BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is much more of an unknown commodity going into its opener against TCU than it has been in recent seasons.
Only three starters from last year's defense are still around after the entire starting defensive line and four other key defenders either ran out of eligibility or left early for the NFL.
The offense has been revamped under first-year coordinator Cam Cameron, and head coach Les Miles has been non-committal about whether leading returning rusher Jeremy Hill will play in the opener or be disciplined further after being suspended in the offseason for a second run-in with the law.
All of that uncertainty is reflected in the Tigers being ranked No. 12 in the AP poll entering the TCU game.
The talent is on hand for LSU to exceed those relatively modest expectations, but the first indication of how prepared the untested youngsters and the new offense are for prime time won't be known until they face the No. 20 Horned Frogs.
The offense won't stray too far from Miles' comfort zone with a physical running game as its primary component, but the presence of Cameron, a close friend and former coaching colleague of Miles' at Michigan, provides a trust factor in updating the schemes.
"I think that the opportunity to rush the football as we have in the past is certainly there now and you combine that with play action and the things that Cam would bring," Miles said. "I think the advantages are to keep the strength that we've had, but build on it with the ability to throw the football in like situations, in like formations, so the defense cannot determine whether it's run or pass."
Fullback J.C. Copeland said "we're still going to do what we do," but he said he has embraced what Cameron has added.
"It will keep people thinking about what we're going to do," Copeland said. "It won't be the same. There will be a lot of good things. People said we were predictable. We were going to do this and that. We're going to be unpredictable this year because there's no telling what we're going to do. It's going to be a different atmosphere."
A point of emphasis in the offseason and preseason has been to improve the Tigers' "four-minute offense," which is designed to run out the clock by gaining first downs while nursing a lead late in the game. Failure to do so last season cost LSU in two of its three losses, as Alabama scored in the final two minutes and Clemson in the final seconds to overcome late deficits.
As for the defense, the Tigers are confident that unfamiliar names will quickly become known for continuing a tradition of suffocating defenses.
"Obviously the number of guys that we lost last year isn't usual -- normally you don't lose that many, but we did," defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "We didn't get caught off-guard. We recruited well before this year and the years before that. But certainly when you lose that many guys, there's going to be some freshmen that are going to have the opportunity to play."
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH VS. LSU
--QB Zach Mettenberger was inconsistent as a first-time starter last season, but did play better down the stretch. Cameron, who doubles as quarterbacks coach, has worked with the strong-armed senior on his mechanics, decision-making and accuracy. Miles has praised Mettenberger for how he has adapted to Cameron's call for a faster tempo in practice (leading to more no-huddle plays in games) and more demonstrative leadership. If Mettenberger provides a more consistent and versatile threat from the passing game, the Tigers could have their most difficult-to-defend offense in years.
--RB Alfred Blue emerged from a crowded and talented backfield to be the starter going into last season and seemed poised for a standout year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the third game. He was held out of contact work in the spring, but was full-go in preseason camp. Miles said he looks like the same back he was before the injury and Cameron's affinity for passing to running backs could make Blue an even more important weapon.
--DE Jermauria Rasco was held out of contact work until the third and final preseason scrimmage as a precaution after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Rasco is being counted on to be an impact edge rusher after serving as an understudy to Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery before they left for the NFL after last season. Rasco appears to have the ability to be another impact end, but he's taking on far greater responsibility than he's had before.
Notes: RB Jeremy Hill was suspended for most of the offseason for violating probation by being involved in a bar fight near campus. Hill avoided jail when a Baton Rouge judge sentenced him to extended probation and community service, and Miles immediately reinstated him. Miles, however, has not announced if Hill will be held out of any games, but there are indications that he will be sidelined for at least part of the opener. ... TE Travis Dickson is expected to play in the opener despite missing time in the preseason due to an unspecified leg injury. ... Freshman CB Jeryl Brazil, a record-setting sprinter, has gotten reps at running back and could see some snaps on offense. ... WR Armand Williams is out for the season after fracturing his tibia in three places in preseason camp. ... WR Avery Johnson is out indefinitely due to an ankle injury suffered in preseason camp.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed to this report.