Now that Les Miles has made LSU history, again, the coach will have to get to work on a 2014 roster that is full of uncertainty.
The biggest changes will come on offense.
The Tigers already knew they'd be losing senior Zach Mettenberger, who put together one of the best seasons an LSU quarterback has ever had. His two best receivers — juniors Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry — are eligible to turn pro, as is sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, the star of LSU's 21-14 Outback Bowl triumph over Iowa on New Year's Day.
Because of Mettenberger's knee injury in the regular-season finale, No. 14 LSU got its first taste of life without him in Wednesday's bowl game. Freshman Anthony Jennings, who came on to throw a winning touchdown pass against Arkansas back in November, got his first start against Iowa.
His debut as a starter was not as promising as LSU would have hoped — 7 of 19 for 82 yards and an interception — but he also ran for a score and was good enough to win.
"It's his first start and he was tight as heck. It's his first interception of note. He came to the sideline just sick," Miles said. "There are some lessons that he learned that will benefit him as he looks forward."
Beckham, who made an extraordinary one-handed catch on the sideline on one overthrown pass, said he was nonetheless encouraged by Jennings' debut.
"With Anthony you have a young quarterback and sometimes you get in these games and things aren't what they seem," Beckham said. "I feel like it's a great learning experience for him. ... Iowa is a good team. You can't keep anything away from them. We cut the playbook down a little bit so Anthony could make all the right decisions and make the plays and I thought he did a great job of managing the clock and getting the offense going."
Next season, he may need to do much more.
The combined production of Mettenberger, Beckham, Landry and Hill in 2013 were a major factor in the Tigers (10-3) reaching at least 10 victories for a fourth straight season, something LSU had never done before.
Mettenberger passed for 3,082 yards, the third highest single-season total for an LSU QB, and three 22 touchdown passes. Landry had 1,193 yards receiving and 10 TDs, while Beckham had 1,152 yards and eight TDs.
Hill rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 TDs, including 216 yards and 2 TDs in the bowl victory.
The season represented a significant triumph for Hill, who found himself suspended and in danger of jail time after being caught on video punching another LSU student outside a bar last spring. That crime occurred while he was already on probation for an earlier crime against a girl with whom he went to high school.
After pleading guilty to reduced charges and receiving more restrictive probation from a state judge, he rejoined the LSU for fall camp and went on to distinguish himself as one of the best running backs in the nation and bona fide pro prospect.
Hill has not yet announced whether he'll turn pro, but said the support he received from teammates and coaches played a big part in his success.
"I got a chance to step up and talk to the guys and just really thank them for everything, just supporting me through everything that I've been through and just having my back through everything," Hill said. "That's just the bond of our football team. No matter what, we're going to stand up and support our guys."
As of Thursday night, only junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson had announced his intention to turn pro.
Beckham and Landry declined to discuss whether they'll return, but expected to announce their decisions soon.
Other players who are eligible to leave, and widely projected to be drafted if they do, include defensive tackle Ego Ferguson and left tackle La'el Collins.
LSU has high hopes for its incoming recruiting class. The Tigers have already received a commitment from Shreveport quarterback Brandon Harris, and received two more significant verbal, non-binding commitments on Thursday evening. At the Under Armour All-America game featuring the nation's top high school players, Leonard Fournette, widely regarded as the top running back recruit in the nation, committed to LSU, as did Jamal Adams, a safety from Lewisville, Texas.
However, three other top prospects LSU hoped to lure — athlete Devante "Speedy" Noil and defensive end Gerald Willis III of New Orleans, as well as defensive back Tony Brown of Beaumont, Texas — said they were headed elsewhere. Noil chose Texas A&M, Willis chose Florida and Brown chose Alabama.
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Posted on Fri, January 3, 2014