Photos: All the way back! Way to Geaux! _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU pitcher Carley Hoover

FIVE QUESTIONS THAT WILL DEFINE THE TIGERS’ SEASON

Q. Who, if anyone, will step forward and claim the third outfield position alongside Bailey Landry and Emily Griggs?

A. “Four or five” players are still vying to be the answer for the only true question mark on the roster, coach Beth Torina said. Among the contenders are veterans Alayna Falcon and Layna Savoie, but a handful of freshmen — Amber Serrett, utility player Elyse Thornhill and the speedy Akiyah Thymes — are in the mix as well.

Q. Aside from filling the OF position vacated by A.J. Andrews, which players will provide the leadoff skills, speed and leadership that Andrews had?

A. Torina called Thymes the fastest player on the team, so she has a chance to bat leadoff if she can secure a starting spot. Landry led the team in batting average last year and converted on eight of nine steal attempts. The leadership roles will likely fall on seniors Bianka Bell and Kellsi Kloss along with the Tigers’ returning pitchers.

Q. On a team stocked with returning talent, how big a role will the freshmen play?

A. Considering how many players return, it doesn’t seem like the freshmen would see much playing time. But they’ll all compete for starting roles, said Torina, who plans to experiment with her lineup until the SEC schedule starts. The headliner of the freshman class is pitcher Sydney Smith, who has drawn rave reviews from Torina and teammates.

Q. Can LSU navigate the brutal SEC schedule well enough to again be a national seed?

A. Though still difficult, this year’s conference schedule (four ranked opponents) appears to be easier than last year’s (six ranked opponents). The Tigers benefit from not playing No. 4 Auburn or No. 8 Tennessee during the regular season, which should increase their chances of claiming a national seed.

Q. Can LSU take the next step and win the WCWS after reaching the semifinals last season?

A. The pollsters certainly think so. LSU is ranked No. 3 in USA Today’s preseason Top 25, the best preseason ranking in program history. With an explosive lineup and dominant pitching, the Tigers have all the makings of a legitimate title contender.

PROJECTED LINEUP

C KELLSI KLOSS

Kloss, a first-team All-SEC selection who played in every game last year, brings leadership behind the plate and a power bat to the lineup. She hit .317 and clobbered 13 homers while committing only four errors as a junior.

1B SANDRA SIMMONS

An always-dependable defender, Simmons’ work at first base in 2015 earned her SEC All-Defensive Team honors. The senior also provided a consistent bat, hitting .331 and driving in 38 runs last year.

2B SYDNEY BOURG

If the final stretch of last season is any indication, Bourg has the edge on junior Constance Quinn right now. Bourg replaced Quinn, who committed 16 errors last year, at the position for 21 of the final 23 games.

SS BIANKA BELL

Bell is already the program leader for career home runs, and she led the Tigers with a .500 on-base percentage in 2015. She has accounted for 27 errors over the last two seasons, but her success in the batter’s box makes her one of the most respected players on the team.

3B SAHVANNA JAQUISH

Another power hitter in the lineup, she hit 17 home runs in each of her first two seasons. But Jaquish may be even more reliable in the field, where she made only five errors last year as LSU’s third baseman and backup catcher.

LF EMILY GRIGGS

Griggs contributed heavily as a freshman, making 61 starts in left field. She didn’t put up power numbers last year but found her niche as a speedster who successfully stole a base on 14 of her 17 tries.

CF BAILEY LANDRY

Landry will likely take over in centerfield because of her range and experience. The junior is also fearsome at the plate: She led the team in batting average (.426) and hits (89) while racking up 48 RBI last season.

RF ALAYNA FALCON

As the most experienced returning reserve outfielder, Falcon should get the first crack at the third outfield spot. The senior had a .315 batting average over her first three years and started 10 games last season. She struck out just four times in 35 at-bats.

PITCHING STAFF

Some teams have trouble finding an ace in the circle. LSU, on the other hand, might have too many. Walljasper, though not as overpowering as Hoover, is a more precise pitcher who issued only 30 walks and tossed 13 complete games last year. Junior Baylee Corbello proved herself capable of handling a huge workload in 2014, when she threw almost 200 innings en route to 19 wins and a 3.16 ERA. As if the pitching staff needed any more depth and talent, freshman Sydney Smith had a 54-1 high school record.