LSU has only three full-time returning starters on defense after having a team-record eight players from that side of the ball taken in the NFL draft last April.
Despite the loss of so much talent, coach Les Miles insists that in practice he's seen a typical Tigers defense. Linebacker Lamin Barrow, the top returning tackler, is ready for everyone to see what their coach means.
"I've been around these guys ... every day and I can't wait (for everyone) to see what they showed me," Barrow said. "I'm anxious as everybody is to see what goes on, but I know what those guys are capable of doing and I'm just ready for them to show everybody that they can get it done."
The first test comes Saturday night when the 12th-ranked Tigers play No. 20 TCU in the season-opening Cowboys Classic at the NFL team's stadium. It is one of only two opening-weekend games matching Top 25 teams.
"I really don't think there's a drop-off with the defense," said sophomore cornerback Jalen Mills, another returning starter. "I think we're going to play with the same style and attitude that the defense has always played with here at LSU."
TCU, the former BCS buster starting its second Big 12 season, will be trying to make a statement for a league whose highest-ranked team in the preseason poll is No. 13 Oklahoma State -- behind six SEC teams.
Quarterbacks Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin will serve as offensive co-captains for the Horned Frogs. Both are expected to play, but coach Gary Patterson has refused to say who will start.
Pachall is 15-2 as TCU's starter, including 4-0 last season before leaving school for the rest of his junior season for substance abuse treatment. Boykin threw for 2,054 yards with 15 touchdowns and won three Big 12 road games as a freshman starter.
"Everybody will know when they run on the field," Patterson said.
Five things to watch when LSU and TCU play:
WHO'S REALLY PLAYING, WHO'S NOT: Miles has been deliberately vague to keep TCU guessing on running back Jeremy Hill's status following his offseason arrest for throwing a punch outside a bar. The coach has said only that Hill will be "withheld from play" for an undetermined amount of time. There was also some gamesmanship by Patterson, who listed suspended reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year as a potential starter on the depth chart and said the defensive end would be in uniform. Told that listing confused some people, Patterson responded, "That's what it was for." Patterson later said he was still about teaching life lessons, meaning it's very unlikely Fields will play before serving his two-game suspension for an unspecified violation of university and team policy.
RECOVERING RUNNERS: Alfred Blue opened last season as LSU's starting running back, and ran for 224 yards his first two games. His season ended with a major knee injury in the third game. He's back and listed first on the depth chart again. Waymon James was averaging 9.9 yards per carry for TCU before he sustained a season-ending left knee injury in the second game. James, returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon or former Nebraska transfer Aaron Green could start for the Frogs.
CAN CAM DO?: Longtime NFL coach Cam Cameron was brought as LSU's new offensive coordinator to help a passing game that struggled despite strong-armed quarterback Zach Mettenberger and a group of athletic receivers. The Tigers ranked 92nd out of 120 FBS teams last season, throwing for only 201 yards per game. "I'm really excited to see how an actual game operation is going to be under coach Cameron," Mettenberger said. That will come against a TCU defense that led the Big 12 with 21 interceptions last year and returns all five starting defensive backs in its 4-2-5 defense.
WINNING PROGRAMS: LSU has won 85 games over the past eight seasons, one more victory than TCU. The only team with more victories in that span is Boise State with 93. This will be the third game for each team at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium. Both are 2-0 there, each winning their previous appearance in the season-opening Cowboys Classic. LSU also won a Cotton Bowl there, and TCU won a regular-season game against BYU.
LONG TIME AGO: Even though they are in adjacent states, this will be the first meeting between LSU and TCU since 1968. The Tigers lead the series 5-2-1. The last victory for the Frogs was 3-2 in the 1936 Sugar Bowl when Dutch Meyer was their coach and Sammy Baugh their quarterback. The Frogs' last game against an SEC team was a home win over Vanderbilt 10 years ago.