Question number one is obviously the quarterback. With the dismissal of Perrilloux, who would have brought another dimension to this offense, the job falls to either Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch or freshman Jarrett Lee. Neither player has the look of a future star so the job will probably go to whoever can take care of the ball and make the fewest mistakes.
Another question mark in the backfield is whether or not one of the three talented tailbacks will finally step up to be more than just an occasional threat. Keiland Williams, Charles Scott, and Richard Murphy have all shown flashes of brilliance in their careers, but all three remained on the sidelines in 2007 while Jacob Hester took the meaningful snaps. Hester was a steady back, but he doesn't have near the size or speed of the other three. It's up to one of these guys to step up and show the coaching staff he can be counted on consistently. Williams will get the first shot, but I think Scott is the best of the group.
The good news is that four starters return to an offensive line that paved the way for the second ranked scoring offense in the SEC in 2007. Left tackle Ciron Black and left guard Herman Johnson are All America candidates, and rising sophomore Joseph Barksdale - who played last year as a true freshman - might be an All America candidate in the very near future. This should be one of the best offensive lines in the nation, which puts them in the running for one of the first two Gold Wrenches.
There are also no problems at wideout where, even with the loss off Early Doucet, the Bayou Bengals will boast one of the best group of receivers in the SEC. Brandon LaFell gets all the press and all-conference mention, but Demetrius Byrd is actually the better overall receiver. There's also sophomore Terrance Toliver, who displayed impressive athleticism in a limited role a year ago, and true freshman DeAngelo Benton. The dependable Richard Dickson also returns at tight end. With the receiving corps and the offensive line in the shape they are in, whoever wins the quarterback job will be given every opportunity to succeed.
Despite losing All-World defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, the defensive line in Baton Rouge should again be excellent. LSU has an embarrassment of riches up front that even some NFL teams would envy. Kirston Pittman, who was awarded a medical redshirt year by the NCAA, and Tyson Jackson form a solid pair of pass rushing ends, but it's at tackle where the depth and talent is really impressive. Marlon Favorite and Charles Alexander are extremely athletic and can cause disruptions against even the best offensive lines. Ricky Jean-Francois is listed as a backup - but he might be the most talented player on the whole team! Al Woods and Drake Nevis round out the rotation of defensive tackles. In case you weren't counting, that's five DTs on the roster that could play just about anywhere else in the nation.
The talent doesn't end there. Darry Beckwith slides over to play middle linebacker this year where he will shine. The senior has been underrated his whole career while playing in the shadow of Ali Highsmith, but I think he'll be better than Highsmith. Sophomore Kelvin Sheppard is another athletically gifted linebacker who will be turned loose on opposing defenses this year. Sheppard takes over the starting job on the weakside.
There are questions in the secondary however. You don't lose two corners like Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon, who started together for three years, and not take a step back. I believe sophomore Jai Eugene will be an excellent replacement in the long run, but the other corner spot is completely up for grabs. Luckily there will be an upgrade athletically at safety where emerging star Chad Jones steps in for the departed Craig Steltz. Steltz produced (101 tackles, 6 interceptions, each tops on the team), but Jones has a much higher upside.
The biggest question facing the defense is the loss of defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Pelini has made a name for himself everywhere he has gone and he leaves some rather large shoes to fill. Even with all the talent on hand it will be difficult to get the same production out of this unit that Pelini was able to get (2nd best rush defense in the SEC; 3rd best pass defense and total defense in the nation).
KEEP AN EYE ON
The offensive backfield and the new cornerbacks. The rest of the team is loaded, so how these skill positions (QB, RB, CB) perform will determine whether LSU wins 9 games or defends their national title. Les Miles got lucky on several gambles last season. That won't happen again, so that makes these big question marks. I think they will be closer to a 9-win team than to a legit national title contender, but keep an eye on these spots and make the call yourself.
Defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois. Francois played in only two games last year, but they just so happened to be the SEC title game and the BCS National Championship. He was the best player on the field in both games so if he can keep his academics in order he'll be in the running for all kinds of awards and have the attention of NFL scouts everywhere.