEC champion is almost a cinch to advance to New Orleans.

LSU hosts Alabama on Nov. 3, a Saturday that also features Oregon at USC. The winners could end up playing for the title in South Florida.

LSU also has to play at Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas, but there's no reason why this Tigers team can't be as good as last season's Tigers team.

In the end, though, in college football's toughest division, will that be enough?

The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford; 17. Michigan State; 16. Oklahoma State; 15. Wisconsin; 14. Nebraska; 13. Arkansas; 12. West Virginia; 11. Florida State; 10. South Carolina; 9. Ohio State; 8. Georgia; 7. Michigan; 6. Texas; 5. Oklahoma; 4. Louisiana State.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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